SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – One of the biggest celebrations of one of Utah’s most beloved unofficial holidays is on hiatus this summer due to concerns related to declining vaccination rates and rising infections of COVID-19 and the Delta variant.
The owners and management of Beer Bar, which has annually hosted a “Pie and Beer Day” celebration on July 24, a pillar of Salt Lake City’s counter-culture movement related to the festivities on Pioneer Day, has decided to take another year off from the occasion.
Organizers fear that a mass gathering of pastry and brew-loving locals would turn into a super spreader event.
“Nobody wants to hear about the ‘Pie and Beer Day Massacre,’” says Brad Wheeler, who conceptualized the first Pie and Beer Day party at Beer Bar back in 2013. “I have a reputation for kind of being the guy that likes to do some crazy stuff and sometimes be irresponsible, but this does not feel like the time to be like that, you know? This feels like the time to still be cautious.”
Considered by some as the unofficial hub for Pie and Beer Day, a play on words for those who choose not to celebrate Pioneer Day, the day in 1847 when Brigham Young and handcart hauling members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, Beer Bar was in the logistical process of making 2021’s revival bigger than ever before after taking 2020 off due to the pandemic.
Plans were in place to close down half of the block on 200 South, where the bar sits, to provide a wide offering of locally sourced pies and craft beers.
Unfortunately, as the ownership team has observed, there is still a tremendous risk of exposure at an event where hundreds would be in attendance.
“As we were working on it this year, we realized due to the numbers and vaccination rate in Utah that people stopped getting vaccinated and numbers are going up,” Beer Bar co-owner Richard Noel explains to ABC4.com. “We just didn’t feel right about throwing a huge event with maybe even 1,000 people when we’re still trying to roll out the vaccine. So, we decided that we would take a break this year and it’s sad.”
Many in the medical field would be in agreement with the decision made by Beer Bar.
Dr. Mark Oliver, an infectious diseases specialist at St. Mark’s Hospital told ABC4 TV’s Hailey Hendricks on Friday that the risk of transmission was “very high” still, adding that it would take just one or two infected persons – who may or may not have symptoms – to spread the disease.
While Beer Bar will still be open on Saturday, the Pie and Beer Day scene that has been a staple of SLC summer life since 2013, will be noticeably muted. In the interest of being a responsible community member, Noel and his staff will be taking a financial hit by not marketing or executing one of their biggest revenue days on the calendar.
“We’re definitely not acting in the best interest of making money with this decision, that’s for sure,” Noel says, adding that a sizable sum of money that is generated for charity efforts will also be missed this year.
Speaking about missing another year of Pie and Beer Day at Beer Bar, Wheeler sighs and calls it “an emotional issue.” The festivities at the popular downtown watering hole were his brainchild nearly a decade ago.
While the phrase “Pie and Beer Day,” has been around for a while – Wheeler laughs that he has no idea where it came from – it was his idea to use the moniker as a promotional tool for a fundraiser at his workplace, KUAA 99.9, a radio station sponsored by the Utah Arts Alliance.
When Pie and Beer Day kicked off at Beer Bar in 2013, it quickly grew beyond local circles and attracted national headlines.
“They told me that was the dumbest idea ever and that nobody would come, and it was stupid. And then the next day the New York Times called me on the phone,” Wheeler recalls. “And it was in the Associated Press, it was on CNN, it was in Time Magazine, it was everywhere.”
Wheeler and Noel remember the line for a slice of pie and a pint of beer going out the door of the building and wrapping all the way around the block that first year. Yet, somehow, everyone was able to get some pie, they say.
Expecting some blowback from the community for canceling a popular event, even as many COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, Noel notes that there is no one sadder than him that Pie and Beer Day will have to wait another year. It has been one of the bar’s best and most exciting days each and every year. Comedy actor Ty Burrell, the brother of the bar’s other owner, Duncan Burrell, has been on hand to serve up pie in years past. Other celebrities, such as Saturday Night Live cast member Kyle Mooney, have also been at the bar for Pie and Beer Day.
Wheeler, a lifelong Utahn who grew up out of the LDS Church, says that having an unofficial holiday like Pie and Beer Day on the 24th of July was big for those who weren’t members of the Church. His idea to bring the tongue-in-cheek joke to reality has bridged the gap for many of varying faiths and non-faiths in the area. Wheeler remarks that many of the best customers at Beer Bar on July 24 are faithful, non-drinking members of the Church, who simply want to enjoy a slice of pie and a sense of togetherness with others.
Noel laments that despite the fact the vaccine is widely available, and health restrictions would currently allow for a grand celebration this Saturday, the truth that many have still not gotten vaccinated is preventing it from happening.
“The fact we are right now watching numbers rise because people won’t do the responsible thing and go get a shot just doesn’t make sense. We’ve got to get on the same page and just get through this.”