[Liquor Laws] Last night’s second DABC hearing on whether to junk private club membership at bars saw overwhelming support for an end to the 40-year-old law. Except, that is, from a few bar owners.
Although the hearing started with one citizen loudly insisting the liquor laws needed tightening rather than loosening--“and that if people don’t like it they can go elsewhere”--much of the evening was given over to a parade of tourist-related associations and bar owners and managers extolling the virtue of a world where out-of-towners wouldn’t have to scratch their heads in confusion or dismay over being asked for a cover charge and their private information when all they wanted was a beer.
Utah Tourism Industry Coalition’s Joel Racker said the elimination of private club membership would make Utah more hospitable. Utah Restaurant Association’s Hans Fuigi said it was painful for the state not to be able to provide visitors with the experience they deserve.
But for Three Alarm saloon owner Jack Carlton, private club membership is a blessing he doesn’t want to see taken away. He recounted a recent episode where his 100-pound female bouncer wrestled to the ground a drunk trying to get into the bar. A witness took a gun from his car and discharged it into the ground to stop the melee, according to Carlton. Resulting richochets hurt several bystanders, one seriously, he added. For Carlton the point was clear: checking for membership keeps the unwanted out. “If I don’t like him, I don’t have to sell membership,” he says. For another bar owner, membership meant a cozy social atmosphere, where bar and wait staff know their regulars. But another barman recalled his bar-hopping youth. He pointed out that club membership was not a deterrent to bar crawls, since each of his friends would have a membership to a different club.
Several speakers expressed concern about the social costs of liberalizing the liquor laws. Citizens for Families’ Valerie Mills spoke about the alcohol landscape and how Governor Jon Huntsman Jr.’s support of dismantling the private club law effectively sent a message to young people that alcohol had somehow “changed, that it was more benign.”
Former compliance officer Rick Golden, now a lawyer, closed the evening with a laugh. “Please don’t get rid of private club membership,” he told the commission. “We lawyers can’t take the cut in pay.” (Stephen Dark)