Private Eye | Call It Even: New Utah liquor laws, Round 2 

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New proposed liquor laws—a recap and Round 2: The current metered pour of a primary alcohol in a cocktail served in a private club or restaurant is 1 ounce. Proposed legislation on Teetotaler Hill, aka Capitol Hill, will allow for an additional half ounce of liquor per drink if passed. Hmmm. Excuse me, but aren’t the folks about to pass legislation to put more drunks on the highways the same ones who want to take the so-called “introductory” malt spirits known as alco-pops out of grocery stores? In the name of public safety?

If you believe that the Utah Legislature has no clue what it’s doing with the alco-pop issue—aimed also at “protecting children”—then how can anyone rejoice at the news that the very same group knows what’s best to do when it comes to pouring drinks to adults? Well, they don’t. On the surface, allowing more alcohol to be served in a cocktail seems attractive—Utah’s bartenders and waitresses are constantly barraged by complaints of serving overpriced, weak drinks. That noise barrage only has traction because the Utah’s tourism industry wants to make sure those euros keep flowing to Utah. When a tourist complains, people—as always, the wrong ones—listen.

Last week, the proposed legislation allowed for “up to” 1.5 ounces of a primary liquor per drink and .5 ounces of additional flavoring (a second or third liquor) for mixed cocktails like a Black Russian, Harvey Wallbanger and scores of others. With a limit of 2 total ounces including that half ounce of flavoring, many standard drinks simply could not be made. This week, changes are being proposed that will keep the primary base at 1.5 ounces, but allow for a full ounce of flavoring added to a drink for a total of 2.5 ounces maximum per cocktail. This compromise bill has a good chance of passing. Some will rejoice—huzza! More booze in my drink! Others will not.

If this legislation passes, most mixed cocktails could still be made reasonably well, except for—get this—the martini. The martini and the sidecar often associated with it helped institute this legislation. Under the old law, one could order a 1-ounce martini and a 1-ounce sidecar (in a private club), pour them together and create a 2-ounce drink. Agreed, it’s dumb. If the law passes, all martinis will be limited to 1.5 ounces of primary liquor. Also dumb. If you drink a martini in a club, you lose, but if you are a tourist in a restaurant (which couldn’t serve sidecars, anyway), you “win,” because you will be served an additional half-ounce of liquor. Think thimbleful. Tourists will still complain about the substandard martini, so wait till next year for that resolution.

Remember, “up to” are just two of the operative words you need to look out for. Just because a club or restaurant may potentially pour “up to” 1.5 ounces in a drink doesn’t mean they will. Would you start pouring your customers 50 percent more alcohol per drink if the same people who just gave you that permission is the same bunch that insures that your place of business and the employees therein are responsible for a customer’s actions? Via dram shop laws that remove the State of Utah from liability if someone is harmed in an auto accident caused by one of your customers, you could be put out of business or risk your livelihood.That’s the state selling the candy and owning the fat farm, too.

If you’re looking for a break on prices, forget it. Utah’s high liquor taxes insure that clubs and restaurants have to maximize their revenue from every bottle of liquor they purchase from the state. Pouring fewer drinks from the same bottle can only mean one thing—higher prices. You better check your Visa limit.

It’s amazing that so few people are even willing to discuss the public-safety aspects of this bill. Tourists, staying in lodges, walking to and from or being shuttled between clubs or restaurants, will seldom have the chance to meet Mr. Highway Patrolman after a night on the town. While City Weekly has a long history of chiding Utah liquor law and the ninnies who make those laws, we’ve been equally adamant about making our highways safer. I’ve yet to hear a single of our moralizing legislators tell anyone how this bill will make Utah highways safer.

I’m not terribly thrilled at the idea of having more liquor poured to me when I don’t want it, and that’s what a metered pour does. Utah is hung up on counting ounces and pours and volume and bottles, trying to maximize every drop of liquor and the taxes derived from it but has no idea of why people go to clubs or restaurants where they can enjoy a drink in the first place. A clue—unless you’re a frat boy or your wife just left you for another woman, it’s not to get drunk.

As of last week, the issue distills to this: This bill aids restaurants at the expense of private clubs. This bill is geared towards tourists, not locals. Utah needs to get out of the liquor business or at least pretend to know what it’s doing with liquor policy. There should not be a different way of serving or selling alcohol predicated upon the location a drink is served. A drink is a drink. Clubs and restaurants should be uniform when dispensing drinks. Let bartenders mix and measure drinks, not Joe Schmo legislators.

If restaurants—at least of the “fine dining” category—want whatever benefits are left to being a private club, they should take them all. Two steps will give them parity: Since the Legislature wants to hide alco-pops from kids, then don’t let kids in restaurants in which hard liquor is served. Allow adults to enter private clubs without buying those stupid memberships. Even-steven.

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