Long associated with temperance and quirky liquor laws, Utah has rolled back the most draconian of regulations, and now there's a zeal for craft cocktails and micro-beers in places like Salt Lake City. From devilishly delicious cocktails to cutting-edge craft beers, Salt Lake's once-repressed drinking and nightlife scene is alive and kicking.
Perhaps it’s living in the shadow of the world headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (AKA the Mormons) – a famously teetotal religion – that brings out the defiance in Salt Lakers, who pride themselves on their vibrant and progressive city in this otherwise red state. This push and pull between the sacred and profane runs through life here and spills over into a thriving mix of bars, pubs and boîtes that ranges from dive to decadence.
Play the games at Proper Brewing Company
There are times where you just don’t want to sit still, and these times are what bar games are made for. Darts, pool and shuffleboard are all on the menu at Proper Brewing Company along with Skee Ball, a finely tuned array of pinball machines and other surprises. But it’s not all fun and games. The beer is great. Known locally for the revival of the strangely appealing, salty Gose beer style, Proper’s brewers have a constant stream of revolving brews flowing behind the bar. And the burgers sold next door at the Proper Burger Company are tasty too.
Sample rare sips by the glass at BTG
An elegant, adult room, quiet enough for privacy yet cheery enough for conversation is hard to find. BTG, an acronym for By The Glass, hits the sweet spot and features a decadent list of wines by the glass curated by local wine wizard Louis Koppel. The bar’s top-of-the-line Cruvinet system (which prevents spoilage) allows Koppel to confidently uncork a wide range of sips. The set-up provides for an indulgent evening of tastings paired with a simple, small-plates menu.
Dive into K-Pop and play on the patio at Purgatory
With its fire-and-brimstone moniker, Purgatory pokes fun at Utah’s church-going rep. But from the Alice in Wonderland-meets-steampunk decor to the K-Pop videos playing on the above-bar screens, you’ll find that this neighborhood pub doesn’t take itself too seriously. In good weather, the main bar’s bay doors open to a convivial patio with bar games like corn hole and giant Jenga. Behind the bar, you’ll find a cheery staff slinging the hits from a solid cocktail menu and one of the best beer selections in Utah. The food is a wild mix of pan-Asian (French fries smothered in kimchi) and American classics, including a fantastically perfect classic burger.
Bend an elbow with the working stiffs
Junior’s Tavern is the type of bar where if everybody doesn’t know your name, they soon will. The friendly staff has worked there since who knows when, and this cozy little joint is quiet and pleasant in all the ways a tavern is supposed to be. There are no fancy cocktails and the wine list consists of ‘red and white.’ It’s a place to order a Seagram’s and Seven or a pint of whatever while you consider that dare-worthy jar of pickled eggs behind the bar.
Belly up to the ice bar at BeerHive
BeerHive is a Gotham-esque pub with a long bar and an even longer list of beers on draft and in bottles. Its knowledgeable bartenders and servers are able guides through the list, so don’t be shy asking for the nickel tour. If you sit at the actual bar you’ll be able to enjoy the ice strip that runs its length where you can set your pints ensuring they will remain cold to the last sip.
Ask to go downstairs at Bodega and explore ‘The Rest’
Hidden below the cheeky Bodega bar – with its vintage Playboy magazine countertops and tiki bar vibe – is an open-secret cocktail lounge, known simply as ‘the Rest.’ The Bodega bartenders will escort you down into the dimly lit, intriguing space full of strange nooks and crannies with a scary-cool Lovecraftian vibe. Selections from the wall of vinyl spin on the turntable next to the bar where the bartenders shake and stir a try-and-stump-them array of well-mixed drinks. As a bonus, the gatekeepers upstairs ensure the place is never too packed.
Smell the hops and soak up the history at A. Fischer Brewery’s tasting room
Utah, you may be surprised to learn, had many thriving breweries around the turn of the 1900s. But like everywhere in America, the state’s brewing culture was pretty well snuffed out by prohibition two decades later. Fisher Brewery, founded in 1884, managed to ride it out and survive until 1960. A partnership that includes the great grandson of namesake Albert Fisher re-opened its brewery and tasting room in early 2017, and the place has been welcomed with open arms by Salt Lake. The rough-hewn tables sit adjacent to the beer tanks where they brew the eponymous lager (a perfect session beer) as well as short-run, bold crafts on the daily changing set of taps.
Go below decks at Undercurrent
Perhaps a little too cleverly named, the bar Undercurrent, located adjacent to the swanky seafood joint Current (get it?), is a deliciously civilized place for a lovely glass of this or that. Bar overseer Amy Eldredge apprenticed in New York at Milk & Honey and was on the scene for the beginnings of the craft cocktail revival. She brought her skills to Utah and supervises a tight crew of some of Salt Lake’s best mixologists. With its impressive long, marble bar, subtle nautical theme, Undercurrent is a cultured spot, perfect for conversation and before or after dinner drinks next door at Current.
Have a bite and a sip at Copper Common
Chef Ryan Lowder emigrated from the NYC restaurant scene and immediately got to work in his adopted home town. His bistro, Copper Onion, is on of Salt Lake’s finest spots for tarted-up comfort food and next door you’ll find Copper Common, an intimate (yes, that means small) cocktail- and wine-forward bar that shares a kitchen with the restaurant, resulting in a tasty small bites menu and drinks served with NYC-level efficiency by the crack bar crew.
Find the center at Bar X and Beer Bar
All great nights in Salt Lake City either start or end here. These two side-by-side watering holes are a hub for nightlife in Salt Lake. Bar X is a speak-easy style cocktail bar with hand-crafted cocktails and dim lighting that stands in stark contrast to its hoppy, raucous sister next door, Beer Bar. A modern take on the German beer hall, Beer Bar features more than 80 beers on draft and a mind-boggling number of additional beers (local and otherwise) in bottles, all paired with a menu of locally made, artisanal sausages.