Restaurants vying against bars for liquor permits

Club licenses • Same number for open bars and upscale eateries
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If you're treating your prom date to an upscale dinner, you can avoid being stopped at the door if you know the difference between a restaurant and a dining club.

Both eateries look the same. But at Ruth's Chris Steak House, minors must be accompanied by an adult because it's a dining club,. Parents may stay home for teens eating at the Market Street Grill, which is classified as a restaurant.

In Utah, dining clubs are in the same category as a full-service bar. And because more restaurants are vying for club liquor permits, the state is out of these types of liquor licenses.

On Tuesday, 14 bars and eateries, during a meeting of the Commission for Alcoholic Beverage Control, applied for the three remaining club licenses. Eleven establishments in Salt Lake, Utah, Summit, Davis and Beaver Counties went away empty handed. Licenses will become available only when establishments go out of business or the state's population grows.

Among the winners on Tuesday was the Bar X in Salt Lake City. The 77-year-old tavern is slated to reopen as a cocktail bar with a limited food menu. Another winner is Christopher's Prime Steak House & Grill, a fine-dining eatery in Salt Lake City.

Classifying some restaurants as a club while other eateries fall into the restaurant category is confusing to diners, say officials with the Utah Restaurant Association. But so far, key lawmakers have no plans to change the state's liquor-classification system.

Diners have no way to tell which eatery is a club or a restaurant, but requirements differ widely on how liquor is served.

For instance, diners may order a martini without a meal at the New Yorker in Salt Lake City or Tooele's Broadway Bar & Grill. That's because both hold a dining-club license. But because La Frontera in St. George and Ay Chihuahua in Taylorsville are classified as a restaurant, diners wanting a drink also must order food.

In addition, anyone appearing to be 35 years old or younger must have their driver licenses electronically scanned before they may enter the dining clubs. Full-service restaurants don not have that requirement. —

Utah's liquor puzzle

Legal distinctions have become blurred for bars and restaurants. Here are some differences:

• Bars, such as Liquid Joes in Salt Lake City, are classified as social clubs. No minors are allowed, and no food orders are required to imbibe.

• Some upscale eateries, such as Ruth's Chris Steak House, hold dining-club permits. Minors are allowed if accompanied by an adult, and drinks allowed with or without meals.

• Other eateries, such as Market Street Grill, fall into the restaurant category. Diners are allowed to order alcohol-based drinks only when food also is served.

• Bartenders and open liquor bottles must be hidden from public view in restaurants built after Jan. 1, but not in older full-service eateries.

Source: Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.