Behind the Zion Curtain

The headline on the accompanying newspaper story is only partly true. Eighty years after the Repeal of Prohibition, there are still a number of states with antiquated and restrictive liquor laws. The worst of these, as you might imagine, is Utah.


You can order a drink in a restaurant with a liquor license, but only when consuming food—if you want a libation while Newspaper headline prolaiming end of Prohibitionlooking over the menu, forget it (this law doesn’t apply to bars, since the patrons have presumably corrupted their souls by the mere act of entering the building). Want to buy beer, wine or liquor? Go to a state-operated store. The most absurd liquor law in Utah, however, is the so-called Zion Curtain.


Under the Zion Curtain provision, restaurants must prepare alcoholic drinks out of sight of their customers; this requires putting up a separate curtain or screen, or walling off part of the dining room so that no one sees servers or bartenders mixing a cocktail. The point, according to one state lawmaker, is to avoid “fostering a bigger culture of drinking in Utah.”


Last week, the legislature rejected a bill that would have allowed restaurants to take down the Zion Curtains. Lawmakers who sponsored it were sympathetic to the plight of newly opened restaurants, where space is often at a premium. Restaurant owners are forced to spend money constructing barriers in their dining rooms, and often have to sacrifice space that could be occupied by tables. Even so, the bill didn’t pass.


It’s interesting to note that Utah has some of the most relaxed gun laws in the country. Private sales of firearms are permitted, guns are not required to be registered or licensed, and there is no assault weapons ban. Citizens may bring their guns into banks, bars and state parks, and take them into schools with a concealed carry permit—in fact, Utah is the only state in the Union that requires public schools to allow the possession of firearms. You can tote an AK-47 in public, but God forbid you should try to order a Rum and Coke.


Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History, published by Lyons Press (Globe Pequot); for more information, go to

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