SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Wine spritzers are a summer favorite at Rovali's near Salt Lake City. Behind the bar, in full view of patrons, waiters siphon soda and syrup into glasses of ice then they duck behind a fake olive tree and a barricade to add the chardonnay.
One of Utah's famously strict liquor laws forbids the restaurant from pouring alcohol in front of customers. The idea behind that ban is to shield the mixing of cocktails and pouring of drinks from children and underage customers.
The barriers, known here as "Zion curtains," went up around the state in 2010. They materialized as part of a compromise after lawmakers lifted a requirement for bars to operate as members-only social clubs.
But this year, the curtains may come down.
Utah lawmakers have advanced a repeal of the barrier mandate, a move they say would encourage new business. The bill now goes to the House floor. Right now, the requirement applies to restaurants that are less than 3 years old.
Doing away with the curtain would mark small step by the state to relax Utah's tight grip on the sale and serving of alcohol.
A handful of bills now pending in Utah would ease the state's liquor regulations. That handful includes a measure allowing customers to order a drink before they order food and another to make more liquor licenses available to restaurants.
A House committee gave the go-ahead Wednesday for a repeal of the curtain requirement. Some lawmakers debated whether the measure would encourage underage drinking. But others said they could not find any evidence that youngsters who see bartenders pour alcohol tend to drink underage or binge drink later in life. The House committee voted 9-3 to approve the bill.
The so-called Zion curtains go back decades in the state's history. The nickname nods to Utah's legacy as home to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A former incarnate of the barriers went up in the late 1960's in social clubs serving alcohol, and stood until the state legalized bars in 2009. Those former barriers took the form of glass walls separating customers from bartenders.
Opponents of today's Zion curtains say the law forces restaurant owners to waste money and space on configurations to keep bartenders out of sight. Some construct wall-like barriers, and others put up strategically positioned service bars. Curtain opponents also say the law hinders tourism by annoying outsiders and reinforcing their perception of Utah as staunchly sober.