Drinks all round in the not-so-dry Mormon state

SALT LAKE DAYS

Sunday was Super Bowl night and, like watering holes all across America, the Thirsty Squirrel was jammed with boisterous punters cheering their teams. Penetrating the scrum to reach the bar was hard enough, but once there I was faced with another obstacle. ''Are you a member?'' the bartender politely inquired.

This threw me for a second until a man in the melee whom I had never seen before shouted that he would ''sponsor'' me for the evening. I thanked him and, presto, my beer was duly served. I was reminded that I was in Utah.

Settled by the Mormon pioneer Brigham Young in 1847, Utah still largely belongs to the secretive and deeply conservative Mormon church. Seventy per cent of the population are Mormons, and so are nine out of 10 of the members of the state legislature.

It was in 1833 that the founder of the Mormon church, Joseph Smith, surprised his followers - and doubtless dismayed many - by declaring that he had received a message from God forbidding the consumption of such polluting substances as tea, coffee, tobacco products and alcohol. The doctrine was detailed in Smith's Book of Wisdom, and the faithful obey it today. Even that most American of drinks, Coca-Cola, is anathema to a strict Mormon.

Not surprisingly, Utah has long had a reputation for enforced clean living. Though the state may not be a theocracy exactly, the Mormon church - formally the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - looms over all state business; whenever public policy and moral issues coincide, it is the deciding force. The only time the legislature overrode Church opinion was when it supported the repealing of Prohibition 63 years ago.

The Church's influence has, to be sure, helped shape a state that is among America's safest and most pleasant. Salt Lake City, where most of the population is concentrated, is a tidy if passionless place, dramatised only by the spectacular backdrop of the Wasatch range to the east. This is one of the fastest-growing states in America, with low house prices and a burgeoning hi-tech industry - not to mention the skiing - attracting a steady flow of newcomers.

Utah has been struggling for the last few years to shed its puritanical image, aware that it is a damper on its tourist and convention business. Most striking was Salt Lake City's campaign - which finally brought victory last June - to be host to the 2002 Winter Olympics. The toughest challenge was convincing the selection committee that Utah was not nearly as strait- laced as the world supposed and that one myth in particular could be disposed of: that it is dry. As the Olympic bid chairman, Frank Joklik, pronounced shortly before final selection: "If you can't get a drink in Salt Lake City, you can't be very thirsty."

It is true that finding a tipple in Salt Lake today is barely more difficult than anywhere else in America. Various laws have been amended or repealed recently so as to make it still easier. Restaurants, for example, are no longer forbidden, as they were until 1991, to serve wine by the glass, or to mix drinks for their customers.

The grip of the state - and thus the Church - on alcohol consumption, nonetheless, remains total. All liquor stores are state-owned, and hefty taxes make private drinking expensive. A six-pack of beer in central Salt Lake City will cost you $13 (pounds 8.50), compared with about $6 back East. Restaurants can serve alcohol, but food must account for more than 70 per cent of the customer's bill. Technically, bars do not exist. Instead, drinking establishments like the Thirsty Squirrel have to masquerade as private clubs. The membership fee is usually about $5 - which goes to the state.

Few among the minority non-Mormon population, at least, take much of this very seriously. On returning to our Salt Lake hotel, we inquire where we might go for a final round in the area. "Hang on," the receptionist replies, "I'll get you one". She ruffles through some unused membership cards for all the "clubs" in the neighbourhood before finding one for the Port O' Call, a couple of blocks away. "Here. You can get five people in on that."

David Usborne

Suggested Topics
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine