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February’s DABS liquor meeting points to a challenging year ahead for Utah

Mar Muntanya interior bar counter

With all the headlines decrying a departing NBA’s labeling of Utah as boring – today’s DABS meeting left one feeling a better phrase might have been, dysfunctional. At least inasmuch in describing the current state of Utah’s stalled liquor policy. Highlighting the enormity of challenges businesses can expect to face this year, today’s DABS meeting crashed through the two and a half hour mark. Suffices to say it could have lasted longer, and plenty left the meeting empty handed and frustrated. Here’s what happened.

Full service restaurant license (beer, wine, liquor)

Once a freely available license, entering the meeting this month the state had a mere 18 remaining. While more are expected to arrive slowly each month, Commissioner Orton noted, “we now as of this month, [will be] holding restaurants to the same level of scrutiny as we hold bars to.” Which is to say, you better to be ready to welcome paying guests should you want a full service restaurant license. Four businesses sufficiently satisfied commissioners this month and received the thumbs up:

  • The Kathmandu, Salt Lake City
  • Gurus Sports Bar & Grill, St George
  • Biscuit & Hogs, Ogden
  • Red Canyon Lodge, Dutch John

Six additional businesses on the docket also hoped to secure a license for the following planned opening dates:

  • Autocamp Zion Restaurant, Virgin, March 1st
  • Horizon View Restaurant, Moab, March 27th
  • Ulum @ Under Canvas, Moab, March 30th
  • Stack 571 Burger & Whiskey Bar, South Jordan, March 30th
  • Level Crossing Brewing, Salt Lake City, April 15th
  • Root’d Cafe, Riverton, April 27th

Motions made to grant licenses to others all sputtered out due to lack of consensus. Multiple commissioners kept returning to the issue of scarcity, and the need to act as cautiously as possible. It’s likely restaurant licenses will end up in the same precarious state as bar licenses at some point this year.

Commissioner Thue (I believe) mentioned a small temporary sliver of hope for beleaguered restaurateurs; detailing a brief meeting with legislators (and DABS chair Tennert) where the possibility of moving a number of Utah’s bigger chains into a separate pool, might free up licenses for smaller operators. The update might create as many as 53 more full service licenses but Thue conceded that the possible measure alone, “probably isn’t enough for us to get through the year.” Leaving the February DABS meeting, the state now has 16 full service licenses.

Lastly in this category, a few restaurant licenses changed ownership. Namely, Legends Pub & Grill Downtown (Salt Lake City), SOMI Vietnamese Bistro (Salt Lake City), Zion Canyon Brew Pub (Springdale).

Limited service restaurant license (beer, wine)

There was nary a mention of how many of this license type exist, which I take to mean – plenty for now. As such the following all got the nod and their paperwork without fuss:

  • Valhalla Pizzeria, Bryce
  • Nawab’s Indian Restaurant, Draper
  • Hoovers River Restaurant, Marysvale
  • Kin Sen Asian Noodle Bar, Salt Lake City
  • Dirty Bird Fried Chxx, Riverton
  • Neighborhood Wing Co., Tooele
  • Karma Cafe, Tooele
  • Bombay Garden Cuisine of India, West Jordan

Bar licenses

I spent most of 2022 writing about the exhaustion of bar licenses in Utah. While this year started with a glimmer of hope and a potential infusion of 40 more licenses, it’s already possible this small measure alone might be slashed in half to a more sombre 20. Note: even forty would only barely get us to the end of the year; at least based on the pace of opening seen last year.

At today’s meeting nine bars lined the roster for a solitary available license. The four that could realistically open immediately offered up their plans, to a notably commission evidently unhappy with the status quo. T.F. Brewing had their seven month wait for a license highlighted, while owner Tim Dwyer spoke to the valuable event business he had to turn away. Dan Eckersley from Bout Time spoke of the $1.5 million already sunk into their Bluffdale project, also underscoring the $40,000 per month burn rate on staff and rent.

HK Brewing Collective turned up for the first time, ready to go. The business hoped to get the nod and become Utah’s first hard kombucha cocktail bar. Meanwhile, Squatter’s West Side Tavern – currently operating on a Winter seasonal – faced having to return to a (5% ABV only) Tavern license come May 1st. The full list of applicants then, and projected openings:

  • Squatter’s and Wasatch (formerly known as West Side Tavern), Salt Lake City
  • Fisher Brewing Company, Salt Lake City
  • Bout Time Pub & Grub, Bluffdale
  • HK Brewing Collective, Salt Lake City
  • Aker Restaurant and Lounge, Salt Lake City, April
  • Level Crossing Brewing Company, Salt Lake City, May
  • Yuki, Salt Lake City, July
  • Bout Time Pub & Grub, Saratoga Springs, August
  • Marquis, Park City, November

As with the hand wringing around restaurant licenses, plenty of debate, comment and failed motions followed. The ultimate winner was Bout Time who secured the single license on offer – allowing them to now open Bluffdale’s first ever bar. And everyone else? The next available bar license in Utah isn’t expected to be available until May.

Lastly, two bars had ownership changes approved as follows; Mike’s becomes Blackbird Bar (Cedar City) and Junior’s becomes Bobby Junior’s (Salt Lake City).

Manufacture brewery licenses

The following three Utah brewers all successfully received manufacturing licenses:

  • Salt Lake Brewing Company, Salt Lake City
  • Level Crossing Brewing, Salt Lake City
  • Apex Brewing, Salt Lake City

Package agency licenses

While the following trio all received Type PA licenses – note – those are the particularly fun ones that let manufacturers sell direct to the public, even on Sundays and holidays if they so wish:

  • Level Crossing Brewing Company, Salt Lake City
  • Salt Lake Brewing Company, Salt Lake City
  • Slide Ridge Winery, Mendon

As the legislative session draws ever nearer to a close, we should know quite soon what the year will look like. Stay tuned, I’ll have the full news as and when the chips fall.

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