Thursday's edition of the Wall Street Journal carried a quarter-page vodka advertisement. The same day's issue of USA Today had a colorful call for readers to buy whisky.
Utah law prohibits local newspapers from carrying similar liquor ads, and on Friday, attorneys for Salt Lake City Weekly newspaper asked the commission that controls alcohol sales and distribution to change that.It was one of several requests to commissioners who govern the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control during the group's monthly meeting and a special public hearing established as a forum for issues related to alcoholic beverages.
"It is our position that this commission can decide whether the (Salt Lake Weekly) can accept advertisements just like the Wall Street Journal," said Richard Mauro, the newspaper's attorney.
Commissioner Carl Hawkins was reluctant to re-address an issue he said has been investigated thoroughly and is being worked out in the courts.
In 1996, the commission carefully considered a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on liquor advertising and did change some rules.
For example, at that time, the commission conceded that restaurants could advertise beer in table-top placards and in some window signs.
"But as far as I'm concerned, we did make a thorough review and the rules did constitute our response to that," he said. "I don't see any reason to do that again."
The commission voted to postpone consideration of the Salt Lake City Weekly request until related cases work their way through the courts.
Salt Lake physician George Van Komen, chairman of Utah Alcohol Policy Coalition, asked the commission to keep a tight rein on alcohol access and sale during the Winter Olympic Games in 2002.
Commission Chairman Nicholas Hales told Van Komen he'd seen a copy of the coalition's press release announcing Van Komen's attendance at the Friday meeting. "It is not the purpose of this meeting to give individuals or groups a soapbox to announce their plans or policies."
But, as reported in the Deseret News Friday, Van Komen did walk through a seven-point plan he said would guarantee an "alcohol-safe" Olympics, and said the commission could do much to help.
Other people had myriad concerns about liquor laws in Utah.
Floyd Anderson, a licensed clinical psychologist in Salt Lake City and owner of the Pinewoods Resort in Duck Creek Village near Cedar City, touted the benefits of a responsible amount of wine consumption. He asked the commission to consider distinguishing between wine and harder liquor, such as vodka and tequila, as they issue licenses to serve alcohol.
Officials from three small Utah wineries asked the commission to review the way locally made wines are taxed and marked up for retail sales.
The commission listened to comments and took little action except to hand out some beer and liquor licenses including one to P.F. Chang's China Bistro, which had a powerful advocate in former liquor commission chairman Jerry Fenn, an attorney who serves as chief counsel to the LDS Church on issues related to alcoholic beverages.
Fenn said P.F. Chang's, a restaurant to be located at 200 West and 300 South in Salt Lake City in the old Bandaloop's Coffee House space, will be the "finest upscale Chinese restaurant in Utah."
The restaurant should generate $3.8 million per year in conservative estimates, Fenn said. "The privilege to serve alcohol is one this restaurant is well qualified for," he said.
The commission also meted some punishments for violations, including one that brought publicity to Utah's controversial law prohibiting the hospitality industry practice called "sampling."
It is illegal for liquor sales representatives to provide samples to local restaurants and bars.
In March 1998, a Summit County judge slapped the hands of three wine brokers charged with illegally delivering alcoholic products to a party, where the brokers apparently had sampled wine illegally.
David Engen, 36, of Park City and a wine broker with Winham Inc., was one of three men Summit County prosecutors later charged with unlawfully giving away alcoholic products and unlawfully furnishing alcoholic products to a retailer.
Later, all three pleaded no contest to the first charge, according to court documents and in exchange for the no contest pleas, the court agreed to dismiss both charges after one year if the men did not violate more liquor laws.
The commission on Friday suspended Engen's license to do business for 40 days.
Engen apologized to the commission and said the company had been restructured and had reaffirmed its commitment to work closely with the department.