Navigating the drinking scene in Utah is impossible

by DGO Web Administrator

Okay you guys, let me set the scene: It’s Saturday night and it’s literally been 110 degrees for the last four hours. My face is puffy and my feet are so swollen I can barely wrench them out of my hiking boots. ALL I WANT in life is a cold beer, an icy margarita, or a refreshing glass of rosé. I’d even settle for a shitty chardonnay – I really don’t care at this point, so long as it’s cold and has a tinge of alcohol to help me forget my heat-drenched misery. Unfortunately, I’m in Utah and I don’t know the rules.

It might sound crazy to take a trip to the desert in July, but that’s exactly what we decided to do. My aunt flew in from New York, trading in her Greenwich Village studio apartment for a week filled with wide-open roads as we trekked to the National Parks of Utah. We hit the ground running in Moab, where we got our first taste of 100-plus degree weather when we pulled into Arches National Park. Our excitement for the first road trip stop quickly evaporated as we opened the door and the heat hit us like a shockwave. I actually think I may have staggered back into my seat, stunned by how oppressively hard it was to breathe. No worries, we said, we got this. Mind over matter, right?

Wrong. Twenty minutes later we were back in the car, too lethargic to even walk the half-mile from the parking lot to the viewpoint. So, we officially launched Plan B: We could manage hiking in the 90-degree mornings, but as soon as it tipped over 100, we’d head back to the hotel for siesta until it cooled off again. Unfortunately, we’re both quick to bore, so we naively meandered into town to look for a cool beverage to pass the time.

We sidled up a funky-looking Moab restaurant and chose a seat on the mist-cooled patio. The servers buzzed around the busy tables, which were packed for dinner at this early hour. Clearly, we were not the only ones looking to beat the heat.

“Two margaritas, rocks and salt, please!” I was so excited, drool was literally escaping from the corners of my mouth.

“Sorry folks,” came the reply. “We’re a restaurant, not a bar. You’ll have to order some food if you’re looking for a drink.”

It was one of those days that was so hot, you’ve almost lost the will to live. You certainly don’t have an appetite! Plan C it was: Head to the state liquor store and buy a bottle of wine. We hit the heat-soaked pavement and walked the grueling four blocks to the liquor store. I sucked on my camelback and hit bottom – just about my state of mind, too – as we finally reached our destination. Seeing the word CLOSED couldn’t have been more devastating. We were trying to figure out what happened – they were supposed to be open for at least another hour – when a passerby’er must have sensed our pain and suffering.

“Today’s Pioneer Day. The state stores are all closed.”

Apparently, this day celebrates the settling of Utah by Mormon pioneers and it’s not exactly a drinking holiday (I know, shocker). I was beginning to feel like Frodo, except instead of being on a seemingly-doomed quest to destroy the ring of power, all I wanted was a beverage!

On to Plan D: Suck it up and order chips and salsa somewhere so we could finally get this drink. We headed to a restaurant and sat at their “bar” (which is devoid of alcohol, because apparently they have to mix the drinks out-of-sight in a closet in the back). Once we explained what we were trying to do, everyone was pretty cool about it. Our server offered to let us buy a $2 off-the-menu side of fries so we could finally qualify for that margarita. Later, she also let us buy a bottle of wine to-go (after drinking a splash at the restaurant, of course).

Now that we understood the backwards and nonsensical rules, we were armed and ready to go for the rest of the trip. In the end, Utah might have some weird laws, but you can’t deny the beauty of those rolling hills and surrealistic landscapes. We went about our journey, tripping along with a ’70s-inspired playlist filled with Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead. Something about the tunes and the landscape made me wish I had some peyote…it actually might have been easier to get than that drink!

Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and food writer living in Durango. She enjoys long walks in the woods, the simplicity of New York-style cheese pizza, and she’s completely addicted to Chapstick. Contact her at [email protected].


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