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McEntee: Dreaming of a neighborhood bar

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Peg McEntee

By Peg McEntee

Tribune Columnist

First published May 14 2012 02:06PM
Updated Aug 28, 2012 11:33PM

I know right where I’d put my little place, the one with big windows and a long, shiny bar, tables with comfortable chairs and one de rigueur pool table.

There’s a vacant property in our neighborhood that’s just about the right size for a bar, maybe 1,300 or 1,400 square feet, with onsite parking and plenty more on the street.

Best of all, it’s about a 10-minute walk from home.

Such musings come from Salt Lake City’s decision to reconsider a 3-year-old proposal to redo musty old ordinances regarding the sale and consumption of beer, wine and spirits. Part of that process would let businesspeople open establishments suited to the neighborhood.

Of course, nondrinkers with set ideas about those of us who do could make a pretty big ruckus about the idea.

But growing up in central California, I’d ride my bike over to the grocery store, which was situated a couple of doors down from a dark little bar that I’d peek into and a liquor store with bear-paw decals leading to the beer cooler.

All existed in harmony. I never saw a drunk staggering out of the bar, although I was never there late at night. The point being, it was in a nice neighborhood in a small town and no one thought twice about it. Same with bars and restaurants in big cities, where I’m repeatedly asked if I could even buy a drink back home.

Where, of course, a great many people have never had a nice glass of Malbec, and that’s why the City Council might run into trouble. In addition, Utah’s impossibly convoluted liquor laws and its stranglehold on the market make running a good bar far tougher than it should be.

As for underage drinking — only one of the booze bugaboos of many legislators — my 24-year-old daughter unfailingly gets carded when she orders a mimosa. Servers would be nuts not to, given the potential consequences.

But back to my place. It would have a nice old jukebox with songs played softly enough for conversations and a little dancing. There’d be a TV behind the bar for watching football on a crisp fall afternoon. The little kitchen would produce the world’s best cheeseburgers and fries.

Still, the best thing about a neighborhood bar is that it puts neighbors who may never have met one another together. When that happens, people naturally get to talking, maybe even become friends, then friends of friends. It widens our vision of who surrounds us.

There are downsides to bars, though. People do get unpleasantly drunk, and that’s a shame. But I’ve seen bartenders take a customer’s car keys away and call a cab. He or she can also cut off or kick out a sodden drinker who, if she lives in the neighborhood, can just lurch on home. And, of course, police officers always know where the bars are and keep a watchful eye on them.

Would my little place ever come to pass? I don’t know, but given the fact that lawmakers get the vapors every time they have a liquor issue in front of them, I sort of doubt it. Besides, given the incredible hassle that bar owners have to endure, it might not be worth it after all.

Dang. Another momentary bubble burst.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @Peg McEntee.

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