July 01, 2009

Prohibition ends (sort of)


In chapter 17 of Angel Falling Softly, Milada and Kamilla walk into a bar. It is kind of a joke.

They had to buy a four-dollar membership to get in the door--the product of some strange nexus between state liquor laws and the teetotaling Mormon population.

This remnant of 19th century "blue laws" has long irked the tourism industry here in Utah, so much so that the Mormon governor (Huntsman, who recently resigned to become ambassador to China) pushed hard for repeal. On 1 July 2009, it was finally put out of its misery.

Also gone is an actual physical barrier. A provision in the old law forbade bartenders from directly serving customers, and running down the middle of the bar in every bar was a partition fondly known as the "Zion Curtain." In the novel I pretended it wasn't there because even in a story about vampires, reality can be stranger than fiction.

The distinctions between a "social club" (a bar), a "dining club" (50 percent of receipts from food) and a restaurant (70 percent of receipts from food) remain, along with restrictions on when alcohol can be served, (10:00 AM or noon to midnight or 1:00 AM) and whether minors can be admitted unaccompanied by an adult.

But the more things change, the more other things remain the same. In chapter 22 of Angel Falling Softly, Milada "savored a respectable 1993 Merlot and watched the quiet neighborhood dramas play out in the driveways and front lawns," and muses to herself that "obtaining the Merlot had approximated a visit to a twenties-era speakeasy."

In fact, "packaged liquor, wine, and heavy beer [over 3.2 percent]" will continue to be sold only in duly licensed state liquor stores. Utah's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control boasts that Salt Lake City "offers a world class wine selection at four specialty wine stores."

Count 'em, four! (There are 37 "full service" liquor stores state-wide.) But the legislature did agree that wine bottles no longer needed to carry the official Utah tax stamp (which had to be tediously pasted on every single bottle sold), as the smuggling of bottled wine into Utah was pretty much determined to be a nonexistent crime.

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