"But there's nothing on earth half as lonely or drear
"As to stand in the bar of a pub with no beer"
- Dan Sheahan 1943, Queensland
I don't know if Dan Sheahan visited Utah en route from his native Ireland to Australia, but a visit could have provided the inspiration for his legendary poem. Utah state law prohibits the pouring of alcoholic drinks in front of patrons, for fear of providing a corrupting influence.
And, so it is I find myself standing at the counter of the Springdale Brew Bar on the edge of the breathtaking Zion National Park after a day of dusty, dirt-trail, desert deportment feeling as dry as the proverbial, staring at empty wine and whisky-shaped bottles on the shelves behind the bar area. No beer pumps are present, just a soft drinks hose and condiments for food.
It's 7.30pm on a Sunday evening at the start of hiking season. The park is ram-jam full earlier in the day, but the bar is deserted apart from a guy waiting for a takeaway order, surfing the free Wi-Fi on his phone.
Lou Reed's Crazy Feeling is playing — "And when I first seen you walk right through that bar door, And I seen those suit and tie johns buy you one drink and then buy you some more". Some kind of Mormon joke, I'm thinking.
I take a seat at the "bar", alone, watching the words "Zion Canyon Brew Pub" bouncing around a disused till screen: like the beer, money is handled elsewhere — it is, after all, a corrupting force.
A smile as wide as the Zion canyon enters from a door behind the bar followed by its owner, Ashley, who proffers a drinks menu and I order a Zion IPA. She disappears back through the door and returns shortly after, having poured a pint of ice-cold nirvana in a glass.
The glass is soon empty but nirvana stays with me for a little longer.
With my next glass I order Irish nachos — thinly sliced potatoes covered in four types of cheese, pickles and onion — and I'm beginning to believe Zion may just be heaven after all.
I've positioned myself at the end of the bar, against the wall, so I can observe the pub filling up. I don't realise I am sitting near to the dartboard until a father decides to show his teenage son the sport of drinking men. The first flight thumps into the wall, missing the board by a metre to the left and myself by half a metre to the right.
I move three seats further down the bar.
The pub is filling up now, mostly families for dinner. Ashley brings me another IPA.
I pick up the Independent free paper and read that the Utah state government has endorsed the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle as their gun of the year because it can be used for target practice, is good for killing small to mid-sized animals and great for home defence. It's also the same gun used in Sandy Hook in 2013 and by the DC snipers who killed 10 people, but the state government makes no mention of that.
There's also no mention of restricting operation of AR-15s so they're always out of sight of others. Surely an AR-15 is more of a "corrupting influence" than an IPA?
It's getting late and a day of driving, hiking and climbing is making me weary. Ashley approaches — "Another beer?"
I hesitate; sun, exercise and alcohol mix to make my reflexes as snappy as a pair of well-worn knickers.
"Go on," she says through that dazzling grin. "You know you want to."
Gee, that law is really working.
I'm soon sipping on a Delusion Ale, suitably poured out of sight, behind the door.
"Toasty, fruity ESB with a mellow, enjoyable finish. The key to a good ESB balance." I read on the menu.
The Stones are on the sound system and Mick Jagger sings "And a one-day pass to heaven is so hard to find. And a one-night pass ain't really what I had in mind ... " but it's just another Sunday night in Utah.
Getting there: American Airlines flies from Auckland to Salt Lake City, via Los Angeles.