Nightlife and Utah’s weird drinking laws

UPDATE: Thankfully the state of Utah has abolished the “Private Club” aspect of these laws, keep that in mind while reading below….

Or should I have put “night life” in quotes?  Anyway, check out my map for where the bars are.  There are basically 3 bars in town- The Rio, Woody’s and Zax all located within a 1 block radius of each other downtown.  They’re all about the same and all are private clubs but don’t let that deter you, read on.   Others exist but aren’t exactly tourist attractions.  You can get a beer or wine at pretty much any other restaurant.

If you’re from out of town I’m sure you’ve heard the rumors about Utah’s drinking laws.  Let me start by diffusing the 3 most popular myths.  3.2 beer is the same as 5 beer for the most part.  When I was in bartending school the myth that 3.2% brew was half the octane as 5% was so popular that several students challenged the teacher on the subject so what should have taken 10 minutes turned into 3 hours of charts, graphs and debate.  The teacher was right.  Without getting into the boring math part of it, it breaks down kinda like this…

3.2%  measured by weight is roughly the same as 5% measured by volume.  Any beer you can by at the grocery store in Colorado, Arizona, etc. is the SAME THING as Utah grocery store beer.  So that Coors light you hauled over from Denver so you could drink “real beer” just caused nothing more than slightly worse gas mileage on the way over.  Microbrews and specialty beers are different but that’s an entirely different story.  Also, Colorado “5.5%” beer is actually not to exceed 5.5% which means it very well may have less than the 5 points on the label.   Budweiser doesn’t have a smaller vat of beer with a “Utah only” sticker on it, it’s all smoke and mirrors that was likely hatched by a right wing organization we all know very well, who knows.

Utah's Weird Drinking Laws

Utah's Weird Drinking Laws

As for hard alcohol, that’s another, more disappointing story.  Those “clickers” you see on the tops of the booze bottles are state mandated devices that meter out exactly 1 shot of alcohol per drink.  What this means is that it just takes twice as much money to get where you’re going.  Here’s a tip- 1 alcohol drinks like Gin and Tonics will always have 1 shot but drinks like Long Island’s (which are entirely legal) have the 1st shot metered and the rest flows like you’re a free man.  If you’re at a “private club” (I’ll get to that in a second) and you want to drink but also like money then I would suggest a drink with several alcoholic ingredients.  This rule about metering the 1st shot only was obviously cooked up by someone who doesn’t drink as with most of Utah’s drinking laws.

No doubles you say??  You can get a double in Utah but you have to know the lingo.     A double in Utah is called a “sidecar” which is actually a separate shot of whatever you’re drinking.  So if you want a Vodka tonic double you would ask for a “Vodka tonic with a sidecar”.  You will get served a vodka tonic and a shot of vodka that you will have to pour into the first glass.  What’s the point?  Good question, I’m as baffled as you.

The term “Private Club” was meant to be intimidating as to discourage people for even trying as it seems like some exclusive membership that requires weeks of hazing to be accepted into.  The term actually means nothing other than you can get booze inside and not just beer.  When they ask if you have a membership you say “no but could I get a sponsor?”  all this means is that someone inside who is a member will vouch for you.  Many times they will say “welcome to the ________ Larry is your sponsor, have a good time” and in you go.  If someone does acknowledge the door guy and sponsors you it’s customary to buy the guy a drink but it’s cheaper than the membership fee.  I lived in Utah for 30 something years and haven’t bought a single membership.  So to recap- a private club serves hard alcohol but isn’t private at all.  Non-private clubs can serve wine and beer only but you don’t have to give the secret handshake to get in.

The laws just get weirder and weirder from here but these are the one’s you’ll probably have to deal with if you’re reading this.  For the complete rundown of the other ridiculous laws check out this link. That’s my advise and happy drinking.  By the way if you can get him, the only cab in town is 435-259-taxi.

-Erik Shellenberger


In Town Bars and "Private Clubs"



If you’re looking to kick back, Woody’s Tavern, located at 221 S Main St, is a safe bet. It’s not the kind of place that’s going to break your wallet, so that’s more you have left over for happy hour.  They...


Rio Bar and Grill

The Rio Sports Bar and Grill hosts live music every weekend, Karaoke occasionally, and enjoys a full Utah liquor license (mixed drinks, ahoy!). Considered one of the most happening joints in town, the Rio Sports Bar features...


Zax Pizza Joint/ Bar

ZAX Pizza, located at 96 South Main Street in Moab, has been a popular dining spot for locals and tourists alike since it first opened in 2002.  The tastefully decorated building is adorned with a variety of interesting...