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No, Really: You CAN Get Your Party on in Salt Lake City

Published: 10/16/2014

By, Christy Karras ( -- Ah, Thursday night — the only truly social night of the week. It’s the night when babysitters are booked, friends convene, and drinks are consumed. There are no family obligations to fulfill or weekend crowds to elbow through — and the night’s possibilities are endless. It starts after work and ends whenever you want. In any city. All over the world. This week, we’re presenting the perfect Thursday night in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Salt Lake City doesn’t exactly have a reputation as a nightlife hotspot, but its family-oriented culture long ago spawned a lively counterculture that in recent years has come of age in a big way.

You’ll likely spend at least a night here at some point, and new arrivals tend to need direction on where to best spend that evening. As the “crossroads of the West,” Salt Lake City is strategically set in the middle of the Western U.S., which makes it a likely stopping point on cross-country road trips. Its sizable convention center hosts everything from the twice-annual Outdoor Retailer show to the national atheists’ convention. Did I mention the powder? Eight ski resorts are within an hour’s drive.

It’s easy to explore the city. Travel is easy on the expansive light-rail system. And while it’s illegal to flag down a cab in Utah (oh, Utah!), apps like Uber and Lyft are rendering that a nonissue.

5 p.m.

Many of the best things to do in Salt Lake City are of the daytime sort: hike in a nearby canyon, ski the slopes, hit the fabulous Natural History Museum, hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, or shop at the glitzy City Creek Center.

Kick off your evening with a taste of Americana, Utah style (would that be Utahcana?). Take the TRAX light rail to Gilgal Sculpture Garden, which was built by a man obsessed with the twin themes of religion and masonry. Be sure to take a selfie with the Joseph Smith sphinx.

Since that’ll take only a few minutes, you can then head to Trolley Square (once an actual trolley station) and shop at Weller Book Works, one of the city’s great independent bookstores. Or take the light rail a few blocks west and visit Ken Sanders Rare Books. Browse the selection, pick up a Monkey Wrench Gang T-shirt designed by cartoonist R. Crumb and chat with Ken himself (he’s the one with the Gandalf-like beard).

If the weather’s nice, go around the corner to Copper Common, sister bar to the Copper Onion restaurant, and sip a cocktail or local beer on the patio.

6:30 p.m.

Getting a table in Salt Lake City is not usually a problem, but it’s a good idea to arrive early to ensure a table at top restaurants like Finca (fabulous tapas and cocktails), Pallet (communal small plates in an intimate space), and Valter’s Osteria (where the charming proprietor, Valter, might help serve your Tuscan dinner).

It’s hard to narrow down which restaurant to go to — that is, which one to hit if you’ve already experienced Red Iguana. When I used to interview touring artists as a music writer in Salt Lake City, I was amazed by how many of them said they love coming to the city just to eat here. A line stretches out front even when it’s freezing.