Very briefly, my overall impression of Salt Lake City has been mixed. It’s been a very strange experience. I’m aware that Salt Lake tends to be a destination for winter sports due to it’s proximity to the mountains. And this being the middle of October, I’m sure it gets a bit busier once the temperature drops. That being said, it feels like there are incredibly few people who actually live and work here. There’s almost no traffic, seemingly few people walking around--most people I saw seemed to be there for the convention--and just a general sense of quietness. It’s been a bit refreshing; CNN did call Salt Lake City the least-stressed out city earlier this year due to it’s low cost of living and abundance of jobs. And the city is incredibly clean, has a great bike system, and inexpensive public transportation. Despite these stats, there is a strangely obvious homelessness problem. And then there’s the religious culture.
If you’re unaware, the majority of the population of Utah are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as Mormons. This adds a unique atmosphere to the city that is hard to describe, and informs the state’s views on alcohol. According to their religion, the consumption of alcohol is prohibited so this has translated into some of the most restrictive alcohol laws in the country. Utah is one of eighteen states that has a state-controlled monopoly on liquor sales. This means that only state liquor stores can sell beverages that are above 4% alcohol by volume (ABV). [As a reference point, Budweiser, a comparatively low alcohol beer, is still typically 5% ABV. This means that many producers create lower alcohol versions of their beers in order to widen their distribution here in Utah.] Beverages that fall under this level can be sold at grocery and convenience stores that are licensed.
These state-controlled stores are an experience all in themselves. I’ve only been in one, but it was the saddest collection of wine, spirits and beer I’ve ever seen, anywhere. And, they were poorly stocked, it was messy and packed with people. It was unlike any other liquor store I’ve ever been in.
As for restaurants and bars, no establishment is allowed to serve alcohol past 1am. Other than that, the laws are pretty open for restaurants and bars. Many of them can even sell bottles of wine to go as long as they are sealed. Though like most states, they have open containers laws which means no drinking in the streets.
The first night I was here I found a great little wine bar called BTG (which stands for By the Glass). They had an impressive selection of by the glass pours offering 2 oz. and 5 oz. options as well as full bottles. I sampled several different wines and got the chance to chat a little with the bartenders there. Upon entering the bar, I was carded, something that typically only happens to me once I order alcohol, so that was a unique experience. I learned that at bars like this one, where entrance is restricted to 21 and over, the bar itself can be open to the restaurant, serving alcohol in plain view. However, for restaurants that are open to all ages, drinks must be mixed and poured out of sight of the diners. The bartender called it a “Zion Curtain”. Some restaurants will just pour the drinks in the kitchen, but some actually erect walls that hide the bar from view. I haven’t had the chance to see one yet, but I found this picture online. The other restaurants I’ve been to all poured their drinks in the back, out of sight of the diners.
This has truly been a unique experience unlike any other I’ve had, for wine and just in general. I’ll go into more detail on each of the places I’ve gotten a chance to eat later in the week, talking about the food and beverages I’ve been able to sample.