Walking around the streets of Salt Lake City, it’s hard not to think of The Book of Mormon; the Utah capital, headquarters to the Mormon religion, which serves to parody Wicked‘s Emerald City in the celebrated musical.
Many may ask if the musical had made it to Salt Lake, and indeed it has – with minimal controversy and a surprisingly successful run. I’m told it’s already planning a return. But this comes with good reason – it turns out this city really loves its arts.
Long living under the shadow of Mormon’s rules and restrictions – many of which have been relaxed in the last decade – the renewed focus from a show like Mormon has given the city a chance to re-brand itself, not just as the butt of the jokes of some comedians from South Park, but as a powerhouse in the artistic community in its own right.
Take the Eccles Theater (131 Main St), an incredible space that lives and breathes Broadway Musicals and Live Music. Morrissey and Amos Lee are among the artists who have played here in its opening months, and it was one of the first 10 cities in the world to get Hamilton; while Wicked ran here for two months. The stunning space only opened in October 2016 (they said a variety show kicked things off), and the theatre holds almost 2,500 people, with detail fused into every nook and cranny of the beautiful building: the terrace on the top floor is inspired by “Old Salt Lake City”; the colours and design are inspired by the red rocks of Utah; a beautiful star field sits upon the roof of the theatre itself; and public art is incorporated into the glass panel and floor design in lobby.
While Eccles represents the new, the Capitol Theatre (50 W 200 S), in many ways represents the old, with the 1913 building hosting Broadway plays, live music, as well as being the home of local institutions Utah Opera and Ballet West. But this landmark venue feels like one of the few older entertainment venues still standing; so much of this city is bursting at the seams with new (or at least, refurbished) arts and culture.
At the heart of this is the new Hale Centre Theatre, which opens next month in Sandy City, about a 15 minute drive south of Salt Lake City. This 11 story building sees some 1/3 of its structure sitting underground, as the state-of-the-art, in-the-round design of its main theatre, set around a moving stage, makes it home to some of the most technically impressive productions in the entire country. A more traditional theatre also sits in the facility, and more than 700 shows a year will be showcased in the venue – with 8-16 shows a week scheduled for each of the two stages.
And then there are the music dedicated venues. While I was in town I caught Hippy Sabotage at The Depot, a three floor restaurant and music venue which opened in 2006 in the historic Salt Lake City Union Pacific Depot. Elsewhere there’s the Metro Music Hall (also famed for its gay nights, which you might be surprised is a thing in the Mormon capital), The State Room (and their newer space The Commonwealth Room), The Loading Dock, In The Venue, The Complex, Kilby Court and many, many more. The city is a vibrant one to say the least.
And if you’re just looking for a drink, you can ignore the rumours that a good drink is hard to find in Utah – though this may have one been the case. You’ll find a beer bar, aptly named Beer Bar, that was opened by Modern Family’s Ty Burrell. He also owns Bar X next door, an intimate cocktail bar straight out of the prohibition-era. And you can’t leave the city without having a drink and a bite at the famous Squatters, who have been producing some of America’s finest craft beer since 1989 (and they’ve got an equally outstanding dining menu, too).
And it’s not just music and theatre they take seriously. Take the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA), which you’ll find at the University of Utah; this 1951 building is re-opening next month after sitting in renovations since January. The Rio Tinto Center, which opened in November 2011, is the architectural gem that sits as home to the Natural History Museum of Utah; an institution which has been in the city since 1969. The stunning structure is the second most popular tourist attraction in the city behind the Mormon Cathedral, and contains one of the most incredible dinosaur collections you’ll ever see – not to mention sits as an architectural marvel (see below). And finally, Utah’s only contemporary art museum, the aptly named Museum of Contemporary Art, is a bustling space with six gallery spaces and exhibitions from contemporary artists from around the world.
And for when you’ve filled up on all the arts and culture you can handle, the city offers plenty of places to getaway to. Some of this you’ll likely know about already, with the country’s most incredible mountain ranges and canyons within driving distance of the city; and naturally, many of these mountains are perfect for skiing (you don’t think we’d publish an article about Salt Lake City and not mention skiing would you!?). While in town I went to the Solitude Mountain Resort, about a 35 minute drive from the centre of Salt Lake City. It’s a mountain that gives precedence to its name; seemingly quieter than a lot of the other resorts in the area, I was able to don skis and give it a try for the first time in my life. Needless to say, I didn’t perform well; what, being nearly-30 and having never tried to Ski before. They say “better late than never”, but I say, “I should have tried this earlier”. Thankfully there was some amazing food waiting for me at Honeycomb Grill at the end of the experience – it’s safe to say I earned it.
Though what you may not know about is Antelope Island, that serves as one of the most popular spots for locals and tourists alike. Sitting just 25-30 minutes NW of Downtown, Antelope Island is deceptively named thanks to the fact it’s home to large Buffalo population – some 550 at recent count. Driving out and hiking on the trails and getting up close to the beautiful creatures sets you down in a David Attenborough type experience that is unmatched; and all the while you’re looking out onto the Wasatch Mountain Range back towards the city, where you know a bustling city of culture, theatre, music and arts is waiting for you. Talk about the best of both worlds.
Getting to Salt Lake City
Most airlines connect into Salt Lake City out of the main entry hubs into the USA, be it Los Angeles with Virgin/Delta, San Francisco with United, Dallas with Qantas/American Airlines or Houston with United.
Where to Stay
While in Salt Lake City we stayed at the Hotel Monaco (202 Main St), which brings some old school charm of its own into the city. Pets are welcome in this classic 15 floor hotel, with free wine available daily from 5pm to 6pm, complimentary hot cocoa waiting for you in the lobby, a late Noon checkout for all guests, and an excellent dining option on site at Bambara. I recommend the Breakfast Burrito.
The author visited Salt Lake City as a guest of Visit Salt Lake and Utah Tourism.