The Bayou in Salt Lake City, Utah

Barkeep by | Jul 2013 | Issue #78

Mark Alston is used to Utah’s prohibitive beer laws. By the time he opened up Salt Lake City’s preeminent craft beer bar, The Bayou, in 2002, he’d already been running a homebrew shop (The Beer Nut) for almost 10 years. While Utah’s craft beer drinkers don’t have it as good as some, things have changed a lot.

“When we first opened The Beer Nut, it was during a time when there were very few craft beer options for a beer lover,” Alston says. “There really wasn’t anywhere to go out and try great beers in any bar or restaurant in Utah.”

But Alston, his wife Kileen and former Uinta owner Del Vance (who later parted ways to open his own place) changed that with The Bayou. In the years since, Alston and his crew have served up the best brews available in Utah alongside Cajun food (he and his wife have been “avid fans and cooks” of the cuisine for years). The people have responded, too. “I think the key is to treat your staff and your customers very well,” Alston says. “We have been lucky to hire some great people, and have extremely low turnover.”

One of those great people is Geoff Blomquist, who had just moved to Phoenix a couple months before The Bayou opened. Luckily, he had friends—and a younger brother—working there, and quickly became enamored with the place during hometown visits in the following years. He eventually joined its ranks. Encouraged by the environment at The Bayou, Blomquist started building up his own beer knowledge, a process that continues to this day. “Every six to eight weeks, the entire staff will gather on a Sunday and have a beer class with Mark,” he says. “We will taste new beers, seasonal as well as crazy, off-the-wall stuff, to stay on top of the beer game.”

The Bayou attracts others at the top of the Utah craft beer scene as well. Mike Riegel, a photojournalist in his 40s, walked into the place more than a decade ago, and found kindred spirits within the management. He went on to found the Utah Beer Blog in 2005, “in an attempt to bring together Utah’s fragmented beer community while raging against our local, anti-beer lawmakers.”

Riegel’s blog and the founding of the Utah Craft Brewers Guild in 2011 promise a brighter future for Utah craft beer, and places like The Bayou and its progressively minded customers are certainly helping. “When we opened The Bayou, we set up our draft system with 30 handles,” Alston remembers. “At that point, we could have pretty much every draft that was available in Utah. Now, we have to really pick and choose, and I wish we had 10–20 more. It really is impressive how far beer culture has made it into ‘regular’ culture.”