Feature | Bar Battles: Fight the DABC or give in. Either way, you’ll likely lose. | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

July 23, 2008 News » Cover Story

Feature | Bar Battles: Fight the DABC or give in. Either way, you’ll likely lose. 

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Even though in his heart, Chlepas says, he knows the youth would have been carded and the beer taken, he accepts that violation. The second two, from an incident on Jan. 16 this year, raises his hackles. Two Salt Lake County detectives took a table. While they argued with the server over her request for their IDs, a cub went to the bar and asked for a Bud Light. The bartender asked for his ID, put the ID on the bar, walked to the other end of the bar and eyeballed the argumentative two men. Three drinkers at that end of the bar asked for three Bud Lights. The bartender went back to the cub, put three Bud Lights on the bar and proceeded to open them in front of him. One of the cops flashed his badge.

“But I didn’t serve him,” Chlepas says the bartender responded. The cub said the bartender had looked at the ID and gave him a beer.

A bartender from another bar was standing right beside the Cotton Bottom barman. “He refused to help us out, he was afraid of retaliation, of losing his job,” Chlepas says.

The Cotton Bottom got an 11-day liquor license suspension and a $1,000 fine. Chlepas lost a $1,000 a day but was able to serve burgers and pop. The servers make a living on their tips, he adds. They are single moms. With the liquor-license suspension, they were forced to live off credit cards. “It takes a year or two for them to dig themselves out from this,” he says.

Dorius acknowledges, “There are certainly some instances where I think the police work is poor.” He adds, “I don’t think we should do liquor-law enforcement by trickery.” He’s told law enforcement, he says, “If it’s only them that’s generating the problem, rather than a pattern that they’re seeing, that concerns me.”

What remains unclear is the exact nature of the relationship between the DABC and law enforcement. Dorius says his agency is solely a licensing bureau. Yet in The Hotel depositions, numerous agents said SBI works closely with the liquor agency. Utah Hospitality Association spokeswoman and attorney Lisa March McGarry says the two are “in a cozy little double bed together.” Bed partners or not, the thought of an unholy alliance between SBI and the DABC is enough to give many licensees nightmares. Especially now that, thanks to prompting from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Legislature increased funding for SBI, taking what MADD’s Jaynie Brown says is the DABC enforcement squad’s number from 15 agents to 21 in July.

War and Peace
“Our duties are to keep a good balance between drinkers and nondrinkers and to be able to give licenses where they belong,” DABC commission chairman Sam Granato says. He’s not going to handcuff anyone with a dream, money and ambition. He also wants to loosen the penalty grid. Recent first-time servings to minors violations have resulted in $1,200 fines instead of the usual five-day suspension—a development Dorius says he’s glad to see.

Whether Granato’s compassion will spill over into law enforcement is another matter. Some private-club owners have installed cameras to tape evidence for rebutting SBI allegations. For Chlepas, cameras would be the end of his neighborhood bar. It’s not the price of the equipment that stops him. It’s that the bar’s very essence would be threatened if he wires it up for image and sound. It’s an iconic, little holdout among the monster homes of Holladay. The noisy Interstate 215 interchange thunders to the east. But down in a leafy hollow, something sacred and profane beats to its own drum.

Chlepas conjures up a middle-age man on a Saturday afternoon who has finished mowing his lawn. He wants a burger and a beer or two to wash it down. He heads for the Cotton Bottom. But how does that man feel, Chlepas asks, when he looks up from his beer to see a camera lens coldly staring at him?

“It makes sense to do that to save your ass, but at what cost?” he all but snarls. “I hate that. There’s too much surveillance in this world already.”


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