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Do Tell

When it comes to Utah liquor laws, for every piece of good, there are 10 measures of bad.


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More than 35 years ago, this newspaper began as an outgrowth of stupid, zany, unproductive—and even constitutionally illegal—Utah liquor laws. Back in those days, we called ourselves The Private Eye Newspaper, hence the name of this column, and much of our content was dedicated to Utah private clubs. It’s a long story, and most of the people reading this under the age of 35 don’t know what private clubs were. Put simply, private clubs began as dark drinking dungeons that sold annual memberships, much like a fitness spa does. Without a membership you couldn’t get in and buying a membership put you into a database, but they weren’t called that back then.
Most people limited themselves to their favorite watering holes, maybe joining three or four private clubs that stretched across the valley. Only bartenders, waitresses (because they are special) and big spenders got a break from having to join a club. Well, attractive women did, too. But as a fat, unattractive male, I always resented that, even though I understood why they got a break. If a club were caught serving a non-member, they were cited and faced fines or closure from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. During the time of private clubs, I never once heard of one being cited for serving a non-member who was not an undercover (and usually underage) police officer or a state agent (who always employed every manner of deception to get past a door person). It was implicit that Utah imposed a stranglehold on private clubs to keep them operating in fear.

Imagine going out in downtown Salt Lake City today, and having to shell out individual memberships to enter Cheers to You, London Belle, Whiskey Street, White Horse, The Rest, Maxwell’s and the Alibi—all located on the same Main Street block. That would set you back well over $150 right there, before you had your first drink. And geez, what if you wanted to hop over to Gracie’s, Bourbon House, Green Pig, Twist, Good Grammar, Johnny’s on Second, Bar X, Urban Lounge, Lake Effect, the Depot, Murphy’s, Patrick’s Pub or Poplar?

Those are all “public” operations today; no membership is required. However, Utah lawmakers are nothing if not creative. So instead of presenting a membership at any of those emporiums, I have to show a legal ID to enter—not to prove my age, but for which I present to a scanner for purposes unknown. Without an ID, I can’t get in to be served a drink. Nothing has changed except the scenery. Private clubs are just no longer called private clubs and the state can’t ever get over its drinker voyeurism. The state has its eyes on me (and you) at all times. Ominously, the database is more sophisticated.
You’d think that would be enough for Utah, to know that with a flash of a badge or the flick or a warrant, a state agency could track your movements through a Saturday night of imbibing. Couple that with geolocation tags on your mobile phone, credit card spending reports, point of sale (POS) systems that itemize down to the ice cube, and a pretty picture can be painted of just about anyone these days—their whereabouts, their activities, and yes, even, how much and how fast they purchased their Saturday night alcoholic beverages. All that’s left for the coppers to do, is pull out a scale and take your weight. But why bother? You’ve probably already pasted that into your fitness app.

I’d like to report that after most of a lifetime watching, spouting off and occasionally reporting about Utah and booze, that there has been an equivalence of good come out of it. But I can’t. For every piece of good, there are 10 measures of bad. No matter how far the Utah Legislature pushes consumers and club owners, it is never enough.

A bill before this year’s legislature would require that an officer who arrests a suspected DUI offender ask where the alcohol they consumed was obtained, and to record such information in an incident report. Sorta like, “Ma’am, I see you have an abundance of diapers in your vehicle. I need to know where you bought them.” To lawmakers like Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville, sponsor of this silly bill, adults who drink are children. Get real, Tim. If you don’t want alcohol consumed, ban alcohol, but don’t require people to not only answer a silly question (that can readily be answered at a trial), but also one that just begs to create more problems. Like lying. What number of people who are asked that question are going to tell the truth? Would any of you? You’re not going to get a reduced sentence for telling the truth, you know. Any driver could indict any club or restaurant, even ones they didn’t visit, maybe to settle a grudge or to keep a secret. That would only set off another empty goose chase and do nothing to prevent drunk driving or even discover—as is dubiously claimed—what clubs produce the most drunks.

Read above, Tim: You’re already able to track drinkers through courts and electronic methods none of us really signed up for. But let’s not change that, because we kind of like knowing there are ways to track smarmy legislators who cheat on their wives, drink in Vegas, finagle a bribe or somehow mistake a gay bar for an election fundraiser. The secret about secrets, Tim, is that, if I’ve learned anything in 35 years of reporting on the state Legislature, someone up there—one of your cohorts—is hiding a grand secret.

Here’s my email:

Do tell.