|By Robert Gehrke, The Salt Lake
TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Feb. 5, 2008 - Battle lines are being drawn over a proposal to change Utah's liquor laws, with restaurants supporting Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. on a plan to allow the serving of stiffer drinks, and private club owners resisting the change.
One major player -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- is on the sidelines, and may remain there.
Sen. Dan Eastman, R-Bountiful, the bill's sponsor, said the church has said that, for now, it plans to take no position on the change.
A spokesman for the church said the faith would likely issue a statement today, but has been focused on the funeral services for the late church President Gordon B. Hinckley and the transition of power.
More than 60 percent of Utah residents are members of the predominant faith, but the percentage of Utah lawmakers who are LDS is much higher -- above 80 percent.
Under existing law, all shots are strictly limited to 1 ounce, with an additional 1.75 ounces of "flavoring," a term used for various flavored spirits. Private clubs can also serve a 1-ounce "sidecar;" restaurants may not.
Tom Guinney, co-owner of the Gastronomy restaurants, said it is "absolutely unconscionable" that the law allows drinks with so much alcohol and calls the change "a public safety issue."
The change, backed by the governor as a way to normalize Utah's liquor laws and encourage tourism, would allow bartenders to pour 1.5 ounces of primary liquor and a half-ounce of flavoring. The sidecar would be done away with.
Guinney said that private clubs will resist the change because they don't want to lose the revenue from the sidecar. "It is based on sheer greed. There's no other way to call it," he said.
But Bob Brown, owner of Cheers To You, a downtown club, said Guinney's logic only holds up if patrons are buying a lot of sidecars, which they aren't. What it will do, he says, is make bars put more alcohol in drinks, raise the prices and get people to drink more. That creates liability issues for bar owners, Brown said.
"It really does blow me away that Utah wants to put an extra half-ounce of alcohol in everybody's drink. It really kind of burns me up."
Julie Wilson, director of food and beverage at Deer Valley restaurants, said visitors to the state scoff at the drinks they get with the 1-ounce pour.
"You bring it to the table and people look at you like you made a mistake," she said.
The private club owners say that, if the state really wants to help the state's tourism industry, they would get rid of Utah's law requiring visitors to have a membership to the club.
Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, said that is a possibility in the future.
"The way it happens with Utah liquor laws is you take baby steps," she said.
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