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DABS awards all remaining Utah bar licenses at February meeting

Generic bar setup

Well, well, well. I didn’t see that coming – and neither did you. Unless, of course, you scrutinized every line item of H.B. 548, aka, 2024’s omnibus liquor bill. Hot off the heels of this prediction just a few days ago – everything has now changed. DABS meetings are never dull affairs after all, but this one offered industry folks a complete 180 on how bar licenses will be handled from here on out.

The major moment came just after the hour mark in the February meeting when Commissioner Juliette Tennert highlighted this section of the impending H.B. 548 (lines 954-961):

The commission may not deny an application for a retail license, an application for 955 a conditional retail license under Section 32B-5-205, or an application for a sublicense under Chapter 8d, Sublicense Act, if: (a) the applicant satisfies the requirements of this chapter; and (b) for a retail license or a conditional retail license, granting the retail license or the conditional retail license would not cause the commission to exceed the maximum number of licenses of that retail license type that the commission is authorized to issue under this chapter.

H.B. 548

Tennert explained to fellow commissioners that the clause requires the commission to grant any conditional licenses (available to the commission) where the applicant has met all statutory criteria. In effect, no more ready-to-operate practices. “I feel like the legislature has articulated its policy”, explained Tennert, whose immediate proposal sought to hand out every available bar license to valid applicants.

Comminioner Thomas Jacobson was the strongest dissenter noting that the bill had yet to be signed by Governor Cox. Jacobson appealed for a pause until that particular moment passes, noting that “once we award the license we can’t touch it”, alluding to the fact that once a license has been granted (even conditionally), a business then has a massive eighteen months to open their doors to the public. if you dig into the details, that eighteen months can be extended to two years in total. That means for those bar licenses issued today, operators have (theoretically) until February 2026 to put them to work.

While commissioner Jacquelyn Orton agreed with Tennert’s assessment, “I think the intent is clear”, she was less than enthusiastic about the real-world implications.

“I don’t think this will be a positive thing for the industry”, Orton offered up. “Because we are going to end up month after month without any licenses to award, but, I still believe that this is going to be the way that things are going to break down going forward”. Orton later added, “I do think there will be negative consequences, but, it’s what we’ve been told we are supposed to do”.

A vote to proceed with the intent of 548 in mind passed, and as such, all ten remaining bar licenses in Utah were issued as follows. The dates at the end by the way, when each business currently expects to open:

  • Premier Park City, Park City, February
  • Felt Bar & Eatery, Salt Lake City, February
  • Weathered Waves, Salt Lake City, February
  • Aker Restaurant and Lounge, Salt Lake City, March
  • El Moab Hotel, Moab, April
  • Thieves Guild, Salt Lake City, April
  • Neptune’s Palace, Salt Lake City, May
  • Tasting Room, Salt Lake City, June
  • Repeal, Salt Lake City, August
  • Bout Time Pub & Grub, Saratoga Springs, August

This leaves the state with zero-bar licenses. I believe one more will be due through population increases in April, but after that, we’ll all be anxiously waiting to see how exactly the new quota rules fall into place. Regardless of however many are granted for the year ahead, expect this new legislative logic to completely change the calculus for business owners.

Assuming Governor Cos signs the bill as is, a would-be bar operator would now be savvy to get in front of a commission meeting ASAP (assuming statutory compliance) to snag one of the few precious licenses as early as possible. Because mark these words, we’re going to be talking about license exhaustion again. Sooner, rather than later.

In other news, the following other businesses were duly granted licensing as follows:

Full service restaurants (beer, wine, liquor)

  • Roux, Salt Lake City
  • Bryce Canyon Pines, Bryce
  • Tita’s Restaurant, Taylorsville, March
  • Piko Mexican Grill, Salt Lake City, May
  • Clear Sky Resorts, Cannonville, June
  • LongHorn Steakhouse, Spanish Fork, December

Limited service restaurants (beer, wine)

  • Top Pot, South Salt Lake City
  • Millcreek Coffee Roasters, Millcreek
  • Casa de Nena, Ogden
  • Shake Shack, Riverdale
  • Wild Indigo Cafe, Boulder
  • Flaming Gorge Brew Company, Manila
  • Noodlehead SLC, Millcreek
  • Mark Of The Beastro, Salt Lake City

Restaurant beer license

  • Green Chile House (North Salt Lake)

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