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TNIAAM’s Syracuse fan guide to Salt Lake City for the NCAA Tournament

Perhaps you’re headed to SLC. One of TNIAAM’s Utah experts tells you what you’re doing once you’re there.

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Duke v Syracuse Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images

The Syracuse Orange men’s basketball team earned the No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament’s West Region, which means they’re headed to Salt Lake City, Utah for the first and second rounds. As a resident of the area, I wanted to provide a rundown of the most pertinent information for visitors this week.

First, some things to know:

Welcome to Salt Lake City. First, let’s dispel some myths and let you in on some important information with a brief Q&A:

Q: Can you even get real beer in Utah?

A: Yes! In fact, the Salt Lake area has a pretty strong craft brew scene thanks in part to some weird laws that ironically and inadvertently help prop up brewers. And, no, you don’t have to join a club to drink (anymore). The 2002 Olympics really worked wonders spurring this place to modernize a bit, especially where nightlife is concerned.

Q: So, I’m good to go?

A: Not quite. You still need to learn some tricks of the trade: First, don’t buy beer at the grocery store. All beer in the grocery store has to be 3.2% or less (soon to be raised to 4%). The same goes for anything on tap -- anything coming out of a tap in Utah is 3.2% or lower (unless you are at the brewery itself). If you’re ordering a beer at a bar or restaurant, get something in a bottle or can. That’s the real stuff. If you want to buy some good beer for the hotel room or the Airbnb, you’ll have to go to one of the state-run liquor stores or directly to one of the breweries. I recommend the latter.

Q: Is this Q&A all about beer?

A: Almost. But a brief word on wine and liquor. Ordering a mixed drink, a glass of wine, or some whiskey is always a nice option so calm the pre-game jitters. But in Utah the quality of what you’ll receive is very bartender specific. There are a lot of weird laws in Utah about the size of the pour allowed for different kind of drinks. Good bartenders ignore all these rules, realizing they are effectively unenforceable. So, find a good bartender. And if you’re into whiskey, try some High West, a local distiller (Ed. note: it’s among the best distilleries in the country — try this, which is currently on my shelf, but they have plenty of even better options as well).

Q: Ok, good to know. Um, what about the Mormon thing? Will I be followed around by missionaries?

A: I would be lying if I didn’t say that Utah is a quirky place. And the culture in many ways is still dominated by the LDS Church (Church meetings are often the lead story on the nightly news). But, some things to know: (1) Mormons aren’t scary, and in fact, are generally nice, normal people. They just don’t drink alcohol or coffee, and they really like Disney movies. (2) Salt Lake City (and County) are, in fact, now minority Mormon. This is a rapidly growing city with shifting demographics. (3) If there is one place you won’t be approached by missionaries, it’s here. I’ve lived here for seven years and only had one conversation with an LDS missionary. I’ve had more conversations with Satanists.

Q: Now am I all set?

A: Yes, I think so! It’s an easy city to get around. The train is decent. Uber/Lyft are plentiful. You won’t need a car if you don’t want one. SLC itself isn’t that big, so checking out different places isn’t that daunting.

Some Bars

The Bayou (south of downtown) - Long beer list (and they actually have the stuff on the list), TVs near the bar, and friendly bartenders.

Dick n’ Dixies (east of downtown) - Small bar off of downtown. Has different vibes at different times of day. Daytime: laid back and good place to watch a game. Nighttime: bro-culture.

Beer Bar (downtown) - Great beer and food. Big screens to watch a game.

Bar-X (downtown) - Not great for watching the game. It’s Beer Bar’s sister-bar next door with a focus on cocktails. You can walk between the two on the inside.

Beerhive (downtown) - Great beer joint. Not sure if it is a great place to watch a game.

Whiskey Street (downtown) - The name says it all.

Fiddler’s Elbow (Sugarhouse) - Not really the greatest place for food or drink, in my opinion. But they have a huge screen with sound for sporting events.

Piper Down (south of downtown) - A big dive.

Proper Brewing (south of downtown) - Local beer, but just one TV. There’s an adjoining burger place with more TVs.

Some Breweries

Uinta Brewing

Epic Brewing

Kiitos Brewing

Fisher Brewing

T F Brewing

Shades of Pale Brewing

Some Restaurants

Valter’s Osteria (downtown) - This is the place to go for a truly remarkably meal in SLC. But it’s pricey.

Lucky 13 (Ballpark)

Rye (east of downtown)

Avenues Proper (The Avenues)

White Horse (downtown)

The Copper Onion (downtown)

East Liberty Tap House (9th & 9th)

Caputo’s (downtown / 15th & 15th) - Sandwiches and an Italian deli in one.

HSL (east of downtown)

Gourmandise (east of downtown) - An excellent bakery and open late (by SLC standards)

Pretty Bird (downtown)

The Tin Angel (off of downtown)

R&R BBQ (off of downtown)

Ruth’s Diner (up in the mountains)

Laziz Kitchen (People’s Freeway)

Meditrina (People’s Freeway)

Tradition (Liberty Park)

The Park Cafe (Liberty Wells) - for breakfast/brunch

Some Neighborhoods:

Downtown - You really can’t go wrong staying downtown. You’ll be able to walk to the arena, take advantage of the “free-zone” for the train, and have immediate access to most of the better bars and restaurants in town.

Sugarhouse - South-east side of the proper city limits. Sugarhouse is a mix of residential spaces and a bustling commercial core along 2100 S and Highland Dr. This would be a nice spot for an Airbnb, and it’s linked into the rail system.

9th & 9th (my hood) - Centered around the intersection of 900 E and 900 S (our street numbering system is bizarre), this is an up and coming neighborhood with restaurants, shops, etc. I highly recommend checking it out.

The Avenues - Up-scale and trendy. A beautiful and historic area just off of downtown.

Some Sightseeing

Temple Square - The center of the LDS Church. It’s akin to visiting the Vatican, but for Mormons. It’s a beautiful place with a lot to check out if you are into religion, history, or both. It’s right downtown. You can’t go in the Temple, but you can go in a lot of other buildings.

Various short hikes near the city - There are a lot of short hikes right in or around Salt Lake City for the hiking-inclined. I’m talking about trail-heads you can access within 10 minutes of downtown. The link provided gives some options.

Park City - Park City is only 45 minutes from downtown Salt Lake. It’s worth a trip if you’re inclined. Check out High West if you make it up there.

Utah Olympic Park - Salt Lake and Park City still have world-class Winter Olympics facilities. You can visit the Olympic Park up in Park City. The torch and a small museum are at the University of Utah stadium back in SLC.

Skiing (duh) - As you may know, Utah is known for its skiing and it’s still ski-season. Within an hour you can access over a half dozen world-class ski resorts, including Park City, Deer Valley, Solitude, Brighton, Snowbird, and Alta.

Gilgal Sculpture Garden - Want to see something weird? Go here. I’ll leave it at that. And I’ll note: this place is right by my house.


Have other questions? Looking to organize with fellow TNIAAM commenters? Chat below.