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Restaurant Smoking Ban in F.C. Means Heaters for Chilly Patios

Smokers’ Social Scene Gets Butted Outdoors

Throughout Virginia, restaurant patrons with smoking habits were sent packing to sidewalks and patios last Tuesday following the enactment of the statewide smoking ban, and just days before Northern Virginia saw its first snowfall of the season.

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DOGWOOD TAVERN staffers, (left to right) Eric Schwartz, José Marroquin and Brooke Simon, huddled around an outdoor heater for a smoke break earlier this week. Manager of the popular Falls Church restaurant and bar, Tammy Powell, said that while older-generation smoking customers complained at first, everyone now seems to have accepted smoking outside. (Photo: News-Press)

Signed by Gov. Tim Kaine in March as an amendment to the 1990 Virginia Indoor Clean Air Act, the legislation lets patrons to smoke only on a restaurant’s outdoor courtyard or in a separate smoking room with its own ventilation system.

But for restaurants in the City of Falls Church, the ban is not as potentially detrimental as it might have been when the City government considered its own ban even as neighboring jurisdictions didn’t.

Still, smoker of seven years, 33-year-old Paul Thompson of McLean, was none too pleased with the new rule, bundled up outside Ireland’s Four Provinces in Falls Church last Friday night.

But he said he’s “no fool either.”

“It was only a matter of time before [smoking] was banned in restaurants here. I’m not thrilled I have to go outside, but there’s no use complaining about it,” said Thompson, whose statement was quickly followed by more than a few snickers from his smoke-puffing peers.

Travis Barnes, a restaurant host at Ireland’s Four Provinces, said, “Some of the smokers aren’t too happy about it, but everybody gets used to it.” He told the News-Press the popular Irish establishment plans on setting up heaters within its outdoor seating area, along with eventually investing in wind barriers on the patio which faces West Broad Street.

The Virginia Department of Health reported this year that nearly 20 percent of the state’s adults light up, with an annual $118.8 million spent on health care expenditures in Virginia from secondhand smoke exposure afflicting the other 80 percent of the state population.

Health benefits of the ban aside, Falls Church restaurant owners said it’s cost them extra money during a tough economic time when there’s already less revenue coming in.

Dogwood Tavern, a bar in Falls Church, recently installed gas-powered heat lamps on its back patio to keep smokers warm in the winter months. Manager Tammy Powell said she’s already expecting an added maintenance price for the extra measure.

“The cost has now gone up because we’re going to have to replace the propane tanks, which will most likely run out on a daily basis, along with having to get them serviced,” said Powell. Dogwood’s outdoor patio tables remain from the warmer months and it plans on eventually installing awnings in the case of rain.

However, Powell said a high-price ventilation system to keep smokers indoors is out of the picture.

“Smokers from the older generation have requested we do [the ventilation system], but it’s not worth the cost. People complained at first, said they were going to lose our business, but they’ve all moved outside fine now. It’s become a bit of a social thing, going outside for a smoke,” said Powell.

Susan Anderson, a manager at Clare and Don’s Beach Shack, agreed. A strictly-social smoker herself, she said one of the things she’s always liked best about going outside for a cigarette was the fact “bars can be so confined inside and it’s nice to get some fresh air.”

Unrelated to the smoking ban, the Beach Shack put up tents on its outdoor patio a month ago. Manager Patrick Jones called it a “convenient coincidence” and said he’s still waiting to see how the ban will affect business, if at all.

“A lot of smoking crowd is upset. They like to sit at the bar, smoke and drink without having to get up, but I think in long run they’ll be ok with it,” said Jones, adding that many of his employees back the ban due to an unpleasant smoke-filled environment “restaurant workers were forced to deal with.”

Prior to the restriction, the Beach Shack didn’t allow smoking indoors until 9 p.m., after most family-dining parties had filtered out.

“If anything, I think the families will be happier about not having to rush to finish their food before 9. I remember around 8:55, you’d start to smell the smoke. People knew it was time,” said Anderson.

The Beach Shack’s neighbor, Argia’s, was in the middle of tracking a delivery of heat lamps for its outdoor patio when the News-Press contacted General Manager Bruce McFarlane.

“We’re going to follow the letter of the law and smoking is just going to have to be outside. We don’t have a problem with it,” said McFarlane.

Just who does have qualms with it, aside from the obvious, may be too early to tell. But Anderson couldn’t help but wonder how those living next to a bar will handle the increase in outdoor activity. She noted that, until now, nearby neighbors of bars didn’t have to deal with patrons wandering around outside until last call.

“I don’t want to put any ideas into people’s heads, but residents living around bars may see an increase in noise level outside,” said Anderson.

Melissa Miller, 42, of Falls Church said to think residents will hear an rise in commotion is unlikely. That is, until the temperature drops.

Tapping a pack of Marlboro Reds in the palm her hand outside Dogwood Tavern, she said, “People have a cigarette in their mouth; they’re not talking. There’s snow on the ground. Chances are they won’t be outside for too long.”

Among area bars who don’t expect to see a change are Dogfish Head Alehouse, Velocity Five Sports Restaurant & Bar and Hoang’s Grill & Sushi Bar, all of which have been blatantly smoke-free since opening.

Sue Gonzales, the manager of Grevey’s Restaurant & Sports Bar, said she’s “got to try and provide a space and atmosphere” for her smoking customers.

“Being a sports bar, a lot of people come here to watch a game and they want to be able to smoke during without missing anything,” said Gonzales, who added that Grevey’s patio, which already has a bar and TVs, will have outdoor heating within a few weeks.

From being able to catch all of the third quarter to sitting under a walled tent with heating, competing perks of area bars are one thing. But Anderson said, game seat or not, it shouldn’t be long before smokers fond of bar scenes may just start going cold turkey before going out in the cold.

“It’s kind of ironic timing with New Year’s one month away. Maybe it’ll make smokers finally quit their habit this year,” said Anderson.

As far as Miller? “Maybe in 2012,” she said, declaratively lighting up outside.

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