10+1 images from my first year back in Utah

At the end of May, I marked the first anniversary of my returning to Utah. To celebrate the occasion, I reviewed the photos I took from the past 365 days and picked ten that highlighted some of the fun activities from 2016-17. There’s also a bonus picture — the first photo I took upon my return.

Click any photo to embiggen…

Utah’s state liquor stores — An outsider’s look at a unique booze wonderland

Over the summer, I spent my vacation in Salt Lake City. During a walk through the Sugar House neighborhood, I entered one of Utah’s State Liquor Stores for the first time.

Outside the state liquor store in Sugar House

Outside the state liquor store in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Utah in July 2011.

I honestly didn’t know what I was expecting, but it was mildly interesting. While it appeared to be better stocked than a typical supermarket (minus beers modified for sale in regular grocery stores), it was considerably less than a Beverages and More. Call them a “BevLess.”

Although I’ve lived and visited Salt Lake off and on for my entire life, I never really noticed the nondescript stores until after turning 21. It’s kind of an odd oversight because there was one about two blocks from my great-grandparents house (it’s now closed in a cost-cutting move that may or may not be working).

On the other hand, the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control says its mission is to make liquor available, but not to promote sales. Mission accomplished, based on my experience. The store’s red brick exterior is devoid of advertising and there are notices on the door saying no one under 21 allowed without a parent or guardian.

I was actually looking for an old bowling alley when I found the Sugar House liquor store tucked next to the roaring interstate. I was scouting some beer for a friend so I decided to go in.

Since I was looking for brews, I spent most of the time in the beer section and I was surprised by the relatively decent selection. There was a selection of Sierra Nevada (including Bigfoot!) and even the more rare Anchor Steam. I also saw the most variety of Molson outside of Canada.

Inside the store

A look inside the State Liquor Store in the Sugar House neighborhood on Sept. 16, 2011.

One thing I didn’t find was the specific brand of beer I was looking for. Fortunately, I later found it was widely available at many fine grocery stores, like the nearby Whole Foods or Dan’s.

The prices weren’t horrible as far as I could tell, but maybe that was by design. In another quirk, beer in the store is sold on a per-bottle basis. Based on the empty six-pack cases, I guess it opens up the possibility of mixing and matching your selection.

The pricing can be deceiving. A single bottle of Anchor Steam was $1.99, making a six-pack about $11.94 in Utah. That’s about $3 more than in Chico.

The staff and customers also appear to be nice considering that I pestered them with questions of Salt Lake of yore — namely that pesky bowling alley. I first asked the clerk if he remembered if there was a bowling alley where a 24 Hour Fitness is now. As a relative newcomer, he didn’t know. I turned to a slightly older woman who I (perhaps wrongly) assumed she would know. She didn’t, but they were both seemed nice about my slightly off-key questions.


Visiting the store with family

My sister poses outside the State Liquor Store during a return visit on Sept. 16.

Follow-up: I returned to the store in September. My family was buying some items for an impromptu memorial and stopped by, looking for wine. (BTW, my dad remembered the bowling alley.)

We settled on a bottle of wine and some Pimm’s liquor. My mother and sister appeared to be impressed at the selection available. In addition to Pimm’s, which I had never heard of before, there was also a wine that my sister’s friend distributes.

Although I’ve lived in places where the state strictly controls the sale of alcohol, Utah’s state-owned stores are something else — almost otherworldly. In a way, going into these heavily regulated spaces reminded me of going to a bar for the first time after turning 21.

We were impressed by the store’s variety, but we also joked at some aspects that seemed “off” — like an oddly constructed wireframe wine rack where a bottle tilted up for examination could slip through the frame and fall to the ground. That caused a bit of a surprise, but thankfully the bottle didn’t break.

I also thought it’s faintly absurd that the state government is selling alcohol. On my way out of the store, I joked that the cashiers should end transactions by saying “The state of Utah thanks you for your purchase.”

I don’t think the cashiers were very amused.

Top image: Outside the state liquor store in the Sugar House neighborhood of Salt Lake City, Utah in July 2011.

Submerging in the city of Salt Lake

In the spring, I went back to my hometown of Salt Lake City for a grandparent’s 80th birthday party. It was too short of a visit, and I left with a desire to return soon.

Part of the visit included updating my memory banks and comparing the SLC-That-Was to the SLC-That-Is.

I suppose noticing changes is a fairly common thing when people return to their old towns after being away. I can imagine people comparing how San Francisco or Oakland has changed in the past 10-15 years. In fact, I remember my high school history teacher bemoaning the changes to his small town of Roswell, Ga. after its population exploded during the 1980s.

I kidded with my family that I was catching up with what’s new so I could hold my own in a conversation. In reality, my family and friends have been quite generous in sharing information about what has changed over the years.

There were all these little details — oh, they opened up a new highway to Ogden; they shut down a historic building with a prominent nightspot; they’re still working on that replacement for the old downtown malls; the city has a soccer team and it has a new stadium; etc.

Amid the changes, I also tried to remember items that had gone missing in the past few years (and before that). During my trip last summer, I noticed that there was only one Union Pacific shield on the old UP depot (which has been integrated into a mall). The other shield had been on the opposite side facing the freeway — the holes for the mounting brackets seem to still be there.

Because I’m a huge dork who wants to recall as many of these little details as possible — here is a not-inclusive list of some of the changes to landmarks I’ve noticed in the past eight years:

  • Three shopping malls have been demolished. Two of them were standouts in my memories of downtown — the Crossroads Mall and the ZCMI Center. The other one, Cottonwood, was OK at the then-outskirts of town, but had a nice comic book store.
  • The Gateway Center opened (which appears to have prompted the other closures/re-envisionings of shopping).
  • The Hansen Planetarium relocated from a great old house across from ZCMI Center to the Gateway (and is now the Clark Planetarium)
  • The large pale blue map of the Earth at the airport’s Terminal One is still there, but now a TSA security line runs over it (no more rushing to mark where Salt Lake is and where our family is going).
  • Rancho Bowl was torn down (I suspected, but my uncle confirmed it when we were driving on North Temple).
  • Another bowling alley off of Redwood Road was torn down.
  • Japantown looks so small among the other downtown developments (I also learned it’s called Japantown).
  • The communities of Bountiful and Centerville have changed a lot as well. Old landmarks are torn down (like Five Points) or completely renovated (like Slim Olsen’s). New shopping centers too.
  • Of course, the drinking laws have changed somewhat over the years.

Here are some things that changed before 2000 (when I still visited often):

  • Derks Field was rebuilt into Franklin Quest/Franklin Covey/Spring Mobile Ballpark.
  • The miniature golf course at Ritz Bowl was removed.
  • The swimming pool building where my mom took me for water lessons in 1982 closed and apparently cleared to make way for the LDS Conference Center.
  • The light-rail system, TRAX, opened (although I didn’t use it until 2008).
  • Man, I didn’t realize how close the Delta Center was to the old Buddhist temple. I also didn’t realize that the Salt Palace was also across the street.

Then, there are some things that I seem to remember, but can’t verify:

  • The skating rink/ice company in Sugar House burned down.
  • Wasn’t there an outdoor skating rink outside the KSL broadcasting center? I know it’s now at Gallivan Center.

While I’m trying to compare the new city versus the old city, I realize that my efforts will inevitably come up short. My memories of the past have begun to fade (mom had to correct me about where the swimming pool was) and my recent surveys have been brief.

There are past and current realities, but I guess they will be different from the SLC of my mind.

Photo: I don’t have a lot of digital photos of Salt Lake City, so this July 2008 photo of me in front of a giant poster of American Idol contestant David Archuleta at Murray High School in Murray, Utah will have to suffice.

Farewell, Utah liquor law that never directly affected me

The "Lost" spike and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad

The “Lost” spike and the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad

This is going to be a weird post because it’s about a liquor law from my homestate of Utah that I never really ran into, but I could have — before today. In the past, bars were “private clubs” where customers had to buy a “membership” before you could enter and buy a drink (or else be a guest of a member). It was an interesting hurdle for people who are used to something different (or normal).

The private club memberships went away at midnight MDT, and with them went my last chance to become a “member” under this unusual law.

In the end, I kinda wanted to get a private membership. Yes, it’s weird that I would want to get a private membership for the sake of getting one. Did I ever mention to you that I wanted to visit a Quizno’s in Seattle?

Don’t get me wrong, being a member of a private club in Utah was probably less cool than becoming a member of the National Geographic Society or Consumers Union, or wearing a Members Only jacket. It never came up when I was growing up (because I was obviously a minor). I’ve only been back a few times since turning 21.

When I visited Salt Lake City in July 2008, I thought I might need to buy a membership when tagging along with a friend who now lives in the city. Alas, the opportunity never came up in three chances.

  1. An evening concert in the park had a beer garden. They checked ID, but there was no membership requirement.
  2. On a separate day, we went to a brewery in Trolley Square. No membership was needed — apparently breweries could sell their wares without them.
  3. The last chance came when we went to get brunch on a Sunday. It’s a nice restaurant with a bar area. Surely, I would need to pay for a membership here. No dice, my friend knew a member on staff and we were admitted as guests.

While I may have missed my chance to become a “member,” it’s still not too late for me to become utterly confused by Utah’s new liquor laws. The private clubs are essentially gone, but will be replaced with “social clubs” and “dining clubs,” each with different, yet similar rules. On top of that are full-service restaurants and beer taverns which can serve alcohol but follow another set of rules. A short rundown is here.

These changes only address clubs. If you wanted to buy a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale to enjoy in the comfort of your home, you still need to go to a state liquor store.

Photo: The photo behind the “Lost Spike” at the California State Railroad Museum shows the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah in 1869. Here’s a better look. I saw the workers holding up champagne and was intrigued that alcohol was used to commemorate this landmark event that happened in Utah.