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Utah Hospitality Industry Wants State to Ease Liquor Laws;
Make it Easier for Visitors to Get a Drink

By Dawn House, The Salt Lake TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 29, 2007 - The hospitality industry is lobbying state liquor-control officials for a rule change that would make it easier for residents and tourists to get a drink.

Private clubs want to issue universal cards allowing members into other establishments without paying additional fees, much like fraternal organizations have long enjoyed.

The Utah Hospitality Association wants to begin by giving universal cards to employees of private clubs as a work perk.

"We want to show that this can be done responsibly," said Lisa McGarry, an attorney for the hospitality association. "The next step would be universal cards for patrons as well."

A universal pass would allow people to buy a single membership that would admit them to any private club in the state affiliated with the Utah Hospitality Association. Residents could buy cards on an annual basis and visitors could buy temporary cards.

McGarry insists that Utah law does not prohibit universal cards. But liquor officials say state statutes prohibit reciprocal privileges among individual clubs.

Supporters say a rule change could be helpful to tourists and business travelers, who typically must fork out $4 for a three-week temporary membership for every different private club they visit during a stay.

McGarry said it is "troublesome" the state allows fraternal organizations, such as the American Legion and country clubs, to have reciprocity agreements, which she called "de facto universal cards."

She showed her card for the Willow Creek Country Club, which she can use to buy drinks at Alpine, Oakridge, Ogden, Riverside and Jeremy Golf country clubs.

"My card makes me a social member of these country clubs," she said, "giving me access to their dining facilities and their private clubs."

But compliance specialist Neil Cohen said lawmakers years ago "crafted exemptions to fraternal organizations" that were not granted to private clubs.

Another apparent exception occurred during the 2002 Olympics, when people purchased memberships sold online through the Utah Licensed Beverage Association for entry into eight downtown clubs, said Bob Brown, owner of Cheers To You, whose establishment was among the participating clubs.

"It was legal during the Olympics, and it's legal now," Brown said of universal cards. "If the [state] comes down on the cards, let there be a court battle so the issue is resolved once and for all."

Currently, residents and tourists without a private club membership may buy a cocktail in restaurants with full-service liquor licenses, as long as the mixed drinks are ordered with a meal. Utah law prohibits "over-the-bar" or bartender-type service in restaurants.

PRIVATE CLUBS IN UTAH:

--Fine dining restaurants, bars or nightclubs with dancing and live music.

--You may enter a private club by buying a three-week visitor card or a full-year membership, or by being the guest of a card holder or member.

--Full-year memberships may vary in price from $12 or more and require a seven-day waiting period.

--Visitor cards cost $4 and have no waiting period.

--Private clubs can assist with the card or membership process at the door.

Source: Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control

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To see more of The Salt Lake Tribune, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sltrib.com.

Copyright (c) 2007, The Salt Lake Tribune

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