The Zion Curtains of Utah

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A source of confusion among many first time visitors to the US state of Utah are the bars. Like any regular bar, there are stools lining the shiny counter, but instead of facing the bottles and the bartenders, they look straight at a wall of clouded white glass that rises from the middle of the counter, obscuring both on the other side. These barriers are nicknamed Zion curtains, a dig at the Church of Mormons that hold a large influence over the population of Utah.

In Utah, you cannot watch a bartender shake and mix your drink, because the state’s law requires —in accordance with Mormon’s religious views on drinking— that bartenders perform the act behind a curtain, lest the more impressionable and underage audience should see it and be tempted to indulge in liquor. To spare their virgin eyes, state lawmakers dictated that all alcohol-serving establishments within the state, especially those that opened after 2010, erect a 7-feet 2-inches high partition separating the bartenders from the patrons.
Utah has some of the most draconian laws regulating the sale of alcohol. For instance, grocery stores, pubs, beer bars and restaurants cannot sell beer having alcohol content stronger than 3.2 percent by weight. Anything stronger is labeled “heavy” and can only be bought at a state liquor store, but those close at 1 AM, a full hour or two early than most of the rest of the country. They also stay closed on Sundays and holidays.

The state also dictates how much liquor bartenders can pour in drinks, serving no more than a total of 2.5 ounces of alcohol to one person, making mixed drinks with multiple liquors and cocktails with high concentrations of alcohol difficult to make. Given that the state tries so hard to prevent people from drinking too much, it’s strange that there is also a minimum bottle size. Aside from hotels and airlines, liquor shops can’t sell bottles smaller than 200 milliliters. And then, there is this Zion curtain.

The curtains date back to the 1960s, when they were first erected in the state’s membership-only drinking clubs. Until 2009, there were no public bars in Utah. Those who wished to drink had to fill out an application, pay a fee and become a member of a private club.

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