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Bar licenses in Utah look set to increase this year

Mar Muntanya interior bar counter

I’ll give you a moment to recompose yourself from falling off your chair there – but yes – here’s a small ray of sunshine for hopeful bar-trepreneurs this year; at least if the contents of this interview that aired yesterday come to fruition.

In speaking to FOX 13, Rep. Jefferson Burton was bullish on a potential license increase for bars and restaurants; citing Utah’s buoyant growth as a primary reason for the review. It now seems theoretically possible that this year’s omnibus liquor bill could provide a massive shot in the arm for the hospitality industry.

Speaking of reviews, it appears that a study commissioned in 2023 to analyze likeminded liquor control states, DID find that Utah is an outlier – by some margin. Quelle surprise.

As a recap then, one bar license is presently permitted per 10,200 residents in Utah. That ratio meant the state’s available inventory of bar licenses had dwindled to just seven by the end of December 2023. The dearth of availability forced DABS commissioners into an unwelcome corner, doling out scant licenses only if and when a bar was ready to open in short order. Waiting on a few tables to arrive? Need one or two more staff hires? Sorry, come back next month.

It should be noted that once upon a not-so-long time ago – Utah had far more licenses. Before July 2018 this was a more generous 1 license per 7,850 residents. This particular revision was made – and a seemingly magically arbitrary one at that – when the much-derided Zion curtain law fell at the same time. 

In the FOX 13 interview, Rep. Burton told FOX 13 that the commissioned study found other control states closer to a ratio of 1:5000. While you’d probably need the smelling salts if I told you to expect Utah to quickly follow suit, Burton did confirm something in the range of one license per 7-8000 was something that might make this year’s bill.

My rudimentary math (and Google’s reckoning the state is home to 3,338,000 Utahns) suggests a change to a 1:7000 ratio could lead to as many as nearly 150 new bar licenses. Even a rollback to 2018 levels could see nearly 100 new licenses added to the pool. Either option would instantly release the pressure valve and more than likely see DABS meetings breeze by for several years without commotion.

Before we get too excited though, let’s take a moment to reflect on what happened last year. In early 2023 talk was initially about forty new licences. A month later that had been whittled in half to twenty, before being finally carved to a meager fifteen by the time the sawdust settled. Still, I’m a glass-is-half-full type, let’s wait and see.

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