This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
It's not often you find pious Utah government officials and strip-club owners racing for the opposite of the moral high ground.
But when you're talking about enforcement of Utah's ridiculous liquor laws, nothing is impossible.
Last week, The Salt Lake Tribune's Dawn House dutifully reported how commissioners for Utah's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC) handed down a fine of $1,627 against Salt Lake City's Brewvies Cinema Pub for "attire and conduct" violations because the bar/theater screened the R-rated "The Hangover Part II."
The board ruled that by showing a movie with some fleeting sexual imagery a photo of a she-male's genitals and a scene where a monkey gnaws on a water bottle strategically placed to resemble an old man's privates Brewvies was violating a law that was written to regulate strip clubs so that, one assumes, a drunk customer won't harass the dancers.
The story got national attention, of the sort that undoes millions of dollars of Utah Office of Tourism ad campaigns. "Utah's chief exports remain gold and silver, integrated circuits, and shame, as America's scolding-est state is once again in the news for getting its temple garments twisted over sexually suggestive entertainment," wrote Sean O'Neal on the entertainment blog The A.V. Club.
Other movie websites made similar comments, cementing Utah's international reputation for prudery a reputation that Brewvies, by its very existence, went a long way to dispel. (Serving alcohol in movie theaters was illegal in New York until this year, meaning that since 1997 Salt Lake City has had an amenity missing from The Big Apple.)
As House reported last week, this was Brewvies' first offense but the offense was deemed "grave," meaning the harshest penalty was levied. Repeat offenders face a $25,000 fine and a 10-day suspension of their liquor licenses.
The events that led up to Brewvies' fine are rich with unintentionally absurd moments. For example:
• Of course, "The Hangover Part II" played without incident at nearly every major movie theater along the Wasatch Front. Even one of the commissioners, Constance White, said she was "struggling with the concept that an adult beverage may be served but an adult movie cannot be shown at the same time." It should be noted that Commissioner White is new on the job, so she doesn't have as much practice merging contradictory concepts.
• The liquor-control agency decided to target Brewvies because a strip club, complaining that the theater was getting away with showing stuff that got the strip club penalized, tattled. Thus is government oversight of Utah's hospitality industry reduced to one kid pointing to another kid and yelling to Mommy, "Punish him! Punish him!"
• I have a mental image of the Utah Highway Patrol's liquor-enforcement team (talk about your dream jobs) watching "The Hangover Part II" in Brewvies and that image is the scene from "Cinema Paradiso" where the priest watches the movie alone, ringing a bell at anything objectionable that the projectionist must splice out before screening the film for the townsfolk. (Speaking of the UHP team, one detail of the Brewvies violation was that the fine was $1,500 plus $127 for costs of the investigation. So how many tickets did the UHP buy? And how do they like their burgers?)
This would all be hilarious if the livelihood of a small business weren't hanging in the balance.
House, in her story, drew this quote from the manager of Brewvies: "We don't want to shake up anything. We are happy and willing to comply with all of Utah's liquor laws."
Can you smell the fear in that response? I've heard bolder pronouncements in hostage videos.
And hostages are what Utah's bars, taverns and restaurants are. They're being held hostage by a Legislature that micromanages their businesses to the point of stupidity (Zion Curtain, anyone?) and by an agency that enforces those rules with vindictive zeal.
The crowning hypocrisy is that such restrictions are set by legislators who usually rail against government regulation. When it comes to regulating businesses that serve alcohol, though, the Utah Legislature never knows when to say "enough."