Salt Lake City restaurateurs can't understand all the fuss about drinking – their licensing laws are far more lenient than Britain's.

The capital of Utah, and the capital of the ultra-rich and ultra-conservative Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), plays host to the Winter Olympics this year. And the world’s winter sports hacks are severely rattled about the state’s drinking laws.

Mormons forgo alcohol, tea, coffee and other stimulants. Three-quarters of the state is Mormon, and all law-making bodies are Church-controlled.

‘The Olympic goal – finding a drink in Salt Lake City’ was a typical headline. That was the Daily Telegraph, and almost all the UK press follows the same line.

But in fact it’s easier to get a drink in SLC after midnight than it is in London.

Restaurants that have a bar in public view can only serve alcohol to members – so in effect they become private clubs. A US$10 temporary membership fee is always available. Clubs and bars also serve only to members, but they’re open till one am on weekdays and 11pm on Sundays. In most of the UK, including London, it is illegal to serve a drink to someone after 11pm on weekdays and 10.30pm on Sundays.

Drinkers have the choice of such welcoming dives as the Wasatch Brew Pub, purveyor of Polygamy Porter and other choice brews. ‘The laws aren’t a problem,’ manager Kevin Henry told decanter.com. ‘For us it’s business as usual. We have an arts festival every August so we’re used to crowds of thirsty people.’

At the Dead Goat Saloon, SLC’s best-known jazz and blues club, the story’s the same – membership gets you in, and then you can drink as much as you like until past midnight.

There’s no change too at the New Yorker restaurant, which is run as a private club, with three-day temporary membership costing US$10 per party. The wine list features Krug, Cristal and a wealth of the best names from Guigal, Chapoutier and Jadot to Opus One, Phelps and Coppola.

At French restaurant La Corille, event coordinator Sammi Parker said, ‘the only real restriction is you have to be over 21, but that’s the same across the US.’

But some do rail against the western world’s only working theocracy. Christian Peyran, owner of SLC’s premier French restaurant Au Bon Appetit, told decanter.com, ‘It’s like a police state. You have to tally every glass of wine, and tell the inspectors exactly how many ounces of Chivas or Glenfiddich you’ve sold.’

He added, ‘And what happens if an athlete wins a gold and he’s under 21? Don’t tell me he’s not going to open the bubbly – but that is totally illegal. I could lose my licence.’

utah.citysearch.com – listings

slcgetalife.com – block membership of clubs and bars

Written by Adam Lechmere23 January 2002