Page 3 of 4A slap and a thank you
Problems relating to the lack of contestable evidence in liquor-law cases wasn’t the only thing the depositions revealed. Agents complained about a lack of training and of outdated investigation policies. One agent described as “embarrassing” that SBI investigation guidelines were last written in 1991 and said they didn’t “necessarily apply directly to alcohol.” Instead of a policy, they have a checklist to fill out on issues such as membership and flavorings. There were undercover courses related to drug training, not alcohol—although one agent learned how to distill whiskey. Rookie agents, it seemed, learned mostly on the job.
That Hutton and her co-counsel were challenging the agents over their descriptions upset one SBI agent, Hutton recalls. “He was really annoyed with us,” she says, and came to the deposition wearing his gun. That same agent said he had not drunk anything alcoholic in his life—“Never a drop.” Another said he’d buy a Bud Light out of an expense account for inspections, then take it to the restroom, empty it and refill it with water.
The agents “believed in what they were doing,” Hutton says. Some of them clearly thought, “These people need to be punished for selling and consuming alcohol.”
And punishment was administered, albeit after an unexpected turn of events. In mid-September 2007, server Kate Calder, who now works in real estate, independently settled with the DABC and paid a $250 fine. With Calder admitting the violation, she was confirming some of the state’s charges against The Hotel. “It didn’t hurt our case,” Page says.
Hutton couldn’t believe it. “The only individual they had IDed in the story, and they were letting her go with a slap and a thank you.”
The hearing judge, Carol Clawson, told the two sides to work it out. Having started with a possible permanent closure, Page ended up closing The Hotel for seven days and a fine plus costs of $2,715 for three violations.
Despite his bruising battle with the DABC, The Hotel’s owner Harwood is still in fighting mood. “In my humble opinion, the biggest thing we have to do is put our foot down with the DABC. They work for you and I. We are paying large taxes. Their job is not to hand out punishment. It is the continuous flow of alcohol in Utah.”
“Every time a bar owner makes a [prehearing] settlement, we all lose,” Harwood says. Bar owners “are very uneducated to what their legal rights are.”
Troy Peterson owns Club Allure, previously known as Sandy Station. His private club is a sprawling building east of Interstate 15 at 9000 South. It’s not just he who suffers when the club is hit, he says. It’s his employees and ancillary workers, as well.
Peterson, who comes from Wyoming with a background in oil, is new to Utah. He bought Sandy Station in March 2007 as “a great investment.”
At the end of last year, he brought in Chippendales male strippers. He decided to repeat the successful event. He told the screaming, female audience they couldn’t touch the dancers. One Chippendale dancer, however, grabbed a dollar out of a woman’s cleavage.
Peterson made $22,000 that night. Three weeks later, the DABC notified him his club had committed three violations. An investigator had come to the Chippendales show, armed with a buttonhole camera. Two counts were related to unlawful sexual activity, a third to nonmember entry. Peterson went alone to a prehearing with AG Page. As a new bar owner, he hoped for leniency. He didn’t get it. The DABC wasn’t there to pick on him, Page said. Then, he says, she told him he’d have to close for 22 days and pay fines and costs of $405. When did he want to close, she asked?
What bothered Peterson most was the lewdness charge. Everyone knows, he argues, that Chippendales perform in an overheated sexual atmosphere. The DABC wasn’t interested.
He had just bought a home in Utah and was in talks to buy a transportation company so he could provide free rides from the club over the weekends. “I backed out of that,” he says. The DABC left him with a bad taste in his mouth. “I feel like I’m on eggshells here,” he says.
Peterson was able to keep his staff on through the closure and remodel the bar with an elevated VIP section. He relaunched recently under the new name Club Allure, a common—though expensive—tactic bar owners often employ after a closure.
“It amazed me they didn’t come up with another solution than closing our doors and hurting not just the owner but employees and indirect workers, too,” Peterson says. He cites his Budweiser rep who works on commission and told him, “This is really going to hurt me and my family.” He ticks off a list: the Coors rep, the Cisco food reps, the night cleaners, the karaoke promoters, the people who cleaned employees’ shirts and the club’s rugs. They all suffered. Peterson took the biggest hit. In total, he says his lost income and other costs for the 22 days amounted to $133,072.67.
While Peterson is a new hand to Utah’s liquor laws, Cotton Bottom Inn owner Chlepas has dedicated his life to negotiating the tricky waters of selling brews in Utah. He thought he’d kept his side of the deal with the DABC. He became a responsible barkeep, he says. He slowed down service at his Holladay beer hall to dissuade power drinkers. His famous garlic burger and sandwiches-to-beer ratio consumption went from 1 to 5, to 1 to 2.3. The Cotton Bottom is the bar you want in your neighborhood, he says.
“Then all of a sudden, they don’t trust that I’m a responsible bar owner,” Chlepas says. Cops try and catch him in a mistake, and when they do, “I get treated like a criminal.”
Why do they still need to sneak a minor in when they see everyone is carded, he demands? He doesn’t want young people in, he says. They become aggressive when drinking. They fight and steal. “This is not what I bought into,” when the DABC promised a partnership back in the 1980s, he complains.