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SALT LAKE CITY – Most people will gather Friday in Utah to celebrate the state's Mormon heritage at Pioneer Day parades featuring floats, carriages and women in prairie dresses. But many non-Mormons will be enjoying an increasingly popular counter-holiday with a playful name: Pie and Beer Day.
Some will gather on patios and porches near the parade route in Salt Lake City, sipping beer and munching on pies in a nod to the roots of the faux-holiday that began 10 to 15 years ago. Others will go to bars and pubs later in the day for one of a growing number of events seizing on the popularity.
The state holiday — which celebrates the date in 1847 when Mormon pioneers ended their treacherous journey across the country from Illinois and discovered the Salt Lake Valley — is so big it is often referred to by locals as "the holiday." Many government offices and private businesses close, giving people the day off.
The alcohol-infused alternative celebration was created by people who aren't part of the state's predominant religion and were looking for something else to do with their day off, said Mike Riedel, author of the Utah Beer Blog. He said the faux-holiday definitely pokes fun at the Mormon celebration, but is done in a good natured way that doesn't create tension with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose members account for an estimated two-thirds of the state's 2.9 million residents.
Spokesman Eric Hawkins said the church chooses not to comment on the faux holiday. But few Mormons seem to mind, focused on their own celebrations honoring their pioneers who made the dangerous cross-country trek in search of religious freedom.
The exact origin of the name and the parties is hazy, but it seems to have started at least a decade ago, Riedel said. It remained mainly an under-the-radar deal celebrated in backyards, until an explosion in the last couple of years fueled by social media, he said.
"It started catching as on as a counterculture thing," Riedel said. "People who are not really LDS get a free day out of it, and it turned into something they could call their own."
Leslie Sutter, owner of the Shooting Star Saloon bar in the little mountain town of Huntsville, was among the first people to celebrate the day when she lived in a house off the parade route in Salt Lake City 15 years ago. She and her neighbors became agitated by the traffic and early arriving revelers who woke them in the morning. When they heard about Pie and Beer Day, it was a perfect fit.
"I couldn't leave my house, so we would sit there, drink beer and say hi to all the parade-goers," Sutter said.
At Sutter's bar about 50 miles north of Salt Lake City, waitresses wearing bonnets give out free slices of pie to all customers. They've been doing that each year on Pie and Beer Day since Sutter bought the bar five years ago.
"We play it up. We have a good time with it," said Leslie Sutter, owner of the Shooting Star Saloon. "We have root beer, too. We don't discriminate."
Utah is known for strict and often befuddling liquor laws rooted in a teetotaling culture that many lawmakers and Mormon church leaders say are closely tied to the moral culture of the state.
The events being hosted by bars and the increasingly sophisticated pie and beer pairings has given the day even more legitimacy and brought more attention, Riedel said.
The Beer Bar in Salt Lake City, owned by actor Ty Burrell of ABC's Modern Family, will host its second annual fundraiser with local radio station KRCL. Their afternoon event features beers from local breweries paired with pies from local bakeries. Pairings include a Utah apricot with almond cream pie with an apricot IPA beer, and a habanero citrus flan with a farmhouse ale beer.
The counter holiday may never rival the pomp and circumstance of the Pioneer Day celebrations that go on around the state, but Riedel thinks the popularity will keep rising.
"I think it's going to become bigger and bigger each year as the state becomes more diverse," Riedel said.