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State again runs out of liquor licenses

Published March 23, 2010 7:13 pm

Alcohol » Cap tied to population quotas leave applicants dry.
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For the second time this year, Utah has run out of restaurant and bar liquor licenses.

On Tuesday, commissioners again gave out the last of the liquor permits, whose numbers are tied to quotas based on the state population estimates.

Now, entrepreneurs or chain restaurants seeking a license to serve wine, spirits or heavy beer must wait for estimates to increase or existing establishments to go out of business.

Liquor commission chairman Sam Granato has repeatedly warned lawmakers of the need to ease population caps. But key lawmakers during the recent legislative session declined to make substantiative changes to state law after abolishing bar membership fees last year.

In January when the state first ran out of licenses, Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Director Dennis Kellen said it marked the first time in his 30 years of service that the agency had no more licenses to give.

This month, two club licenses became available, including one freed up after a permit was revoked for the closed Club R35 in West Valley City.

Although seven clubs applied, only Mim's Bar & Grill in Corrine and Dick n' Dixies in Salt Lake City were awarded licenses, while Cedar Springs Marina in Greendale was given a summer seasonal license. Five other clubs -- in Salt Lake City, Midvale, Vernal, Moab and Park City -- went away empty handed. "We're turning away 50 people in a day who just want to stop by for a drink," said Shane Barber, who owns Bandits Grill & Bar in Park City.

Located at 440 Main Street, Bandits has a so-called full-service permit allowing all types of alcohol. But because the license is designated for a restaurant -- not a bar -- diners are required to order food with their drinks. Barber, who said he is surrounded by bars, has been asking for a bar license since last November.

Commissioners broke years of precedent Tuesday by deciding in public, rather than in a closed meeting, which of the remaining licenses they would grant to the large pool of applicants. The move was made after The Salt Lake Tribune questioned why that portion of the meeting was not open.

The board also granted a seasonal liquor license to the Lodge at Bryce Canyon, which opens April 1. Commissioners indicated they'll favor licenses for rural areas that have few or no liquor permits. So few licenses were available that eateries in Moab, Salt Lake and Sandy were denied permits to serve beer and wine.

Eateries have the option of applying for a permit to serve 3.2 beer. These licenses have no population caps. Permits have run out for bars to serve drinks with or without a meal, full-service licenses for restaurants to serve all types of alcohol with meals, and limited-service permits allowing eateries to serve only beer or wine with an order of food.

Earlier this year, Taylorsville Mayor Russ Wall told lawmakers his city can't convince more restaurants to open because there are no liquor permits available. And Steve Bogden of Coldwell Banker Commercial said his firm represents the Buffalo Wild Wings chain, which plans to open six restaurants and hire 1,000 workers in Utah during the next four years, but only if access to liquor licenses can be guaranteed.

Utah's liquor quota system

Permits to serve alcohol in restaurants and bars have run out. Here's the breakdown on licenses, which are based on the state population estimates:

» The quota for restaurants to serve all types of alcohol is one permit per 5,200 population; 546 restaurants have these licenses.

» The restaurant cap to serve beer and wine is one permit per 9,300 population; 305 eateries have these permits.

» Bar license quotas are one per 7,850 population; 362 clubs have these licenses.

Source: Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.




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