Exclusive Poll: Utahns Overwhelmingly Want to Do Away With Zion Curtain

Two-thirds of Utahns want to do away with the so-called “Zion Curtain,” a seven-foot wall that keeps restaurant patrons from seeing liquor bottles or seeing alcoholic drinks being mixed, a new UtahPolicy poll finds.

The new poll, conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, comes just as Rep. Kraig Powell, R-Heber, introduces his HB339 in the 2015 Legislature.

Powell’s bill would take down the wall – required in new restaurants with liquor licenses opened since 2009 and that year’s liquor-by-the-drink compromise – and allow new restaurants to have a defined “bar area” where minor children could not sit.

Jones found that 67 percent of Utahns want to take down the Zion Curtain – so nicknamed because it came up in Utah (called Zion by some Mormons) and was part of the deal with LDS Church leaders to allow liquor by the drink in the state, and thus do away with the state’s unique private club license.

Only 28 percent of Utahns want to keep the curtain, Jones found.

Powell said he can’t speak for LDS Church leaders, and he has not been in direct contact with them. However, he said the Utah Restaurant Association supports his bill and it is his understanding that association leaders have been in contact with various groups, including LDS Church leaders, asking for input on the new Powell bill.

“I do believe my bill will help in liquor law enforcement” and in economic development – as tourists and business visitors won’t see an odd glass/wall partition, and wonder if liquor is served in the establishment, since they can’t see a bar area.

Since LDS Church leaders do take stands on liquor law in Utah, it is of interest how LDS Church members feel about the Zion Curtain.

Jones found that those who said they are “very active” in the Mormon Church, 53 support doing away with the curtain, 39 percent oppose.

Those who said they are “somewhat active” Mormons, 83 percent support doing away with the curtain, 16 percent oppose.

Those who said they are “inactive” Mormons, 92 percent support the curtain’s demise, 4 percent oppose.

Catholics support doing away with the Zion Curtain, 81-12 percent; Protestants say dump it, 95-5 percent.

And those with no religion support doing away with it, 89-7 percent.

Utah Republicans favor doing away with the Zion Curtain, 56-39 percent; Democrats, 88-9 percent; and independent voters, 74-19 percent.

The poll was conducted Feb. 2-9 of 606 Utahns and has a margin of error of plus or minus. 3.98 percent.

Powell said the only real argument he ever heard about keeping the “dispensing barrier” – he declines to call it the Zion Curtain – is that minors shouldn’t see alcohol being mixed or dispensed because that may make them more likely to drink, or to try alcohol.

But since alcoholic drinks are brought to the table for adults to consumer, in clear vision of minors either at that table or nearby, by having a separate bar area, it is more likely drinks won’t be seen by minors – who will be sitting in another area of the restaurant.

“I believe my bill is family friendly,” said Powell.

“And the restaurant association tells me their members would be happy to do the construction” in their newer establishments to create a bar area, only accessible by adults.

Art Brown, former head of the Utah Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driver, said the national chapter doesn’t take stands on individual states’ legislation, and he is not speaking for the organization.

However, Brown told UtahPolicy that any change in Utah liquor law that could end up encouraging under-age drinking is wrong and harmful.

Children 9-13 is the danger age group, for if they see that alcohol is cool, or acceptable, or adult-like, then they are more likely to try it, said Brown.

Wyoming has the same basic distinctions as Utah, said Brown. “Keep a bar a bar, keep a family restaurant a family restaurant – don’t morph” the former into the latter.

“Back in 2009, we made an agreement on alcohol (with the LDS Church leaders, and others). And when it comes to alcohol in Utah, an agreement is an agreement. And we should stick to it,” said Brown.

Last year, just before the 2014 Legislature convened, LDS Church leaders issued a statement saying that Utah liquor laws are adequate, and shouldn’t be changed.

Church leaders did not issue such a statement before the 2015 Legislature. In recent years repeal of the Zion Curtain found favor in the Utah House, and even passed that body once – failing in the Senate.

Powell said he can’t say for sure how a “bar area” would be separated from other dining areas, where minors would be allowed.

He imagines it would be something like pre-Zion Curtain restaurants would be laid out – with a bar in one area that is in another room, or separated by a low wall, maybe with glass or some other decorative partition.

Some pre-2009 restaurants have high-tables next to the actual bar, which also sets off the adult area of the restaurant.

Ultimately, any kind of “barrier” between the bar area and the minor dining area would be set up by rules adopted by the ABC – Alcohol Beverage Control Department and its commission.

Informed of the new UtahPolicy poll, Powell said it only makes sense to do this now, and he’s pleased so many Utahns agree with the need to remove the Zion Curtain.