Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Utah's 'Zion Curtain' is History, or Not

Salt Lake City restaurant owner Joel LaSalle in front of his 'Zion Curtain.'
(Rick Bowmer, AP)
If you have never bought a drink in a Utah restaurant, you may not believe this is true but it is ... or, rather, was.

They call it the 'Zion Curtain,' a barrier that prevents drinkers in Utah restaurants from seeing their drinks being made. Why? Because Utah wants to protect children from being seduced by the glamour of bartending. This has become even more onerous for restaurants in recent years as bartending has become, well, more glamorous.

But now a new law is dragging Utah kicking and screaming into the mid-1930s.

The rule has only ever applied to restaurants that allow children. No children, no problem, so places that don't admit anyone under 21 have never needed them.

The partitions have not always been with us. They were only enacted in 2009 and applied only to new restaurants, built after the law went into effect.

As you might suspect, it's a Mormon thing. The Mormon faith forbids the consumption of alcohol. Caffeine too, though apparently Starbucks doesn't have to protect children from the glamour of barista-ing.

As a result of the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, which repealed Prohibition, the beverage alcohol business in the U.S. works in a way that is almost exactly opposite to how all other laws involving commerce behave. It turns the Commerce Clause on its head in many, though not all ways.

Alcohol in Utah and some other states is similar to abortion in many of the same states, in that they can't ban it altogether so they just try to make it as inconvenient and unpleasant as possible for you to exercise your legal right.

Don't get me started on 3.2 beer.

Although no other state has anything like the 'Zion Curtain,' every state has its own legal peculiarities when it comes to alcohol. Convenience stores in Indiana may sell beer but not cold beer.

In virtually all other forms of commerce, the U.S. is a single market. The same rules apply everywhere. With alcohol, it is 50 different markets. That complexity and inefficiency is built into the price of every alcoholic beverage you buy.

But remember, it's for the children.

Just because the 'Zion Curtain' is tumbling down, that doesn't mean the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (UDABC) will stop being a pain in the ass. Now all restaurants, including those built before 2009, will have a choice of either creating a 'no kids zone' at least ten feet from the bar, possibly through the use of a railing or half-wall, or they can keep the partitions. Restaurant owners have five years to comply, assuming Utah doesn't change the rules again.

The UDABC is also warning restaurants that the changes they plan to make must be approved before they are implemented, or they could lose their license. Some of the people who were smashing their partitions last week may need to get out the Crazy Glue.


Jim Laminack said...

In a touch of irony, Utah was the 36th state (and final state necessary) to vote for the 21st amendment which ended prohibition.

Fox Creek said...

The Indiana cold beer prohibition is true. One time I looked all over a big supermarket in Indy with my Sis-in-Law for cold beer none to be had. She was born and raised there and wasn't aware of this. You could buy chilled bottles of wine and cold bottles of whisky (yes, I know Ugh)but no beer.

Mr. Sausage said...

I grew up in a household where Dad had a martini or two after work and shared a bottle of wine with my mom during dinner. Pretty much every night. That's an example of modeling robust but consistent consumption for the next generation. My brother and I inherited the genes of these people but also soaked in the idea that alcohol was okay, normal and could be enjoyed in...moderation. Mostly.
If I'm kid in Utah and see the man behind the frosty glass making something mysterious that my mom and dad want, guess what? The lawmakers in that state have just taken something that children wouldn't usually have an interest in, and made it taboo. I'd want to know what in Jospeh Smith's name this stuff was and why it was shrouded in secrecy. Demystifying things like sex and drugs is important for young people. The more you cover it up, the more interest it generates.

Crown Point Marc said...

And no one under the age of 21 is allowed in an Indiana liquor store, yet you can buy all the booze you want at a grocery store with your kids in tow.

Anonymous said...

Just based on the picture accompanying this post, can't anyone just peek around the magical frosty glass wall? -And what if they do? Will the Mormon (probably Republican) moral Gestapo tackle them, slap the cuffs on them and frog-march them over to the nearest police station? This is insanity, pure and simple. One should expect nothing less in Trump's Amerika. (Sorry for giving any offense to random readers for the political stuff.)

Brian McDaniel said...

Not sure what that has to do with Trump specifically. I'm not a fan or anything, but he's no Mormon. FWIW Islam prohibits alcohol as well. I'm sure there are other religions that do.

Anonymous said...

The Zion Curtain is an improvement over no public bars, only private clubs.

Indiana has their version of the Zion curtain: for anyone under 21 to be admitted to a restaurant (or a particular seating area) in which alcohol is served, one must not be able to see the bar when seated at a table.

Also in Indiana, liquor stores (which can sell cold beer) cannot sell cold soda/mixers. Hard liquor sales in groceries in Indiana is a relatively recent development.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Grocery stores in Indiana can sell cold wine now but they still can't sell cold beer.