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Utah liquor license crisis set to worsen according to reports

Punch Bowl Social - beer and biscuits, no more

Get ready for a fraught 2022 folks. Following this months DABC meeting, Ben Winslow confirmed via this story that the Utah legislature seems unmoved by the perilous state of Utah’s liquor license inventory. Indeed, things might actually get worse yet still – if that’s even possible.

As part of the FOX13 story, Winslow highlighted the fact that recent private sales of bar licenses has not gone down well amongst the corridors of power. Winslow writes, “Rep. Hawkes told FOX 13 that they may pull back the ability for a bar to sell their license.” In recent months, the complete exhaustion of Utah bar licenses has caused many a would be entrepreneur to turn to the only option available in Utah – the open market.

Both the new downtown Shades Brewing facility and the massive 17,500 sq ft Flanker installation at the Gateway, had to purchase licenses from existing bars in order to open their new businesses. Both, it should be noted paid the princely sum of $50,000. This month saw the private sale of a license for $75,000 (see below). Expect this to keep soaring unless the plug is pulled or sanity prevails in regards the state’s quotas.

As a reminder on how we got here – the current quota for bar licenses in Utah is completely arbitrary and was re-manufactured as recently as 2018. Here’s the backstory from our September article:

For anyone wondering how we get out of this morass, lets take a moment to remember there’s an incredibly easy solution here. Once upon a not so long time ago – Utah had far more licenses for would be entrepreneurs. The current (per capita) quota for bar licenses in Utah is one license per 10,200 residents. Prior to July 2018 this was a more generous 1 license per 7,850 residents. This particular revision was made – and a seemingly arbitrary one at that – when the much derided Zion curtain law fell. 

By my math (and remember I can barely count my own fingers) I make it that we’d have an immediate boost of 94 bar licenses overnight just by rolling back to 2018’s bar license quotas; this remember, was a a limit that everyone was happy with as relatively recent as three years ago.

Of course there are plenty more simple solutions to this matter. Here’s a few off the top of my head:

  • Let cities dictate their own local quota levels based on the unique demands of their communities. Downtown SLC sure seems different to Beaver to me; and anyway, the law already allows local cities some leeway in certain areas, for example, to set beer retailer hours allowing for 24/7 beer retailing.
  • Drop the 70/30 rule for restaurants. Right now full service restaurant holders can make no more than thirty percent of their sales form alcohol, pushing many to a bar license out of sheer necessity. A stop to this would end the problem entirely, heck even a 50/50 revision would help.
  • Weaken the intent to dine law. If someone wants to stop into a snazzy restaurant and just order a glass of wine, what exactly is the harm?

November DABC meeting notes

On to this months DABC meeting then, the following companies are presently all in line for a bar license in Utah right now. Guess what – there are zero full bar licenses available…

  • Fenice Mediterranean Bistro, Salt Lake City
  • Wasatch Loft & Tap Room Bar, Park City
  • Trolley Wing Co., Taylorsville
  • The Pearl, Salt Lake City
  • Garage Grill, Herriman
  • The Green Room, Salt Lake City
  • Proper Brewing Moab Taphouse, Moab
  • Durango Bar, Salt Lake City
  • Quarters Sugar House, Salt Lake City
  • The Spoke, Moab
  • Edison House, Salt Lake City
  • Bout Time Pub & Grub, Bluffdale
  • Fife Brewing Company, Salt Lake City

Wasatch Loft actually managed to secure a Winter Seasonal license that cropped up unexpected, meaning they can operate a bar in their upstairs space, seasonally until April 30th 2022. Wasatch beat out Trolley Square in Taylorsville for the Winter Seasonal.

Beyond that nada. The next bar license to become available through population increase is expected this December, with just one more coming along in February 2022.

In the interim, chairman Thomas Jacobsen urged businesses to petition the legislation. And again, per that Fox 13 link above, it doesn’t seem that there’s much concern at the highest levels right now for the state’s predicament.

Saigon in Sixty Seconds
Big Dipper – Saigon in sixty seconds – now with alcohol

Full service restaurant licenses (beer, wine, liquor)

For the time being we can still open real restaurants in Utah; but as I wrote about last month – that too might stop being a thing during 2022. Entering the November meeting the state of Utah had 55 full service restaurant licenses. The following six businesses were also given the nod at the November meeting:

  • Miyazaki, Murray
  • Tupelo, Park City
  • Big Dipper, Park City
  • Park City Brewing, Park City
  • Burrito Grande, Roy
  • Shinobi Sushi Bar & Grill, Salt Lake City

With Utah’s bar license crisis, it’s entirely predictable that many businesses will now reformulate their models to operate under this license type. At the current run rate of new applicants, it’s not implausible that Utah’s full service restaurant licenses could be depleted before the Summer of 2022.

And lets be clear, these are hardly modern day dens of iniquity. These are simply sit down restaurants that just want to serve a cocktail with dinner. The failure to address this situation will have real implications for Utah’s sustained economic growth and improving reputation. Nationally recognized, high end brands like Capital Grill (slated for a December 2022 arrival here) could simply cancel their plans for Utah entirely should the environment remain unclear.

Frankly, can we call this what it really is – business unfriendly. Market demand is outstripping supply, arbitrarily constrained by the state.

Pretty Bird
Pretty Bird – coming to Park City

Limited service restaurant licenses (beer, wine)

The following businesses were approved at the November meeting:

  • Pastry Pub, Cedar City
  • Peddlers Caf & Catering, Eden
  • Laan Thai Restaurant, Ogden
  • Umami Japanese BBQ, Orem
  • Pretty Bird, Park City
  • Publik Coffee, Salt Lake City

Restaurant ‘beer only’ licenses

The following businesses were approved to serve beer at their establishments:

  • Level Two, Midvale
  • Mariscos Los Chinchorros, Murray

Bar license transfers

The following bar licenses changed hands this month. Commissioner Jacobson asked that the amount of each sale was confirmed as follows:

  • Victoria Holdings, Ogden to Funk and Dive Bar, Ogden, same location, $5,000
  • Pete’s Bar & Grill, West Haven to Dubai, new location, $20,000
  • Wasted Space LLC, to International Bar, Salt Lake City, same location, $30,000
  • Tram Bar Inc., to Venture II, Salt Lake City, new location, $75,000

Concerns were also raised about the geographical movement of licenses under the current private sale framework. Naturally, it stands to reason that more moneyed businesses in Salt Lake County will continue to scoop up rurally located bar licenses – exacerbating the availability problem even further.

Oh, in case you wondered what the record price for the private sale of bar license in Utah was? Commissioner Jacobsen certainly was. The answer to all your questions – $150,000.

Taqueria 27 updates tequila-mezcal and margarita menu 

Taqueria 27 - steak tacos and margarita
Taqueria 27 – steak tacos and margarita

Onto other liquor news then and first up, one of our favorites and supporters of the site, Taqueria 27, took the wraps off a huge new drinks menu update this month. Hitting the beverage menu a range of updates and additions:

  • A new T27 branded “House Blanco” tequila is now on the menu and will be used in the T27 margaritas. The brand in question is called Omano – which you can also find amongst the tequila selections too.
  • Also on the subject of margaritas, every last one has been upgraded with Licor de Naranja, a Mexican produced orange liqueur that T27 had to special order into the state.
  • The mezcal offerings have also increased too. Check out the all new Xicaru (ZEE-KA-RU), another special order for Taqueria 27. This is available in silver, reposado and anejo.
  • The silver and reposado are also being mixed into a couple of ew cocktails – a Mezcalrita with Xicaru Reposado and the “Van Gogh” with Xicaru Silver, Absinthe, cucumber, lime, mint and a dash of cardamom
  • Lastly, T27 have also begun lending flavored salts in house (T27 House, Sal de Gusano, Ginger-Lime, Jalapeño) too!

Log Haven bottles new pour

Log Haven Cygnet
Log Haven Cygnet

Another long term sponsor of the site, and another with a drinkable update. Millcreek Canyon’s fine dining Log Haven have released this all new wine, crafted by winemaker Rick Longoria. The wine, named by Log Haven’s GM Ian Campbell after the White Tundra Swans at the restaurant’s pond is a red blend from three vineyards in Santa Barbara County.

The wine is a blend of 38% Cabernet Franc, 30% Syrah, 22% Petit Verdot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and is produced for, and available exclusively at Log Haven. 

The DABC December price report

Just in time for the holiday season, here is the latest from our friends at Drink In Utah. Check out what’s new, what’s gone from shelves and crucially what’s on sale. Click here to see what has gone up or down in price, what’s new, and what’s discontinued.

Alpine Distilling nabs Gin Of The Year

Via press release:

Alpine Distilling, a member of the Park City Area Restaurant Association (PCARA), recently reached the pinnacle of the industry at the World’s Most Important Gin competition. On Oct. 25, judges awarded the Gin Of The Year 2021 Gold medal to Alpine Distilling for their Alpine Distilling Gin, expertly crafted in Park City by distiller Sara Sergent. 

“Congratulations to PCARA member Alpine Distilling, led by distiller Sara Sergent, for recently earning the most prestigious accolade in her industry,” Park City Area Restaurant Association executive director Ginger Wicks said. “As the only American Distillery to place out of thousands of entries, she is a global leader in today’s ‘Ginaissance,’ the booming expansion of gin worldwide.”  

The most prominent Gin Buyers in Europe assembled under the iconic gaze of the London Eye for this year’s awards. Thousands of gins from 21 countries battled to impress the demanding Gin Of The Year judges who included senior representatives of The Ritz Hotel, Bibendum and Venus Wine & Spirit Merchants PLC.

“As the World’s Most Important Gin competition, Gin Of The Year is what the industry depends on to keep buyers up to date with the ever-evolving trends enjoyed by the market,” said Sara Sergent of Alpine Distilling. “With expanding varieties launching, Gin Of The Year judges whittle down the absolute best in the world. This gives buyers and consumers – and even ourselves – great confidence that we are delivering the Best American Gin. This Gold Gin Of The Year 2021 Medal is an enormous recognition that we take very seriously!”

High West release High Country Single Malt

High West release High Country Single Malt
High West release High Country Single Malt

The limited release single malt whiskey blend ranges in age from 2-10 years old, a portion of which is uniquely finished in Oloroso sherry barrels. With cozy scents of baked apple, honey drizzled over fresh fig, and lavender graham cracker, and rich flavors of banana bread with vanilla glaze, warm granola with dried fruit, and lemon poundcake with crushed golden raspberries, the sipper is a signature spirit of the holiday season. The exclusive bottle features custom label artwork crafted by Ed Mell, an iconic artist of timeless Western landscapes. WHEN & WHERE:      Available at High West locations and national retailers beginning Friday, Dec. 3. COST:                          $79.99

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