Salt Lake City removed its two-bars-per-block rule last night, but as I've reported before, the short-term impact of the move is likely to be undetectable.
That's because the the state-controlled liquor-license quota system is already dampening the bar and club scene. At each recent meeting of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, all of the license that are available are divvied out, sending some wannabe bar owners out the door without a license. Also, the state restricts bars from operating near churches, schools and other entities. Depending on circumstances that I admit I don't fully understand, that restriction is either 200 or 600 feet.
Mayor Ralph Becker's staff members have said the city won't lobby the Legislature to change the quota system or the location restrictions. They acknowledge the impact of their efforts may be muted without state action, but say the removal of the two-bar rule is important groundwork for future developments.
Keep in mind that Becker's administration and the City Council are doing other things regarding liquor, as well. Together, they've allowed liquor bars in more city zones, enabling what was once Andy's Place (but is undergoing a name change) to obtain a liquor license, and soon also Jam in Marmalade. On that note, the Salt Lake City Planning Commission will take public comment and vote tonight at 5:45 p.m. on whether to grant Jam's conditional use permit which would allow them to serve liquor and wine, in addition to the beer they already have there. The Planning Commission staff have made a positive recommendation (pdf), and the last time Jam appeared before the planning commission, the vote was a whopping 7 to 1 in Jam's favor. If their permit is approved by the Planning Commission tonight, Jam need only obtain one of those highly sought-after liquor license from the DABC, and then they can serve liquor. Maybe the DABC will take pity on the Jam guys and give them a license quickly since they've been working on this effort to serve liquor at Jam for 19 months (and counting!).
So, dear readers, here are some questions that you can ask yourself: Is Salt Lake City's effort enough, or, come January, should they actively lobby the legislature to change or remove the quota system? On the other hand, in a year where we might be facing almost a $1 billion budget shortfall, comprehensive sex education might get a decent vetting and the gay-rights Common Ground Initiative bills will be back on the docket (this time maybe with some support from the LDS Church), is now the right time to be hectoring on about liquor liberty? Or, should we as citizens expect that local activists, lobbyists and legislators can walk and chew gum at the same time and handle all of those issues in one session?
I'm not even sure how I feel about those questions. Let me know what you think, in comments, in e-mail, or via Twitter.