Utah Liquor Licenses Unfairly Withheld | Private Eye | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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News » Private Eye

Utah Liquor Licenses Unfairly Withheld

Salt Lake City's The Hotel is the latest victim of a silly alcohol-regulation system.



I didn’t sleep so well last night. After tossing and turning while watching the clock remain frozen on the same hour for about five hours, I finally arose, a tad on the sour mood side. As I stood and felt the blood in my head fail to defy gravity and rush to my feet, I realized I needed a special kick to improve my surly demeanor: Crack cocaine. That created a problem for me since I’ve never even seen crack cocaine. I wouldn’t know crack cocaine from a cracked manifold.

That’s right, I’m not a mechanic, either. No matter, since there’s no way I’d opt in for crack anyway. I was stuck. I was not feeling so great, I wanted to feel better, and I for damned sure didn’t want to get on a treadmill. I had this weird sensation that I wanted to both please and punish myself. On many mornings, I can do that with a bowl of oatmeal for pleasure while reading the morning paper for punishment. But today’s Salt Lake Tribune was at about midpoint underneath one of our driveway cars so I shrugged off its latest attempt at losing me as a reader and punched up the Internet instead.

In just a few seconds, I quickly found the perfect substitute for the crack cocaine I wasn’t going to use and headed out to the monthly Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission regulatory meeting. I can’t begin to tell you how many mind-numbing experiences I’ve had during those meetings. Therefore, I knew that was my ticket to a better day, simply because, by contrast, every minute after the meeting would feel like a warm, candlelit bath. Not even counting the incense.

Following standard agenda items, like where a new liquor store may or may not be located or a generic budget report, the real drama begins when the liquor commission decides the fate of liquor-license applicants. Discard the physical blood bath, replace it with a financial bloodletting, and you’ll see the liquor-applicant process is not far removed from Nero feeding Christians to the lions. It’s uncomfortable watching nervous applicants stand before the commission. After everyone speaks, the liquor commission breaks into an executive session to vote on which businesses will live and which will die.

Thumbs up, an applicant gets either a new license or can continue using his or her old one (if they’re there to explain an infraction). As if rehearsed, once a liquor applicant hears the good news, he or she bows their head, counts their blessings, mumbles a quiet “Thank you, commi s sioner s ,” and makes a beeline for the exit. Each marvels at his or her good fortune.

Thumbs down, and that liquor applicant also bows his or her head, wonders why the commission hates them, considers if the process is really worth it, mumbles a quiet “Screw you, commissioners,” and makes a snails pace for the exit. It’s best for them to leave an empty room, not wanting to be seen as a loser at this very expensive game.

Today was no exception. Immediately after the executive session, commissioner Bobbie Coray began reading from a dusty book of laws or regulations. She carefully stated that the commission is charged with assuring the state (which runs and profits from its liquor monopoly) that applicants winning licenses are sound business managers. Everyone in the coliseum—er, hearing room—knew what she was doing: She was prepping the applicants from The Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City for the kill.

Sure enough, upon finishing her reading of the text, she quickly announced that the commission was not impressed with the applicants from The Hotel, but that they would be welcome to return in a month to try again. That’s what The Hotel was told last month when it surrendered its license, and new management was denied its application for that license. Since then, scores of employees have been out of work and the state has lost additional tax and liquor revenues— indeed, the state is down 9.2 percent in club liquor-sales revenue from a year ago. Run a club that way and it’s out of business. Instead, Coray, straight-faced, announced that the primary applicant for the Hotel license, Bryan Borreson, had not passed the commission sound-management sniff test. Again. Hmmm.

Just an hour earlier, she listened to her own audit report that found a $687,000 error in the state’s favor (what’s that again about sound management, Bobbie?). Of all the applicants on this day, Borreson was the only applicant who provided documentation regarding his management skills in the form of letters, references and work histories. DABC compliance division testified that the financial issues that Borreson’s former employer may have had with the state and DABC were resolved. It’s all a canard.

For the next 30 days Borreson will be wearing the dirty smudge laid on him today by Bobbie Coray. I didn’t write one of those letters for Borreson, though I know him, like him and respect him. If there are bad managers out there, he isn’t one of them.

The only hole in Borreson’s resume is the time he spent kicking for the Ute football team. If shanking field goals was the basis for Coray’s fictional “sound management” license-denial fairy tale, as a Ute fan, I could understand. But it isn’t. If the Utah liquor commission has an issue with The Hotel— and apparently it does, because now it will be closed for 60 days on a penalty it already submitted to—then it needs to give an official reason and leave the kicker out of it.

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