Utah seeks to crumble ‘Zion curtain’



SALT LAKE CITY — State lawmakers are considering abolishing the barrier required in restaurants to shield customers from liquor dispensing — a barrier often referred to as the “Zion curtain.”

Current liquor laws have been highly debated throughout the state. During the 2015 general legislative session, Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber City, introduced HB339 in hopes of compromising with Zion’s controversial curtain. However, the bill did not pass, despite lawmakers’ consensus that some sort of compromise still needs to be made.  Recently, Senate leaders discussed making another run at a bill.

The Utah Capitol opened in 1906. In 2016, the state celebrated the Capitol's Centennial.
The Utah Capitol opened in 1906. In 2016, the state celebrated the Capitol’s Centennial.

“(The Zion curtain) discourages national chains from readily developing in Utah. Plus, most restaurants drive from the selling of alcohol,” said Utah restaurateur Joseph Kent. “While I can understand lawmakers’ concerns, I do feel like it creates a disincentive for national chains and independent restaurants to thrive in the economy.”

Cortney Anderson is what he calls a “transplant” to Utah from Buffalo, New York, and has said the Zion curtain is unnecessary and, at times, counterproductive in its goals to save children from alcohol abuse.

“Hiding alcohol from children will not stop them from drinking. In fact, just the opposite will happen,” Anderson said. “It absolutely hinders children’s understanding of alcohol. If they don’t see it and it’s hidden, they won’t ask questions … It is scary that they might learn about it in an uncontrolled setting.”

Anderson is not alone in his doubts about current state liquor laws. BYU student Emily Christensen, who is 23-years-old, has never consumed alcohol and says she doesn’t plan on it. Yet, as a Utah native, she still says, “I feel the Zion curtain is unnecessary.”

“If people want alcohol then they will find it, but if it’s something they don’t believe in then they wont seek it out. It doesn’t matter if they know it is there or not,” Christensen said.

Senate leadership said the senate is aware of voters’ desires to change Utah’s liquor laws. Still, no bills regarding the Zion curtain have made it past the drafting stages so far in the 2016 general session.

Supporters of Utah’s current liquor law say abolishing the Zion curtain would only benefit those who drink alcohol and not those who wish to not be involved with alcoholic products.

Powell’s bill suggests allowing restaurants to have lounges or bars that would be off-limits to minors. Instead of a wall shielding the alcohol from the customers, a sign would read, “Notice: this establishment prepares and dispenses alcoholic products in public view.”

“I think anything that would let the guest choose and un-inhibit business would be great,” said Kent. “We need to balance the needs of the general public, but at the same time we need to not keep business from doing business.”

Anderson said he feels it’s a good idea to let parents decide whether or not they will eat at a restaurant with a bar visible to their children, but also believes there is a better way.

“The state does not force restaurants to have bars, so please don’t force restaurants to not have bars,” Anderson said.

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