Karaoke, ax-throwing sites want to sell beer under Utah law

At least one lawmaker thinks people should have beer with their karaoke — even in conservative Utah.

A new liquor law in the state has come under scrutiny by legislators and business owners after beer licenses were denied to a karaoke lounge and an ax-throwing venue.

Democratic Rep. Angela Romero said Wednesday she plans to introduce an amendment to include karaoke venues among the new sites approved for beer sales.

She hasn't decided whether ax-throwing venues should be added.

"When I'm out for a night of fun with friends and go to karaoke, I'd hope I could have a beer," Romero said.

The law represents a tightening of already strict liquor laws in Utah, where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints instructs members to avoid drinking alcohol.

Yet, liquor sales have been increasing steadily, with $454 million in sales last year at state-controlled liquor stores. Sales have been driven by new, out-of-state residents and thriving tourism.

State liquor bosses have said Social Axe Throwing in Ogden and Heart and Seoul Karaoke in Salt Lake City don't satisfy the definitions of a "recreational amenity" contained in the law set to take effect May 14.

The definitions include theaters, pool parlors, concert venues and miniature golf courses.

The sponsor of the law, Republican Rep. Timothy Hawkes, said he's open to making changes that could include broadening the criteria for beer sales.

However, the Legislature isn't set to convene again until next year. Lawmakers are expected to meet in special session, possibly as soon as the summer, to consider sweeping changes to the state's tax system, and they could discuss other issues.

The owners of Social Axe Throwing and Heart and Seoul Karaoke appeared before the alcohol control commission in April seeking beer-only licenses for new sites.

The panel denied their requests, saying both businesses might qualify as recreational facilities under the current law but won't under the new law, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

The decision took the owners by surprise.

Social Axe Throwing had been granted two liquor licenses last year for facilities in Salt Lake City and Orem on the understanding that ax-throwing was like bowling, golf and other activities, owner Mark Floyd said.

Brody Horton and Matt Smith, owners of Heart and Seoul Karaoke, believe their business also fits the recreation criteria, because customers pay admission and rent a room with music equipment.

Business owners could work around the new restrictions by also offering approved activities or selling food, liquor board spokesman Terry Wood said. Businesses with substantial food sales could be eligible for more types of alcohol licenses.

Floyd hopes the law is updated to help him and other business owners avoid the legal quagmire.

"Anywhere you go, any activity you do with friends and family after work is a recreational activity," Floyd said. "Why does it have to be listed in the state Legislature, in black and white, to be approved?"