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Michigan takes the plunge, becomes latest state to allow swim-up bars

drink at the pool
Michigan residents could soon order drinks from a swimming pool under new legislation signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer this week. (Shutterstock)

Swimmers taking a dip in a Michigan pool could soon order food or drink from the water under a new regulation signed into law this week.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer approved legislation Tuesday to allow hotels, resorts, water parks and other pool operators with a liquor license to open adults-only swim-up bars.

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The legislation is supported by businesses like the Bavarian Inn Lodge of Frankenmuth, which features four indoor pools and two water slides, and Boyne Mountain Resort in Boyne Falls, which includes Avalanche Bay Indoor Waterpark.

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The new policy “will enable hospitality business operators the opportunity to provide a new experience for their guests which will boost the Michigan tourism industry,” Michael Keller Zehnder of the Bavarian Inn Lodge said in a statement. 

To be eligible for a swim-up bar, a pool operator would have to obtain a permit, meet a slew of safety guidelines and serve food and beverages in containers designed to reduce the chance of spills. Under the legislation, plates and cups would need to be made of plastic or another non-breakable material. 

Pool water would also be subject to heightened disinfection and filtration standards and require a lifeguard on the premises. The bars themselves would need to be made of a material that is "nonabsorbent" and contains no sharp edges.

The bills saw near-unanimous approval in both chambers of the Michigan Legislature, where the bill’s backers and other supporters said the policy could help businesses bounce back from losses incurred since the COVID-19 pandemic began and compete with other states that already allow swimming pool bars.  

Whitmer’s office in a statement said the bills “cut restrictions and create entrepreneurial opportunities that allow public pool operators to maximize business heading into a Pure Michigan summer.” 

In previous committee testimony, Zehnder noted swim-up bars are popular around the world and are allowed in 24 U.S. states. 

Rep. Rodney Wakeman, R-Frankenmuth, was a key sponsor on the bills and said in a recent statement that prohibiting pool bars puts the tourism industry at a disadvantage. 

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“With some common-sense protections in place, Michigan resorts can accommodate swim-up bars and provide a safe and enjoyable experience for tourists,” Wakeman said. “Our reforms will allow local businesses the opportunity to fill a void in the Michigan tourism industry that hotels and attractions in many other states are offering.”

Rep. John Cherry, D-Flint, was the other main sponsor on the package. He said in a statement that offering safe, well-regulated unique experiences for Michigan residents and visitors is an “important goal as we look toward the future of Michigan’s hospitality industry.” 

Whitmer on Tuesday also signed legislation that would allow 17-year-olds to serve alcohol at restaurants, provided they complete a training program and are supervised by someone 18 years or older.

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