Despite a few steps forward in our liquor laws in recent years, it can still be easy for Utah tourists to think that the state lacks a bar scene. And it's also easy for locals to forget how many welcoming watering holes and classy cocktail lounges surround them—those that've held down corners of the city for years, and those that've been springing up recently, despite the best efforts of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
This is the fifth year of our Bar Guide, designed to celebrate these establishments and educate our readers about the nightlife our state has to offer. In the past, we've taken the (literal) temperatures of their beers, and the (figurative) temperature of their rooms. But for this year's Bar Guide, we decided to cut out the middleman and let local bar owners and managers directly tell our readers what sets their bars apart. We've printed their "booze brags," which focus on the unique aspects of their drink selections, plus their verbatim descriptions of the bars themselves.
Armed with telephones and notepads, our staff worked their way through a list of Utah's nightlife hotspots—bars, of course, as well as music venues, strip clubs and family-friendly pubs and breweries—to record the information that follows in these pages. As a bonus, we profiled a few of Utah's longtime bartenders—the people who've got more of a sense of our community than the suits on the Hill ever will.
Bar owners are busy folks, though, and though we phoned and/or emailed every eligible venue, we couldn't connect with everyone. So if we missed your favorite bar or club, write us at email@example.com and tell us what makes it special to you. We'll print the responses in our Letters section in the weeks to come.
In the meantime, we find that this guide pairs best with a cold one, so settle in at your favorite booth in your favorite dive, lounge or dance hall, and start planning your next pub crawl. —Rachel Piper, City Weekly Editor
BARS & CLUBS
Watering holes, cocktail lounges, neighborhood taverns and dance clubs—Utah is full of 'em, so we've divided the following list by area.
Salt Lake Valley East of Main
100 E. South Temple, Salt Lake City, 801-322-1081, AltaClub.org
Booze Brag: 27 whiskeys, traditional drinks.
In Their Own Words: "Alta Club is a little different than other private clubs because we were founded as a private club."
Avenues Proper Restaurant & Publick House
376 8th Ave., Salt Lake City, 385-227-8628
A Bar Named Sue
3928 S. Highland Drive, Salt Lake City, 801-274-5578; 8136 S. State, Midvale, 801-566-3222, ABarNamedSue.net
Booze Brag: The Johnny Cash Whiskey Smash: Gentleman Jack, sugar, lemon, mint, basil, soda, a dash of bitters and love.
In Their Own Words: "A Johnny Cash-themed whiskey bar, with live music, award-winning food and an always-free game room."
155 E. 200 South, Salt Lake City, 801-355-2287, BarXSaltLake.com
Booze Brag: Bartender Roulette: Take your chances with what the bartender will make you. They'll ask you a few basic questions about your drink tastes and make you a handcrafted cocktail based on that.
In Their Own Words: "Classic, sexy, dark, cocktails."
Barbary Coast Saloon
4242 S. State, Murray, 801-265-9889
Booze Brag: Probably the beer and a shot for $5.50.
In Their Own Words: "We're the most versatile bar; it's for anyone and everyone, from bikers to businessmen and music fans to sports enthusiasts."
1717 S. Main, Salt Lake City, 801-463-4996, BattersUpSportsBar.com
645 S. State, Salt Lake City, 801-961-8400, UtahBayou.com
Booze Brag: The Bayou sells more pints from the Firkin and from the Randall than any other draft, though they're offered only one day a week. They sell more Belgian beer than any other single style. Otherwise, with 300-plus beers, Guinness is still No. 1.
In Their Own Words:"An excellent place to explore the world of beer, with great food and full table service."
161 E. 200 South, Salt Lake City, 801-355-2287, Facebook.com/BeerBarSLC
Booze Brag: 30 beers on tap and 150-ish in bottles.
In Their Own Words: "We take care of our beer, from storing, maintaining, pouring, to presenting. But really, we're just a beer, man. We don't want to be too complicated."
2965 S. Highland Drive, Salt Lake City, 801-466-1577
Booze Brag: The delicious grape Mind Eraser, known as The Radar—named after Radar O'Reilly.
In Their Own Words: "A great neighborhood bar with friendly staff and regulars, a fun jukebox, darts, video bowling, many TVs to watch your sports and the cheapest prices in town!"
19 E. 200 South, Salt Lake City, 801-746-1005, BourbonHouseSLC.com
Booze Brag: Canned Hamm's, and the Pickle Back—a shot of Jameson followed by a shot of pickle juice.
In Their Own Words: "A speakeasy-type place in the heart of Salt Lake; a great college scene with great prices."
Burt's Tiki Lounge
726 S. State, Salt Lake City, 801-521-0572, Facebook.com/Burts.TikiLounge
Booze Brag: The Cerebral Assassin (main ingredients are Jagermeister and energy drink).
In Their Own Words: "A true dive bar featuring punk, metal, rockabilly, alternative and even some hip-hop."
837 E. 2100 South, Salt Lake City, 801-467-3325, CampfireLounge.com
Booze Brag: The S'mores-tini, the PB&J (a pint of PBR and a shot of Jack Daniels), $3 Bloody Marys and mimosas during brunch, and other refreshing offerings like the Moscow Mule and huckleberry lemonade.
In Their Own Words: "A cozy neighborhood bar where people can enjoy good food and drink in a relaxed atmosphere, with a slight semblance of sharing a camping experience with friends."
The Canyon Inn
3700 Fort Union Blvd., Salt Lake City, 801-943-6969
Carol's Cove II
3424 S. State, South Salt Lake City, 801-466-2683
Booze Brag: Carollee's Special: triple sec, vodka, peach, apple, pineapple, orange and cranberry juice with a slice of orange.
In Their Own Words: "Laid-back. More of an older crowd than a younger crowd, but it's fun."
Cheers to You
315 S. Main, Salt Lake City, 801-575-6400, CheersToYouSLC.com
Booze Brag: Cheers is the house of Mind Erasers.
In Their Own Words: "Your neighborhood bar right downtown with a very comfy. inviting atmosphere."
Cheers to You Midvale
7642 S. State, Midvale, 801-566-0871, CheersToYouSLC.com
Booze Brag: The Ricky Special (Southern Comfort, Amaretto, Bacardi 151, orange juice, cranberry juice).
In Their Own Words: "A neighborhood bar that's comforting and welcoming."
328 S. State, Salt Lake City, 801-531-5400, Facebook.com/CircleLoungeSLC
16 E. 4800 South, Murray, 801-262-7555
Booze Brag: Special list of 48 customized shots created by all the bartenders.
In Their Own Words: "We are your friendly neighborhood bar, kind of like Cheers, even with the mailman."
Debbie Gundersen, Highlander Club
Debbie Gundersen has worked at the Highlander for 30 years, but spending so much time in one place hasn’t slowed her down. Indeed, the main complaint about her, she says, is that she never stays in one place, spotting an empty glass across the bar and immediately checking on the drinker’s needs. “I take it as a personal defeat if anybody is waiting for anything,” she says.
Gundersen worked at a 24-hour cafe as a young married mother, but in 1982, when she turned 21, her customers who went there for breakfast suggested she work at the bar across the road, then called Centerfold. Decorated with red velvet, gold and black wrought iron, she recalls, the club featured dancers in the afternoon “with very little on.”
The dancers and that décor are long gone, replaced by a watering hole (6194 S. Highland Drive, Salt Lake City, 801-277-8251, HighlanderUtah.com) that lives up to its claim of being a Cheers-style bar. Those crowded at the Highlander bar are longtime regulars, genially cracking wise at one another’s expense. They’ll wave over newly arrived fresh faces and start chatting with them.
“If I can get somebody in here once, they’ll come back and keep coming back,” Gundersen says.
Much of that is due to Gundersen’s passion for bartending. She learned from an old hand that there are two secrets to good bartending: Never go anywhere without a tray, and look the customer in the eye and repeat the order, and you won’t forget it.
Gundersen’s clients express both deep affection and loyalty for her. When she quit in frustration over management issues in the 1990s, a regular told a former owner, “You either bring her back, or I’ll buy her her own bar across the street.” Gundersen came back.
Over the years, she says, the only thing she’s lost customers to is old age. She and the current owner thought about creating a plaque to mark those who have passed on, but there are simply too many names. They both attend each funeral.
If there’s a downside to bartending, it’s the lack of benefits—but that, she says, is the nature of the bar business. “If you’re going to stick with it, you’ve got to be smart enough to have your own plan.” She tries to put away a few hundred dollars every month for her approaching retirement—not that she wants to put down her tray anytime soon.
“This where I was meant to be,” she says. “I just love it.”