After ban, patios could be retreat for smokers

Monday, January 8, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:12 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

After submitting new plans to the city for covering his patio, Daniel Verso laughed about having to put his air filtration system up for sale on eBay. The owner of Athena Night Club at Hitt and Locust streets said the filtration system won’t be needed anymore, and he’s focusing on dressing up his patio areas.

While many restaurants and bars across Columbia prepare to deal with a complete ban on smoking that takes effect at midnight, some of those with patios are considering heat lamps, awnings, tents and umbrellas to better accommodate smokers who won’t be allowed to light up inside.

The new smoking ordinance states that owners of bars and restaurants with patios can choose to make no more than half of the patio a smoking section as long as people don’t have to walk through it to get back inside or to a restroom.

Athena plans to start with an awning over its patios, Verso said, and see how that goes before taking the next step and buying heat lamps.

“It’s hard to say in the beginning how things are going to go,” Verso said.

A Saturday night at Athena can bring in more than 600 people, Verso said, and if even half of them are smokers, sending them outside into the streets is “going to make a mess.” Verso also thinks the ban will be difficult to enforce.

Rusty Walls, general manager at the Heidelberg on Ninth Street, isn’t worried about enforcement. The Heidelberg already has a no-smoking policy until 2 p.m., and he said most customers have been receptive to the restriction.

The Heidelberg already has heat lamps and awnings on its rooftop patio that is used as extra seating on busier nights.

Walls said the smoking arrangement will probably change every day according to how busy The Heidelberg is on a particular evening. On some nights, he said, the rooftop patio might be used for smoking alone without kitchen or bar service. In general, Walls said, it is “better for people to go upstairs” and smoke “than be standing on the sidewalks.”

But on busy nights when more seating is needed, Walls said, the patio might be used for dining. That would force smokers outside the business.

“Things will settle down in a few months, and people will get used to it,” Walls said. “Seating people in smoking and nonsmoking sections was a pain, so I think that this will make it easier.”

At Harpo’s on Tenth Street, manager Jessica Hartman said the downtown watering hole already has heat lamps, and she plans to station some on the rooftop deck to accommodate smokers.

As of Saturday, Hartman said she was still waiting to meet with owner Dennis Harper to work out details such as enforcement and the number of heat lamps that will be needed. But she did say the staff — as the ordinance requires — will ask people who light up to put it out or go outside.

The city provided Harpo’s with a couple of the “no smoking” signs businesses are required to post, Hartman said. The new law also requires proprietors to ask anyone they see smoking in their establishment to stop.

She thinks the smoke-free environment inside will make the bar and restaurant appear cleaner and probably draw a larger lunch crowd.

“I think we are ready to go,” she said.

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