Pink Elephants At Utah’s Legislature

The Utah Legislature is in session again and these means it is open season on Utah liquor laws.

Rep. Patrice Arent’s HB 283 was unable to get out of committee with a 4-3 vote. Rep. Arent’s bill was for a one-year trial period of keeping the DABC package stores open on holidays. On the surface, the bill would open the store 11 more days a year plus Sundays but Gayle Ruzicka and I saw right throw it. This is just another brick in the liberal agenda to get people drunk on President’s Day.

Say what you will but getting drunk in Utah isn’t hard. In fact, even with all of the restrictions that is placed on the sale of alcohol I rarely hear about anybody not getting enough booze if they plan ahead. I only work four nights a week but every shift there are people that have to been slowed down or cut off. Last call never comes fast enough because at 1am I’m ready to give these drunks a head start before I make it back home. Call me an old fuddy-duddy (ever met a fuddy-duddy who isn’t old?) but limited and controlling the sale of booze is a good thing. Let’s keep the hooch out of kid’s hands, drunks away from their car keys and vodka & Red Bulls far from Affliction wearing morons.

A couple of thoughts on why last call is a good idea: One, you’ve had enough to drink and you need to take the party somewhere else. Two, she’s not going home with you, so pack it up and head home for internet porn. Nobody has ever successfully argued these two points away from me and the only people who think they should be allowed to stay in a bar and drink all night are already on the fast track to being cut-off.

What HB 283 was addressing was making package stores more available for tourist when they come to the state. Instead of expanding the hours of sale, why not come up with a pithy commercial or pamphlet that teaches out-of-towners how to order like an Utahn? You could get Big Budah to drive around Jim Shea, Paul Millsap and Heath Canada around town and tell the audience at home how to get your swerve on in the Beehive State. That is a million dollar idea but we’ll probably dink around with tweaking the liquor code before we film one thing that people will actually watch and/or understand.

Speaking of bonehead ideas, Rep. Brian Doughty’s HB 193 was summarily shot down. This bill would require 40% of the DABC Commissioners to be regular drinkers. What he wanted to say couldn’t be said because it is offensive, illegal and political suicide. What should have been in the bill was that 2/5 of the DABC Commission can’t be practicing LDS. Here is yet another classic example of Utah Democrats needing a testicular implant. There was no way this bill was going to pass so why didn’t it require every member of the Commission to tip a whiskey every now and then?

I would love to be the one who administers the test to determine whether or not a potential commissioner is really a “regular” drinker. We would meet at my favorite bar, Sugarhouse Pub, and I would watch him as he ordered. Acceptable drinks: anything on tab (except apricot hefe), whiskey, DABC-strength beers, tequila or gin & tonics. Marginal drinks: anything vodka based, Captain & Cokes, Coors Light and daiquiris might be grounds for disqualification. Unacceptable drinks: JagerBombs, vodka & Red Bulls, anything layered or topped with whipped cream means hit the brick because you are not getting the job.

I would also like to up the ante on potential commissioners. I would want to see how they tip the bartender, what songs they pick on the jukebox and if they know how to shoot pool. I would like to see how they would defuse a potential bar fight and if they know how to get the cocktail waitress’s phone number. I would like to know how they eat their chicken wings and whether or not they are one of those smokers that only bums a cigarette when they have been drinking. If you want somebody to oversee booze in Utah then you damn well better make sure they know how to handle themselves in a bar.

Ideally you would want the DABC Commissioners to be regular drinkers the same way Utah Department of Agriculture and Food Commissioner, Leonard M. Blackham, is a regular farmer. Blackham is a turkey farmer and knows his way around a farm that produces over 400,000 birds. He runs a department that he actually knows something about. Maybe I am being too hard on DABC Chairman Richard J. Sperry. He is after all an anesthesiologist.

I really wish they would leave well enough alone. If they didn’t change the laws every legislative session we wouldn’t have all of these problems in public perception regarding alcohol sales in Utah. I have put forward the suggestion that we put in a four-year moratorium on making any changes to the liquor laws so we can have time to really analysis what is going on in the state. Think of how nice it would be for both sides of the argument to shut the hell up for almost half-a-decade? The citizens of the state don’t want this place to be Nevada but how can we know what we want when things change every 12-months?

I’m from Las Vegas and move to Salt Lake City without a gun to my head. Are there things better about Utah than Nevada? Yep. Are there things better in Nevada? A handful but yes. I think the biggest shame in dealing with reregulating liquor in the state is that citizens here don’t know who they are and what they want. They act like children pointing a store front and screaming I want that. Well, this kind of behavior isn’t healthy and doesn’t fit into the mold of where I want Utah to be in the future.

You know what I do miss about Nevada? Every now and then you would read a horrific story about a liquor store being held up resulting in a hostage situation and a police shootout. It really kept you on your toes when you went in to get a fifth of White Wolf. The front of the stores were covered in trashy Dos Equis posters, two-for-one cigarette ads and those three chicks in the Budweiser swimsuits on the beach towel. You could buy beer, wine and whiskey plus a can of almonds and ice. How novel is that? Being able to buy ice at a liquor store? Does anybody honestly think that secondary markets would be challenged if the state-run package stores sold ice and a cop of Hustler?

Liquor stores in Nevada felt like business was going to happen that night. In Utah, I can’t walk three paces down the merlot aisle without running into some kid hanging from the rafters. Raise your hand if you ever thought the little girl hanging out front of the liquor store was going to get crushed by the automatic doors. In Utah’s ever-quest to turn the state into Disneyland, even the prevention of keeping alcohol out of the hands of children is done in a Mary Poppins fashion. That kid hanging from the ceiling joists looks like a pre-teen version of Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible except more masculine.

A ceiling full of pink elephants telling the customers in the store that the Henry Mancini soundtrack is reserved for people over the age of 21 would be more appropriate. In researching that reference, I learned that Dumbo got drunk on a bucket of water spiked with champagne. What’s more ridiculous: a 650-pound flying elephant getting drunk of a truck-full of watered down bubbly wine or adults being warned by cardboard cut-outs of kids to keep booze out of their reach? The answer, of course, is Dumbo but the kids are a very close second.

I really think the key to fixing the apparent crisis we have in alcohol sales in Utah is to not do anything about it. Keep the laws the same for the next four-years and lets go back to see how bad or good they are. Ten years ago the liquor laws didn’t stop the world coming to SLC for the Winter Games. If we are afraid of losing tourist dollars from the skiing interest, I think the fact that it’s been a dry winter is more of a problem than how dry our martinis are.

Ben Raskin bartends at Keys On Main Wednesday through Saturday. Follow him on Twitter @BennyRaskin. Check out his new podcast at Salt Lake City PubCast. He often sees pink elephants.

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