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Open Bar For State Of Utah

Getting into a bar in Utah is now as simple as showing a bouncer a valid ID.

For 40 years, Utah required customers to fill out an application, pay a fee and become a member of a private club before they were allowed to set foot in a bar.

On Wednesday, those requirements were eliminated in an effort to boost the state's $7 billion-a-year tourism industry and make the state appear a little less quirky to outsiders.

Toasts at bars were expected around the state as customers could forget about digging around in their wallets or purses in search of membership cards, often the size of movie ticket stubs.

In Salt Lake City, two days of 16-bar pub crawls were planned to celebrate the novelty of being allowed into a bar without having to pay first. One crawl is set for Wednesday, another for Friday.

"It's 40 years of oppression come to an end," said Dave Morris, owner of Piper Down and an organizer of Wednesday's pub crawl. "There's this national perception that we don't have bars here, so hopefully this gets out there that we're open for business."

Utah has long had a host of liquor laws that befuddled newcomers, but none was as maddening as the state's private club system. While technically private, anyone willing to pay a membership fee costing at least $12 a year could come into a bar. Each bar required a separate membership.

Temporary memberships lasting up to three weeks were available for no less than $4, but it limited the number of guests members could bring to seven.

Adding to the confusion, hotel guests had membership fees at their hotel bars included in their room rates and no memberships were needed to go into a bar that only served beer.

The private club system was created primarily to shield Mormons from alcohol while allowing drinkers to imbibe heavily taxed booze. About 60 percent of the state's population and more than 80 percent of state lawmakers belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which tells its members to abstain from alcohol.

Anything that normalizes liquor laws for out-of-state visitors is good for Utah, said Steve Lindburg, general manager of a downtown hotel and a member of the state tourism board.

"People didn't understand. People felt isolated or even turned away," he said. "Now, that kind of becomes moot."

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