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Sign of the times: A restaurant is a restaurant, a bar is a bar in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — Coming soon to Utah restaurants that serve alcohol: Signs that say they are not bars.

And coming soon to Utah bars: Signs that say they are not restaurants.

The state alcohol commission approved the signs Tuesday to comply with a new state law requiring those establishments to clearly tell customers what they are.

"A restaurant is a restaurant and a bar is a bar, never the twain shall meet," said commission Chairman John T. Nielsen, adding there has been confusion over that in the past.

Utah might be the first state in the country to require such signs. The requirement was included in omnibus liquor legislation, HB442, that state lawmakers approved earlier this year. The sign provision takes effect May 9.

The bill also gives restaurants the option to remove the so-called "Zion Curtain" that shields liquor dispensing from diners, though they would have to put up a 42-inch high partition or create a 10-foot buffer zone around the bar area instead.

The new signs, at least 8 ½-by-11 inches in size, must be "conspicuously" displayed at the entrance to the restaurant or bar, said Nina McDermott, Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control director of compliance, licensing and enforcement.

DABC produced a template on a sheet of white paper, but McDermott said restaurants and bars can make the signs more "attractive" if they choose to.

Restaurants don't have a big problem with having to put up the signs, said Michele Corigliano, executive director of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association.

"I'd like to get on the bandwagon against this, but I don't think it is as bad as it could be because it gives people all across Utah the opportunity to know what they're walking into," she said.

Corigliano said the DABC's template is "ugly" and that she's going to an advertising agency to have professional signs made.

Nielsen said he didn't think the signs would make Utah look weird, a word often used to describe the state's liquor laws. He said the intent is to inform people about the law.

"Rather than embarrass people or have compliance issues down the road, why not just make it clear at the outset to the patrons and to people who are the owners of the bars (and restaurants) what is required under the law, and the sign is one attempt to do that," he said.