Image: Jeffrey Holtz, Mark Cannella
Steve C.wilson  /  AP
Jeffrey Holtz, left, in town on business from St. Louis, looks over the lunch menu while bartender Mark Cannella serves him at Cannella's Restaurant on Wednesday in Salt Lake City.
updated 3/19/2009 3:59:26 PM ET 2009-03-19T19:59:26

Utah lawmakers on Thursday approved the most sweeping changes to the conservative western state's liquor laws in 40 years in an effort to boost tourism and make the state appear a little less odd.

The Legislature eliminated the state's private club system, which requires customers to fill out an application and pay a fee for the right to enter a bar. Bartenders in restaurants also will be allowed to serve cocktails directly over bar counters instead of walking around them.

Utah is the only state in the country with either law. Gov. Jon Huntsman has said he'll sign the bill into law, and once that happens, bars can open their doors to the public on July 1.

'Zion Curtain'
Currently, a partition known as a "Zion Curtain" separates bartenders from customers. The term is a nod to the state's religious history as the Land of Zion in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which tells followers to shun alcohol.

Lawmakers in the Senate passed the measure unanimously and applauded after the vote, with some saying: "I'll drink to that."

In exchange for loosening the liquor laws, the state's drunken driving laws will become more strict. People who appear younger than 35 will have their driver's licenses scanned before entering a bar to make sure they're 21 or older and their ID is real.

Information obtained through the scan will be kept at bars for seven days and law enforcement can inspect it in the event of a drunken driving arrest or accident.

The bill also would require new restaurants to mix cocktails out of the view of customers, something the Utah Restaurant Association said would keep many chain restaurants out of the state.

ID scanners to be used
The Utah Hospitality Association, which represents the state's bar industry, reluctantly agreed to the use of the ID scanners, which will cost bars about $800. The association had been prepared to take the measure to a vote through an initiative if lawmakers didn't come to an agreement.

Bars have long complained that memberships are a hassle that annoy customers and distract bouncers. Morality groups, conservative lawmakers and Mothers Against Drunk Driving's Utah chapter had argued that memberships reduced underage drinking and drunken driving because it made getting into multiple bars in a single day expensive and time-consuming.

Dave Morris, the owner of Piper Down bar, said the current law makes business difficult because he "couldn't even get people in my door to explain how to get a drink."

"Now we don't have the quirkiest liquor laws in the country anymore," he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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