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DEMO URGES LETTING TAVERNS SERVE WINE AS WELL AS BEER

SHARE DEMO URGES LETTING TAVERNS SERVE WINE AS WELL AS BEER

Almost 500 beer-only taverns are scattered across the state, frequented primarily by men ages 21 to 35. The owners of those taverns would love to see more women in their establishments, as well as older customers.

Rep. Pete Suazo, D-Salt Lake, has one answer: Let beer taverns also serve wine.Suazo broached the controversial topic Friday during the monthly meeting of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, telling commissioners he wanted to introduce legislation to that effect next January. And he would like to get the commission's endorsement.

The chances of getting such a law passed, cautioned chairman Jerry Fenn, are about as good as finding an ice-cold brew in Hades.

"If you're proposing that all taverns be allowed to sell wine, I think it's dead out of the starting gate," Fenn said.

Actually, Suazo is looking to the commission to help draft legislation that would be acceptable to state regulators, as well as conservative lawmakers. One solution might be to offer a new type of beer and wine license.

Currently, there are only two types of state licenses: one to sell beer only in taverns, and the other that allows sales of everything from beer to hard liquor. A new license to sell just beer and wine could be a desirable middle ground for those restaurants that are forced to obtain full-blown liquor licenses when all they want to do is offer wine.

"I suspect a lot of restaurant licensees would express interest in a wine license," Fenn admitted. But getting such an idea through the Legislature will be a mammoth task.

Tony Vina of the Utah Licensed Beverage Association said that since the state banned the practice of brown-bagging, taverns have found their clientele is now mostly young males.

Yet 90 percent of all wine is consumed by people ages 30 to 65, and 60 percent of wine is consumed by women. Add to that the fact that most people who drink wine also drink that wine with food. Food could then become a large sales item for taverns.

And then there's the question of image. "With the prospect of the 2002 Winter Olympics, it would be advantageous for taverns to sell wine because of the large number of international tourists attending the Games," he said in his proposal.

"Most foreign visitors prefer wine over beer. Having wine available in taverns is something that will be expected by visitors from other states and other countries."

Of all the states that control the sale of alcohol, only three - Utah, West Virginia and Pennsylvania - do not have beer and wine licenses for taverns. Most states view wine more in the same category as beer, not hard liquor.

Suazo attempted a bill last January that would have allowed taverns to sell wine, but it was voted down 5-6 by the Transportation and Public Safety Committee. Suazo wants to make a full presentation to the commission at either its August or September meeting.