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It was nearly midnight on a Saturday when Milena and Vlado Hlady first arrived in Salt Lake from Yugoslavia several years ago. As their host from the University of Utah drove them from the airport through downtown Salt Lake City, Milena remembers thinking: OK, this is just one center of town. There must be other places where people go to have fun.

But the next time the Hladys were downtown they couldn't find anyone on the streets either. Where were the cafes? Why weren't people walking around, going from the theater to a coffee house maybe? Zagreb, the Hlady's hometown, had a visible night life. In Salt Lake, says Milena, "It was like that show, `The Day After,' where a town is wiped out by a nuclear war. I thought something terrible had happened in this city."But appearances can be deceiving, says Dick Gilliland of the Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau. Salt Lake has a night life, says Gilliland. You just have to know where to look.

We may not be outside walking around (the distance between one place and other is a little too far, the streets are too wide to be very inviting, and besides, when we're outside in Utah we like to be camping.) And for most of us our nights out on the town tend to be evenings. (We come downtown for a Jazz game, spend a little quality time in traffic, then hurry home to catch the weather and sports on the 10 o'clock news.)

But you can have fun downtown after 10 if you want to, says Gilliland. Salt Lake isn't one of those big cities where most of the work force flees to the suburbs at 5 p.m. and is too scared of crime to venture back after dark.

"Downtown is alive and well," he says. "You should talk to one of the meeting planners who have gone on our Saints and Sinners tour." Someone like Jim Nagel.

Nagel is convention chairman for the International Brotherhood of Magicians. He picked Salt Lake City as the site for this year's magicians convention after being wined and dined in several U.S. cities.

"Utah's gotten a bad rap," says Nagel, who lives in St. Louis. "I've never had a hard time having a good time in Utah." There's a lot to do here, he says. "And I can get an Anheuser Busch product, too."

On Nagel's first visit to Salt Lake he was taken on the Saints and Sinners tour (a Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearsal followed by visits to places like the Zephyr). "We do it because of the perception people have of Salt Lake," explains the convention bureau's Gilliland. "You know," he goes on, with a hint of incredulity and panic in his voice: `What are we going to do in Salt Lake City?!!' "

Downtown restaurant and club owners have also come up with a strategy to lure local residents downtown for more than just basketball. Fourteen downtown restaurants and clubs, along with the Utah Transit Authority, last fall launched DART (Downtown Area Restaurants Trolley).

Patrons get a free ride to the Delta Center, thus avoiding a parking hassle there, if they've purchased a meal at the participating restaurants or clubs.

Business has picked up on game nights, says Chris Patterson, general manager of the Market Street Grill and Oyster Bar. And about 30 percent of the game-goers stop back at the restaurants and clubs after the game.

DART may be expanded to Delta Center concerts, too, says Patterson.

On weekend nights, especially, but also often on Wednesdays and Thursdays, you can find people dancing and socializing till closing time at places like the Dead Goat, Studebaker's, the Bar and Grill, the Salt Lake Roasting Company, Green Street, Squatters and the Zephyr Club.

The problem, says Studebaker's manager Terry Fisher, is that closing time comes too early. Utah liquor laws dictate that bars and clubs must close at 1 a.m. Fisher favors a law that would prohibit liquor sales after 1 a.m. but would allow the clubs to stay open till 2.

Bandaloops, a coffeehouse that does not serve liquor, stays open till 1:30 or 2 a.m., depending on how many people don't want to leave. And the Pie Pizzaria next to the University of Utah campus often has a full house till 3 a.m. on weekends.

But let's face it: We're just not New Yorkers. In New York, says Bill Bronner, who used to own the Comedy Oasis at the Salt Lake Marriott, he has friends who go out for dinner, come home for a nap, and then go out again at midnight for another round of fun.

If you want to party on all night long in Salt Lake, there are only a few options. There's the fluorescent intimacy of places like Dee's Family Restaurant. There's Bill and Nada's. And there are several 24-hour Kinko's Copies, where you can type and Xerox the night away.