Let’s face it: sprawling, overly wholesome Salt Lake City doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being the most happening place on earth. In fact, unless they are Mormon or Mormon-curious, chances are most foreign visitors won’t end up here unless they are passing through on their coast to coast trip or have some work or other non-touristy local commitments. Known for ski slopes, outdoor activities and, well, Mormons, I bet this isn’t the first place that comes to mind when you think of underground culture.
But Mormon or not, there’s actually a big alternative / underground / burner / queer community in Salt Lake City most people are totally unaware of. As a result, there are actually quite a few fun things to do and places to visit that are as far from wholesome Mormonism as you could possibly imagine. Here are a bunch of things to check out when in town.
- Going Out
Salt Lake seems to be consumer heaven. If you’re lucky enough to find a garage sale, stop and look. There’s usually some great stuff to be had. There are lots of garage sales happening all the time, but I’ve not found any good online resource that lists them. I have, on the other hand, found a whole bunch just by walking around nice residential neighbourhoods like the Avenues on weekends. But here are some fixed places (known as “markets” and “stores”) with some great stuff for sale.
Address: 414 300 S
A really cool second hand / alternative fashion store with a huge choice of great stuff for women, men, and even children. Burner fashion, fetish stuff, hippie stuff, lots of random things. I’ve found some really unique things here.
1600 / 1601 Empire Road
A gigantic overstock store spread across two buildings. It’s basically a treasure trove of randomness and is revered locally as this sort of magical place where you can find whatever you’re looking for at any given moment at hugely reduced prices. From homewares to DIY and auto supplies, electronics, bikes, toys, fashion, and even cheap, almost out of date food, this place literally has everything and every visit is magically different. Even if you just want to kill a few hours and people watch, this is a fun way to spend some time.
Salt Lake City has a massive, really good farmers market, full of local organic and specialty foods, crafts, and fresh produce. I’ve been during the summer, when it’s an open air market in a big park. In winter it apparently moves somewhere less exposed to the elements.
What can I say? I really like health food stores. This one is great and isn’t Amazon-owned Whole Foods. It has a good mix of local stuff (well, did you know that several big American vegan brands are based in SLC?) and other exciting American organic food, supplements, etc.
You never would have guessed that there’s a company that makes vegan bondage gear in Salt Lake City of all places, but there is and this is it! I’m mostly putting this here because I think it’s fucking cool. They don’t have an actual store and their website is pretty shit, but they do often have stalls at events at the Area 51 club (see below). If you’re into this sort of thing, it’s worth checking their Facebook page to see if they’re on when you’re in town.
The good news is that Salt Lake City has some amazing food. The bad news is….Actually, there’s no bad news at all. You can eat really well here whether you’re an omnivore, a vegetarian, or even a vegan. I’ve had some absolutely wonderful meals here that would put many other cities to shame.
1860 S 300 W Ste D
A vegan, gluten free cafe and bakery that is actually awesome even if you’re not vegan. Lots of nice stuff (including vegan mac & cheese!). You can eat in or buy to take away.
Salt Lake City has a Red Iguana and a Blue Iguana. Both are Mexican restaurants that are apparently related (some family feud or something). Red Iguana is downtown, which is a slightly sketchy (but generally safe) area, but is considered the better of the two, with more interesting / authentic food. It’s colourful, cosy, busy and super friendly and the food is absolutely amazing, with plenty of vegetarian options for people like me.
In a nicer neighbourhood with a more spacious feel and nice food, especially for non-Americans like me who never get good Mexican food at home. Knowledgeable locals consider it a run of the mill Mexican compared to Red Iguana, but it’s actually a decent, pleasant Mexican place, even if not overly special.
Dee’s Family Restaurant
1829, 2104 700 E * Mon – Wed 6:00 – 2:00, Thu 6:00 – 00:00, Fri, Sat 24 hours, Sun 6:00 – 2:00
A big, bright, retro-style diner, complete with late opening hours, a giant eyesore of a sign, loud décor and a solid menu of American favourites (and huge portions, of course). It’s basically everything you could ever want in an American diner, all rolled into one.
Yeah, Salt Lake is a huge vegan town and the food is excellent. This 100% vegan diner is the place to go if you want to enjoy your favourite all-American dishes minus the cruelty. The menu also includes Asian and Mexican dishes, awesome breakfasts and even delicious cocktails.
Buds Sandwich Company
A vegan sandwich place serving up some truly amazing things. You can sit at one of the tables outside or grab your sandwich and go. It’s not really a sit down / hang around place, but the tasty food more than makes up for it. The Barbacoa burrito (with jackfruit) is particularly nice.
I didn’t expect Salt Lake City to have such good Indian food (I come from London), but this small chain more than delivers. The Downtown / Avenues branch has a great lunch buffet, while the Sugar House branch is more upmarket and great for a nice dinner.
I met the lovely gay couple who run this place when they had a stall selling hummus at the farmers market. Now they have this buzzy restaurant, serving tasty, authentic Middle Eastern / Lebanese food you really don’t want to miss.
OK, so it’s not quite London or New York, but you can still enjoy a wild night out at a bar, some live music or even a party. Here are some places to spend your evening, nights and free afternoons.
You wouldn’t think somewhere as Mormon as SLC would have a cinema that’s also a bar, but that’s exactly what this place is. I’m pretty sure it’s weak local beer, but the seats are still comfortable and the movies are still good.
Utah has some severe restrictions on alcohol consumption, because: Mormon. You won’t find any alcohol in supermarkets (no, not even beer or wine). It’s sold in state-run stores that are closed on Sundays (it’s god’s day) and there are also limits on things like alcohol percentage in beer. However, SLC has a thriving brewery scene and these independent places are open on Sunday and can also sell proper beer. So go there.
Big, bright tap room attached to a good brewery. Serves good bar food and attracts a mixed crowd of locals, both hipster and not. You can actually get gluten free beer here, and it’s strong.
Food at this cool tap room comes from a rotating lineup of local food trucks covering pretty much every time of food available. Check the website to see which one is on when you’re there.
Recommended to me by a local friend, this place has a whole bunch of pinball machines, which obviously makes it hipster heaven.
Proper Brewing Company
857 Main St * 11:00 – 1:00 daily. Sat & Sun from 10:00
Lots of vegan choices on the menu in this modern vegan and hipster-friendly place (don’t worry, there’s meat too).
Looking for dive bars that are dim, borderline sleazy, and yet Nazi-free, and foreign / non-local hipster-friendly? Try these!
347 E 200 S
There’s a pool table and a jukebox. Sometimes there’s live music. Mixed crowd.
900 Main St * 15:00 – 2:00 daily
A biggish place with pool tables and other games. Lots of drunk local hipsters. You know the score.
Bigger, more modern and a lot more hipster than the rest, with great food. Young, trendy crowd. OK, so maybe not really a dive bar, but definitely a bar worth checking out.
…And some more nightlife
A good place to catch live music gigs in an intimate bar setting.
A club with a whole load of alternative nights from electronic music to goth, industrial, alternative rock, 80s and more.