Private Eye | Ounce of Prevention: Another Legislative session, more liquor laws | Private Eye | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
Support the Free Press.
Facts matter. Truth matters. Journalism matters.
Salt Lake City Weekly has been Utah's source of independent news and in-depth journalism since 1984.
Donate today to ensure the legacy continues.

News » Private Eye

Private Eye | Ounce of Prevention: Another Legislative session, more liquor laws


There hasn’t been a year in the history of this newspaper when the Legislature didn’t pass another liquor law. God bless them, the fools. If they had any sense, we wouldn’t be here.

That story’s for another day. Meanwhile, they’re at it again with at least two liquor bills before them. One, sponsored by Rep. Curtis Oda, R-Clearfield, seeks to take the disciplinary process from the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) and give that authority to the supposedly less conflicted Utah attorney general. His bill was born when Bogey’s private club in Clearfield was given the Al Capone treatment by liquor-enforcement agents, including agents allegedly getting a patron drunk—then citing the club for serving an intoxicated person.

Liquor strong-arming isn’t new. What is new is that Bogey’s didn’t roll over. Oda told The Salt Lake Tribune that liquor licensees are “absolutely scared to death” of the liquor commission. We’ve said that ourselves a thousand times. It’s no surprise that some folks inside the DABC oppose Oda’s bill. One liquor commissioner, Gordon Strachan, told the Tribune, that not a single licensee “has called me and complained about the treatment they have received from the commissioners or the current group of commissioners.” They won’t, Mr. Strachan. They’re afraid you’d come back on them. That simple.

Unfairly, the DABC gets the brunt of the bad press when it comes to Utah liquor law. The agents inside Bogey’s weren’t DABC agents, but the citations they wrote, like all liquor citations, are ultimately ruled upon at the DABC. The agency—most publicly via the liquor commission which historically has been downright dumb when it comes to liquor issues—not only awards liquor licenses, it administers them, regulates them and, in many cases, fines them beyond belief. It also takes licenses away. It’s been known to reward a friend. The system is positively, uhhh, Nixonian. I poured my first drink as a bartender in 1974. Since that time, I haven’t met a single private club operator who is not afraid of the DABC. Except at a Marriott hotel, perhaps.

The Utah Legislature generally could give a rat about fairness to the liquor industry. Knowing many people at DABC, I trust them much more than I do the attorney general’s office, though. Any A.G. could make it an agenda to become known as “the cop who busted liquor.” Next, you’d be calling him governor. Anyway, it’s not the DABC in sum that’s the problem but primarily the liquor-commission system that needs an overhaul.

The second bill being attempted this year is a nearly impossible-to-explain ball of confusion. Currently, all drinks served in clubs or restaurants are limited to 1 ounce of primary liquor per drink. By some weird calculation, additional ounces of liquor can be added to a drink when making a mixed cocktail like a martini or Black Russian. The system is a punk. Mixing a cocktail isn’t like baking a cake. A bartender can legally add about a quart or so of Kahlua (because it’s “technically” a flavoring) to the one-ounce primary base of vodka in a Black Russian. In a word, yecch! Conversely, a martini should begin with a base of vodka or gin that is larger than one ounce. But a Utah bartender cannot “flavor” the primary liquor with another primary liquor, because then it would be a “double.” Get it? Oh, and don’t forget the single drop of vermouth! Mr. Bond gets a weak drink that is embarrassing to serve.

So the “sidecar” was invented. Basically a sidecar is a clone drink but served on the side, like bacon—essentially just an order of two drinks at once. Pour your martini sidecar into the martini glass, and voila, a real martini. But not really. Do you cook your own bacon at the Blue Plate Diner? Supporters want to raise the primary cocktail base to 1.5 ounces and compensate by restricting the amount of flavoring that can be added, thereby eliminating the need for a sidecar altogether. The supporters are wrong. Outside of not solving the martini dilemma—and, meanwhile, eliminating a near majority of well-known cocktails—it sounds like a peachy idea. But you know it’s a bad idea because the bill is endorsed by Capitol Hill Republicans.

The minibottles formerly used to pour Utah cocktails were universally acknowledged as dangerous, since they contained 1.5 ounces per bottle—nearly a double in every drink. During the change to the metric system, the size of the minibottle increased to 1.75 ounces. So, why would our backwoods Legislature want to go back to that measure? Because restaurants don’t like to serve weak drinks to tourists—they can’t even serve sidecars, currently. Yet they are driving this legislation. Most private club patrons don’t even bother with sidecars. Private clubs are less influential on Capitol Hill. Restaurants hold sway these days.

A stronger drink will not yield a better price value, only higher drink prices. And more drunks—even with a minibottle, a bartender could short-pour the lout at the end of the bar. Me, for instance. It would be funny, except going full-circle on liquor pour is all predicated on the exact same liquor-control/liquor-is-evil argument. That argument is most pronounced in Utah’s Precambrian private clubs. They’ve seen it all.

Keep the 1-ounce pour, but allow a desired extra ounce of a primary liquor to be served in the same friggin’ glass. Bartenders can choose not to pour the extra—which, with a 1.5 ounce pour, becomes an impossible task they take liability for. Compromise on flavorings. Cocktails can be made correctly minus the silly exceptions. Do that, and Utah can finally dump the pantywaste sidecar. That would end the embarrassing martini explanation to those nitpicky tourists—and locals—who continue to be treated like Albanians at the Greek border. So to speak.