Eat + Drink

Loopholes, Appy Hours and the Zion Curtain: Demystifying Salt Lake’s Liquor Laws

Yes, you can get a drink in Salt Lake City. Utah’s once restrictive drinking culture is changing fast — along with the arcane laws that long sat on its books. Thanks to this modernization, there’s never been a better time to imbibe in Salt Lake City. But the Beehive State booze rules can still be tough to navigate.

Get up to speed with this primer on drinking (responsibly) in Utah.

3.2 Percent Beer

Out-of-towners often lament that Utah serves only weak, 3.2 percent beer, but the reality is that an outdated measurement method is fudging the numbers.

Utah (and Minnesota) measure alcohol the old-fashioned way, by weight, while basically everyone else measures by volume. Adjusted with that in mind, Utah brews are 4 percent alcohol — just 0.2 to 0.5 percent less than respected session beers served around the world.

Stronger by the Bottle

Looking to get buzzed on a high-point Belgian brew? You can get it — just not on draft. Nothing more potent than 4 percent alcohol is available on tap in Utah bars, restaurants or brewpubs, but stronger beer is sold by the bottle. Beyond the bar, find six-pack full-strength beers at any Utah State Liquor Store.

 utah alcohol laws
Snack it up during Appy Hour. (Photo: Getty Images)

Seeing Double

If a double scotch or whiskey neat is your drink, be prepared to be disappointed. Utah’s calibrated dispensing systems, commonly called clickers, perfectly pour 1.5 ounces of alcohol and nothing more. Even if you love your favorite spirit served neat or on the rocks, your bartender legally can’t give you a double — no matter how much you tip.

Cocktail Loophole

Instead of sipping on a shot, fall in love with Manhattans or margaritas to get the most bang for your buck. Mixed drinks can feature 2.5 ounces of total spirits, as long as the other ounce is a secondary spirit.

Appy Hour

In Utah, you won’t find $2 beers from 5 to 7 p.m. Happy hour drink deals are still outlawed to discourage excessive drinking.

Instead, many restaurants offer “appy hours” during early evening with deeply discounted first courses. Drown your sorrows about paying for a full-price beer with a half-off cheese and spinach artichoke dip or nachos.

Boozin’ and Cruisin’

Utah’s new drunk driving law is the toughest in the nation, lowering the state’s blood-alcohol content for driving under the influence from 0.08 to 0.05. Skip the DUI and appoint a designated driver, take a ride-share car or simply stay downtown and walk everywhere. Driving impaired is never worth the risk.

utah alcohol laws
Pouring in plain sight. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Zion Curtain

For nearly 10 years, Utah restaurant bartenders hid behind partitions while making alcoholic drinks, supposedly to shield the youth from the sight of booze. The law’s revocation in 2017 brought down the walls, and bartenders can now shake and stir their creations at any bar, restaurant or not.

Required Eating

Here’s where the laws get confusing. You can order just a beer or cocktail at any bar or taproom, but the “intent to dine” law requires restaurant patrons to order food if they’d also like alcohol. But don’t fret about ordering a big, expensive dish. Most restaurants offer cheap chips and salsa or other tiny snacks to keep guests in compliance — affordably.

First and Last Call

Hello Sunday Funday! Order a bloody mary or mimosa as early as 10:30 a.m. on weekends instead of the previously dictated 11:30 a.m., thanks to a recent law change. If you’re out on the town, get your nightcap before 1:00 a.m., when bars and restaurants must stop serving.

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This article appears as a part of a paid partnership with Visit Salt Lake.