Private Eye | Dyin' in Zion: Port O' Call was an anomaly in a town that yearns to be Vatican West. | Private Eye | Salt Lake City Weekly

Private Eye | Dyin' in Zion: Port O' Call was an anomaly in a town that yearns to be Vatican West. 

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I walked into Port O’ Call for the very first time on the very first day the club opened. At the time, our offices were on Historic Main Street in Midvale, not downtown. But our back page was always sold to Mainstay Vodka, and I knew the distributor of that product Terry Nish (he of Salt Flats race-driving fame), very well. All I really remember is that the tables had green tablecloths on them. Nish introduced me to Kent Knowley, who was tending bar, and Jannette Nikas, who was waiting tables. The two were partners in the new venture with a few other investors.

The club was previously called Bourbon Street, a place I never really warmed up to. Before that, it was the Haggis, a truly innovative club in Salt Lake City because it—along with The Wasatch Front (long since closed), Green Street (formerly in the Hard Rock Café space) and The Green Parrot (now The Hotel)—marked the first time private clubs could actually have windows to the outside world. Most every other club in town looked like a fortress, and you had to buzz your way through the door like you see in gangster movies. Back then, private clubs really were private—and many of them concealed the private imbibings of politicians, judges, cops and sundry movers and shakers.

My, how time flies. Now, many of those movers and shakers have moved on to cutting their deals inside the wide expanse of Utah’s restaurants where damned near any drinker can get lost among the throngs of decent people like Sen. Mike Waddoups, R-Taylorsville/West Jordan. He recently ate at a Chili’s (elsewhere known as Chili’s Grill & Bar) and almost died on the spot when he noticed liquor sales in full view of minors like himself. Waddoups duly noted that the so-called “Zion Curtain”—meant to prevent bartenders from serving drinks over restaurant bar counters—is a laughable farce.

Sane Utahns say the Zion Curtain needs to come down. Waddoups says the Zion Curtain needs to be reinforced with more ignorance-based legislation. Ignorance such as? Kids reaching over the Zion Curtain barriers and stealing drinks, according to Waddoups. Sane Utahns who don’t like to be around liquor avoid the places that serve it. Waddoups wants his sizzling fajitas but he doesn’t want them interrupted by somebody slurping on an El Niño Margarita. His world is a Dairy Queen world. Sane Utahns who drink generally despise Mike Waddoups and the hot dog he rode in on.

At Port O’ Call, a huge neon sign blared from one of the very windows that were once a Salt Lake City novelty. The sign informed passers-by that inside the Port one could find “Food, Ghosts and Fun.” Ghosts? Utah logic says the club’s original slogan “Food, Spirits and Fun” couldn’t be used since righteous people like Mr. Waddoups are offended by the word “spirits.” Never mind that people could look right through the windows anyway—a dumb rule is a dumb rule, and the object shall be for Utah lawmakers to make them even dumber.


As in private-club memberships. Sane Utahns know the private-club law is silly and not a drinking deterrent, and they bitch about it ad nauseum. Visitors to Utah know the law is silly and not a drinking deterrent, and they go back home to tell their friends how stupid we are. Insane people like Waddoups think that’s a good thing. Among the asinine statements folks like him like to make is this gem, “If tourists only come here to drink, we don’t want them.”

Ditto, Waddoups—it’s the rare tourist who could bear five minutes with him and not throw up. Waddoups can induce the gag reflex by merely speaking. He now says if private clubs go away, Utah needs to scan the IDs of everyone going into a private club—or whatever they will be called—whether they drink or not. After seeing an ID-scanner demonstration (wanna bet he got some Jazz seats for his time?), Waddoups recently expanded his idea to include scanning at restaurants, too.

In Waddoupsworld, if you were drinking in one place, then visited another, your second bartender could tap into a database and find that you may have been drinking. If you were pulled over for a missing taillight, a cop could do the same. You tell me why Utah shouldn’t be considered a laughing stock. You tell me why Waddoups wouldn’t pee himself if he had to similarly register his wacky follies.

Monday, Feb. 2, was the last call at Port O’ Call. I was there. In many ways, I liked clubs before they had windows—not because I don’t like seeing outside, but because I don’t like Waddoups and the rest seeing in. Kent and Jannette eventually married and bought the Shubrick Building in which they would sink millions rehabilitating—only to have the U.S. government steal it. The federal courthouse that will someday replace the Shubrick should have been placed elsewhere. The Feds picked that spot even though the property across the street is vacant—it’s owned by billionaire Earl Holding, who is protected by Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Some didn’t like driving past Port O’Call with its raging neon, with its four floors of fun, with its lines stretching from here to Jesus, with its Budweiser billboard and alcohol flowing inside. Port was a conspicuous anomaly in a town that yearns to be Vatican West. I think certain powerful and influential people viewed the Port as another Zion Curtain—the largest in Utah—a symbol of all they strive against. And they had it destroyed.


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About The Author

John Saltas

John Saltas

John Saltas, Utah native and journalism/mass communication graduate from the University of Utah, founded City Weekly as a small newsletter in 1984. He served as the newspaper's first editor and publisher and now, as founder and executive editor, he contributes a column under the banner of Private Eye, (the original... more

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