Utah Just Did Away With Liquor-Hiding “Curtains”

As liquor laws loosen, the “Zion Curtain” may become a thing of the past

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Utahns will once again be allowed to see this view when they order a drink. istock/grafvision

Ordering a drink at a Utah bar has long been a surreal experience. For years, bars in some restaurants have been hidden behind partitions designed to keep bartenders from the view of underage drinkers—even for drinkers at the bar itself. But now, that’s a thing of the past. As NPR’s Amy Held reports, those days have finally ended for some restaurants as a new liquor law goes into effect in the state.

The law will allow the so-called “Zion Curtain,” as the partitions are called, to be torn down for restaurants that are able to keep diners at least ten feet away from the bar, or five feet away from bars with half partitions. 

As The Economist reports, the 2010 law, which had implemented controversial curtain requirements, was even in effect for restaurants that served nothing stronger than beer. As a result, some chain restaurants slowed their Utah expansions. 

Zion Curtains existed before 2010, reports Dawn House for the Salt Lake Tribune, but they were briefly taken down in 2009, following complaints that they were difficult to enforce. The 2010 law clarified the requirements, but sparked another round of complaints from restaurateurs, who claim that it gave older restaurants, who were grandfathered in, an unfair advantage.

As Michelle Price reports for the Associated Press, the law is “based on the premise that the barriers shield children from alcohol culture and what some perceive as the glamour of bartending, and prevents underage drinking.”

The majority of Utahns belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Its dietary code discourages the use of alcohol, caffeine and tobacco.

Ironically, writes Pat Bagley for the Religion News Service, Mormons haven’t always been teetotalers. Early Mormon settlers brewed beer and made wine, reports Bagley, and were even celebrated by church leader Brigham Young. But in recent years, Utah and its Mormon community have become synonymous with tough liquor laws that have sparked jokes, silly souvenirs and even art.

So how are restaurants responding to the revised law? With jubilation, reports Kathy Stephenson for the Salt Lake Tribune. One restaurant owner tells Stephenson his restaurant has lost more than $16,000 a month since its 2015 opening due to the wall—and that he’s eager to tear down the frosted glass “curtain” as soon as possible.

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