There is no better way to learn more about Utah’s history with beer than to take a guided tour of a few of the most charismatic pubs in Salt Lake City. The Thirst Fursday Historic Pub Crawl is sponsored by the Utah Heritage Foundation, an organization committed to preserving Utah’s historical buildings through outreach like this fun and drinky tour. On the first Thursday of the month, three pubs are crawled to, all offering insight into Salt Lake’s history. Joining the tour costs $20 and includes a handsome pint glass with a picture of H. Wagener Brewery Co.’s parade float (H. Wagener Brewing Co. was Salt Lake’s first brewery).
Generating revenue for the non-profit while educating locals about their history, the Thirst Fursday Historic Pub Crawls are a fun way to spend a Thursday night. According to Alison Flanders, the Outreach Coordinator for the Utah Heritage Foundation, the pub crawl is mostly popular with young (and drunk), local history buffs. “You have to understand the culture to appreciate the irony of the LDS Church brewing and selling beer. It’s like an inside joke,” she says.
The tour I attended in June was led by Jane Anderson, who has been involved with the Utah Heritage Foundation for 15 years, serving both on the volunteer board and leading tours. She’s been heading the pub tour since it started a year ago. If you’ve never been educated about the seedy side of Salt Lake’s history by a sweet and spunky retiree, you haven’t had the full Salt Lake City experience. Anderson was full of information as we walked from pub to pub. Trust me, hang close to the tour guide if you want a bonus history lesson.
Our first stop led us to O’Shucks Bar & Grill, a cozy and inviting place to stop for a cold one, located at 22 E. 100 S., right across the street from City Creek. Tucked underneath Martine Cafe, O’Shucks shares space with Ahh Sushi, an interesting (and baffling!) combination of scattered peanut shells and beer on tap, with sushi and maki rolls served on the other side. This building itself is charming. Constructed in 1860 with sandstone, the facade is softly weathered, and the windows are all mismatched. In previous lives, this building has also been a hotel and a bank—the current residents even use the bank safe as a beer cooler. Inside the bar, exposed brick and low lights encourage many drinks, good conversation and messy peanuts. This is where we were given a brief history of some of Utah’s first brewing efforts, headed by Brigham Young himself and overseen by my new favorite hero, Orrin Porter Rockwell. He’s known as the “Destroying Angel of Mormondom”––if that piques your interest.
The next stop was Murphy’s Bar & Grill, known as “a step down in social clubs,” and it literally is! Our tour guide explained that during prohibition, this building housed the Keeley Ice Cream Co. When you walk down the stairs from Main Street and cozy up to the bar, it’s easy to imagine splitting a milkshake with your sweetie here, but I wanted a Dirty Martini and he wanted a Greyhound. This place has been here for 34 years and boasts “world famous” fish and chips. We will be visiting soon to check out the original ice cream parlor booths in the back of the bar––and maybe investigating the fish and chips.
The last stop was the Beerhive Pub, located on 128 S. Main Street. They have a lot of beer—like 200 different kinds of beer. They also have an impressive number of local brews on tap. This building was once known as “Salt Lake Rooming House of Evil,” which is awesome. Prostitution and gambling were prevalent in this area of town in the early 1900s.
Chatting with Flanders, I learned how the pubs are selected for the crawl. Hours of volunteer research are dedicated to choosing a historic area of Salt Lake and locating three pubs within walking distance. The Utah Heritage Foundation selects a new area of the city to focus on every six months, and I have it on good word that Exchange Place is next. There’s a lot of history and beer in what was slated to be the Wall Street of the West.
Choosing the pubs seems to be a bit easier. “The pubs have to be able to quickly serve 20 tour members, which isn’t a problem. The local bars love this boost to sales,” says Flanders. Also, the tour introduces people to hole-in-the-wall bars that could have been easily overlooked. I know I’ll be visiting the pubs I visited on the last tour again.
While the pub crawl caught my eye initially, there are also a lot of other interesting BYOB (kidding!) events, like annual tours of historical houses. This year, they hosted the Literate Ladies Lawn Sale, which funds renovations to the newly acquired Downy Mansion, where the Literate Ladies book club meets.
All of these buildings have swagger and beer. The Historic Pub Crawl costs $20, includes a pint glass and is a fun way to spend a Thursday night. Visit their website at utahheritagefoundation.org and sign up.