Starting Wednesday, Utah bars and social clubs are no longer required to charge a membership fee so that guests may enjoy a beer, cocktail or glass of wine.
Besides making it easier for residents and tourists to get an alcoholic beverage, the recent change to state liquor laws also opens up new dining opportunities.
While most clubs offer only the ubiquitous salty snacks like nuts, chips and hot wings, several boast full-on restaurants, with impeccably trained chefs, creative menus and impressive wine lists.
With fees a thing of the past, owners and chefs are excited at the possibility of welcoming a new set of diners.
"I hope we get people coming into the bar that wouldn't have come in before," said Michael LeClerc, who doubles as the chef for 350 Main Brasserie and The Spur Bar & Grill.
In the past, it wasn't uncommon for visitors to walk out of The Spur when they learned they needed to pay for a membership to get into the private club. "I don't think people understood how uncomfortable it made everyone from the staff (who had to ask about membership) to patrons, who worried about how much more things were going to cost," LeClerc said.
Utahns, according to bar owners, rarely purchased more than one or two memberships, limiting where they might spend their dining and drinking dollars.
"I think people would buy a membership to one bar and just not try other places," said Gina Daniel, manager of Ogden's Sports Page, which serves lunch and dinner six days a week as well as a weekend brunch.
In order to comply with the new law, clubs are required to purchase special equipment to scan the driver license of any patron who appears to be under 35. The recorded information will be retained on site for seven days.
Choosing to do away with fees also means a loss of revenue for businesses. For some, it's only a few thousand dollars, but the Gastronomy Restaurant Group, for example, will take a $400,000 hit.
"It hurts, especially in these hard economic times," said co-owner Tom Guinney. But that won't keep them from making changes. Starting today, Gastronomy will no longer charge fees at the Market Street Grill and Oyster Bar locations in Salt Lake City, Cottonwood or South Jordan or at The New Yorker, also in downtown Salt Lake City.
The New Yorker's quirky basement location and its elegant décor has always given it a cache, especially among Utah's business elite. Will that mystique be lost now that it is open to the masses?
"I don't think that is going to change," said Guinney. "The more people that are in a restaurant, the more fun for everyone. It is going to raise the energy level and that's always a crowd pleaser for guests."
Here are five clubs that no longer charge memberships fees and are worth visiting for their food.
The Bayou » 645 S. State St., Salt Lake City; 801-961-8400. Try the garlic burger with caramelized onions, stout mustard and chipotle aioli. Thursday night is barbecue night alternating between ribs, chicken and other selections.
Fiddler's Elbow » 1061 E. 2100 South, Salt Lake City; 801-463-9393.The nachos smothered with pulled pork are a favorite. For dinner, try the seafood enchiladas filled with shrimp, scallops and crab.
The New Yorker » 60 W. Market St. (340 South), Salt Lake City; 801-363-0166. To encourage first-time diners, the restaurant is offering a two-course lunch for $14 and three-course dinner for $28. Lunch options include a steak sandwich with shoestring potatoes and chicken Marsala on fresh fettuccine. For dinner, try the filet mignon or pork loin chop Milanese.
Market Street Oyster Bars » Three locations in downtown, Cottonwood and South Jordan. A large seafood menu, which includes several varieties of fresh oysters and the signature New England clam chowder; also offered is a wide variety of steaks, prime rib, salad and pasta. Sunday brunch menu includes eggs Benedict with Market Street potatoes for $6.99.
The Spur Bar & Grill » 352 Main St. (down the alley), Park City; 435-615-1618. Cowboy fare with a gourmet twist. Try the grilled Texas toast stuffed with barbecue pork and jack cheese; follow it up with the 16-ounce dry-rubbed ribeye steak served with house-made steak sauce.
Here are two ways -- for those 21 and over -- to celebrate the end of private club membership fees:
Scenic Bar Tour » Free bus service between 16 Utah clubs Wednesday from 6 p.m. to midnight. Two routes include downtown Salt Lake City and another in South Valley. Buses stop every 30 minutes, and you're welcome to get off at your discretion. Sponsored by City Weekly and the Utah Hospitality Association.
Salt Lake City Bar Crawl » This July 3 event, sponsored by IN Utah This Week, costs $10 and includes a T-shirt, map of participating clubs and special offers. At each club, a bartender will sign the back of your shirt. Your objective: collect 14 signatures by the end of the night. After registering, crawlers can create their own groups (you'll want to bring along your own designated driver) or join one of the three Crawl Teams that will be led by a host. Registration begins at 3 p.m. at the northeast corner of Trolley Square Mall. Visit www.slcbarcrawl.blogspot.com for more details.
Beginning Wednesday, Utah bars and social clubs are no longer required to charge patrons a membership fee. However, businesses will have to scan the driver license of any patron who appears to be under 35. The recorded information will be retained on site for seven days.
The new law also creates two different types of clubs:
Dining clubs » These businesses get at least half their income from food sales. Minors are allowed if accompanied by adults.
Social clubs » Bars where alcoholic drinks create the majority of sales. Anyone under age 21 is prohibited from entering.