Salt Lake City may not come to mind as a destination for high-quality beers and cocktails, but it should. The downtown, home to the headquarters of the Mormon Church, has become something of a gathering place, thanks to more than a dozen celebrated bars, brewpubs and speakeasies that have popped up alongside homegrown Utah breweries.
Here’s a guide to good places pouring great drinks near the Great Salt Lake.
Thanks to a street numbering system established by the city’s founders in the 1870s, all roads in Salt Lake City lead to Temple Square (the historical heart of the Mormon Church) but luckily, so do the watering holes, arranged in a convenient loop just two blocks south.
Utah has a complicated relationship with alcohol. It’s an understatement to say that liquor laws here are strict; Utah was the first state in the U.S. to lower its DUI threshold from .08 to .05, and every bar is required to use an alcohol-dispensing spigot that helps control every pour.
Copper Common, near State Street and East Broadway, is equal parts industrial and elegant. Its floor-to-ceiling copper liquor racks and steam-punk brass fixtures nod to the neighborhood’s manufacturing history. This area was once Plum Alley, the heart of Salt Lake City’s historical Chinatown, whose brothels and gambling dens catered to railroad workers and miners.
Copper Common is a spinoff of the celebrated Copper Onion next door, known for its locally sourced American cuisine. There’s no need to jump between locations if you get hungry; Copper Common also offers a full menu. Popular dishes include deviled eggs and a raw bar with oysters and sashimi.
What I drank: Proper Brewing’s Lake Effect, a sour gose. It was brewed in honor of a rogue flamingo named Randall Pink Floyd that escaped nearby Tracy Aviary in the ‘90s and made a new home on the Great Salt Lake.
Info: Copper Common, 111 E. Broadway, No. 190, Salt Lake City; (801) 355-0543
Head west to Junior’s Tavern, a no-frills watering hole that owner Greg Arata designed to be an old-school neighborhood bar.
This downtown fixture sports leather booths, a pool table and a chill vibe. Enjoy $3-to-$6 shots and beers while you admire its sizable collection of old beer cans and vintage sheet music.
What I drank: Uinta Brewing’s Cutthroat (American) Pale Ale, on tap. Dark, slightly sweet, malty — and available only in Utah.
Info: Junior’s Tavern, 30 E. Broadway, Salt Lake City
For something more upscale, keep traveling west and turn left on Main Street for a slew of cocktail bars. Start with Eva, “a small restaurant with big flavors,” according to the website, named for Eva Coombs, the great-grandmother of owner and chef Charlie Perry. Her passion for French cuisine made a big impact on her young great-grandson.
The bar offers serious mezcal-plus-vermouth and gin-and-chartreuse cocktails, so don’t forget to pair your beverages with food. There’s no shortage of hearty fare served on shared plates, including shrimp and hominy, spicy togarashi fried chicken and whole fried trout.
What I drank: The double dry-hopped Elephino Double IPA by Red Rock Brewery, made with six hops varieties. Intense.
Info: Eva, 317 Main St., Salt Lake City; (801) 359-8447
Brigham Young nicknamed this stretch “Whiskey Street” for the numerous bars and a liquor store in the area. (It became Main Street in 1906.) Whiskey Street Cocktails & Dining keeps that legacy going strong with a 2,200-plus collection of spirits, 400 of which are whiskeys.
It’s not an easy collection to build in a state where liquor laws are so tough that Jason LeCates, managing partner of Bourbon Group (which owns the bar), can’t just go online to an auction site and purchase specific bottles. Liquor must be special-ordered through state-run stores, often six to 12 bottles at a time.
Do them a favor and step inside, pull up a stool along the 74-foot bar, and help them polish off some spirits.
What I drank: A spicy and fruity blended American Prairie Bourbon, made by High West Distillery out of Park City, Utah, the first distillery in the state since the end of Prohibition. Yippee ki-yay!
Info: Whiskey Street, 323 Main St., Salt Lake City; (801) 433-1371
Don’t let the name fool you: Bodega isn’t a grocery store. The place is basically a bar, although the bar itself is tiny, crammed into one corner and looking like something you might set up at home with a tabletop and two cupboards.
There’s plenty of room to drink at the counters lining the walls and along the etched glass windows looking out on Main Street. This hole in the wall is known more for being a partial front for an acclaimed underground speakeasy restaurant, the Rest (hidden next to the restrooms), which serves backyard haute cuisine such as Mexican fusion tacos, smoked coffee duck jerky and roasted and honey-glazed beer-can chicken. Reservations are recommended for the Rest.
What I drank: 1842 Czech Pilsner by Utah’s Bohemian Brewery, a solid lager made with Saaz hops, Pilsen malt and yeast from Prague.
Info: Bodega, 331 S. Main St., Salt Lake City; (801) 532-4042
Amble down Exchange Place, which housed the former Salt Lake Stock Exchange and was the city’s first non-Mormon commercial area. This was the stamping grounds of Samuel Newhouse, a silver mining magnate who erected the Boston and Newhouse buildings, Salt Lake City’s first skyscrapers.
Raise a drink in his honor at the Jackalope Lounge, a grungy dive for hipster types, offering cheap drinks and a friendly staff.
What I drank: Breaking Trail Pale Ale by Park City Brewery. Citrusy, malty and refreshing.
Info: Jackalope Lounge, 372 S. State, Salt Lake City; (801) 359-8054
Green Pig Pub
Sports fans should make a beeline to the Green Pig Downtown Pub & Grill, a buzzing bar with loft-like ceilings and a dozen or so giant flat screens, to catch the latest game.
This bar, popular with business people and college kids alike, offers live music Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, as well as reasonably healthy pub grub such as blackened salmon tacos, smoked buffalo chicken salad and chicken chicharrones, plus vegan and vegetarian options.
What I drank: Epic Brewing Co.’s Session IPA, a sweeter light beer. Made in Utah and fresh on tap.
Info: Green Pig Pub, 31 East 400 South, Salt Lake City; (801) 532-7441
Follow the street art to Gracie’s Bar, where there are varied entertainment offerings, including shuffleboard, pool, trivia contests and live DJs nearly every night. This multistoried hot spot offers views of downtown and the Wasatch Mountains from ground-floor and second-story patios, which are heated during winter.
Gracie’s has a large selection of beer, liquor, and cocktails — and if you’re alive the next morning, return for brunch — hearty eggs neptune, chimichurri steak and eggs, and machaca tacos — every Saturday and Sunday until 3 p.m.
What I drank: Johnny’s American IPA by Moab Brewery, made with four hops that give it a slightly bitter taste.
Info: Gracie’s Bar, 326 S.W. Temple, Salt Lake City; (801) 819-7565
The gigantic Squatters Pub Brewery, opened in 1989, serves lunch, dinner and drinks, including a full selection of IPAs, citrusy ales and a formidable Russian imperial stout with 10.5% ABV. Before you walk in, scope out on the median two of the city’s public art projects from the “Flying Objects” series: an unusual “Stargazer” by Dennis Smith and the overlapping rings of Brook Robertson’s “On Broadway.”
What I drank: Outer Darkness, Squatters Russian imperial stout, which was sweet, spicy and strong.
Red Rock Brewery
Red Rock, opened in 1994, is a brewpub for those seeking food and drinks without the high energy of Squatters and the Green Pig Pub. It’s known for its craft beers, which have won more than 75 gold, silver and bronze medals. You’ll see them when you walk in.
What I drank: Red Rock’s organic Zwickelbier made in the traditional German style (unfiltered and unpasteurized), which brought home the gold medal at the Great American Beer Festival in 2013 and 2017.
The Red Door Martini Bar, near Temple Square, is an intimate, candlelit den with red brick walls and an enormous mural of Che Guevara’s face. Since 2002, the Red Door is where Salt Lake City’s savvy proletariats and up-and-coming revolutionaries gather to chat about economics and world affairs over sophisticated cocktails.
What I drank: A classic martini. After a whirlwind tour of Salt Lake City’s (many) breweries, I think I’m done with beer for a while.
Info: Red Door, 57 West 200 South, No. 102, Salt Lake City; (801) 363-6030