Lawmakers reach deal on ‘Zion Curtain’ bill

Zion CurtainMultiple sources tell UtahPolicy there appears to be an agreement on the high-profile issue of removing the so-called “Zion Curtain” from restaurants serving liquor, wine, and beer.

House Majority Leader Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, says a Monday night meeting yielded a breakthrough. Restaurants holding a liquor license will have three options to keep minors from observing alcoholic drinks being prepared:

  • Keep the Zion curtain as is.
  • Build a 10-foot area between the bar and any tables where children can be seated, no wall is required. 
  • Create a physical barrier, which could be a short wall or a railing, at least 42 inches high and six feet away from where liquor is dispensed (the bar). The side closest to the bar would be adults only, while families could be seated outside the physical barrier.

“It is based on the requirements of Washington State” liquor law, said Wilson, who has been haggling with various interests, including leaders of the LDS Church, over liquor law reform this session.

Restaurants would have five years to implement one of the three options. 

His massive bill, HB442, was introduced Monday to much fanfare and more than a little criticism.

But Wilson is soldiering on, saying even if the so-called Zion Curtain can’t fall this session, there are many other much-needed reforms in his bill.

The new compromise — the 42-inch-high barrier —  Wilson believes, will better accommodate the 330 restaurants that currently are grandfathered in, and so don’t have some form of the Zion Curtain – the 7-foot wall/opaque glass barrier that stops those under 18 from seeing liquor mixed or poured.

The curtain has, since its inception in a 2009 major rewrite of liquor law, been the subject of much scorn in the media – leading to Utah keeping its reputation, earned or not, of being unwelcoming to alcohol drinkers.

Wilson said restaurant groups present at his Monday night meeting agree with the latest compromise.

Also, restaurants that currently don’t have the curtain – because they were grandfathered in back in 2009 – will have to remodel within five years or do the work if they have a major remodel anyway, or they have a change in ownership.

These changes are all about public safety and the ongoing efforts – enhanced in HB442 – to encourage young people not to drink underage (21 in Utah), not to binge drink, or not to start drinking at all.

“Minors will be able to sit on the other side of the barrier, the short wall,” said Wilson.

In tight places – like a grandfathered in restaurant that is narrow side to side – there could be a bar with adult seating only up against it, and then the short wall just behind the bar seating, and up against that wall could be booths or tables with young people present.

All that would be new from the current layout – in grandfathered restaurants — would be the short wall within six feet of the bar itself.

Most likely, larger restaurants would have a bar, where liquor is served, then a few tables where adults only could sit, then the short wall, and then the general seating areas for families with children – not unlike many liquor license restaurants’ layouts now in Utah under the grandfather clause.

After five years all licensed restaurants must meet one of the three options, and so all licensed restaurants would meet the new law – equal in liquor law safety, equal in liquor law dispensing, said Wilson.

He added: “Finally, all would be in the same place.”

And visitors and Utahns alike would no longer be confused about what that goofy looking barrier is hiding the bar and liquor bottles stacked behind it.