The business card for the upstairs joint – a tiny downtown taqueria called Bodega with a couple shelves of groceries- had a colorful picture of Jesus holding a loaf of bread and a bottle of Negra Modelo. The business card for the downstairs establishment was plain white with a Braille imprint, a phone number and street address (sans the name of the city). When I ran my finger over the raised dots, one of the taqueria’s regulars leaned over and whispered confidentially, “It means blind pig.” And then he pointed to an unobtrusive, unmarked door near the cash register.
Now mind you, I was in Salt Lake City, Utah for the first time in over 50 years. Though raised Catholic (remember?) I did much of my growing up in the heavily Mormon city of Idaho Falls, Idaho. Salt Lake City was a very conservative, non-drinking large town back in the day. Today it’s still the center for the Church of Latter Day Saints, but it also has a hipster culture, craft brewpubs, a booming start-up economy and multiple travel reviews that describe the city as trendy. And I was on that road trip with my twenty-something kiddo that I mentioned in my previous blog post. And he picked Salt Lake.
Blind Pig, was an illegal after hours gambling and drinking joint in Detroit in the 1960’s……a throwback to the Prohibition era speakeasy. And trendy Salt Lake, located in Utah, the state with the nation’s most restrictive alcohol laws, has embraced the speakeasy culture in a hipster salute to those restrictions. Prior to 2002 when Salt Lake hosted the Winter Olympics, purchasing alcohol was difficult, an influence of the Mormon Church whose members are forbidden to drink. During the Winter Olympics, the state relaxed its enforcement of alcohol laws though cover charges and membership fees were a requirement for bars to serve. By 2009, the state recognized its tourist industry would benefit from a more relaxed approach and so many of its remaining laws were lifted.
Back at the Bodega, I wondered if I needed a secret password to get inside the speakeasy. I explained to the guy behind the counter that I was a travel blogger who wanted to have a drink at the blind pig and he signaled to go. Through the door and down two flights of stairs it was another world. Moody, dark and tastefully decorated with quirky memorabilia befitting a secret basement cocktail venue in a historic building in a state that formerly frowned upon imbibing, the speakeasy known as The Rest was enchanting.
The cocktail list was clearly composed by a craftsman and I asked the bartender to concoct his two favorites. The place filled up with regulars over the next hour including the owner, a former east coast businesswoman who came west to care for her ailing father and stayed. The changing culture of Salt Lake was a draw and wanting a place where locals could gather who didn’t subscribe to church’s policy of alcohol abstinence (hence the name The Rest) she invested in the burgeoning bar scene.
Salt Lake City is every bit as trendy as though travel reviews claimed.