As D.C. Ban Pushes Smokers Outside, Noise Might Rise

By Clarence Williams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 30, 2006

By midnight, bar manager Said Haddad shuts down the patio of the Café Saint-Ex restaurant and bar on 14th Street NW to lower the volume for his residential neighbors.

"Our clients are our neighborhood. I don't have anybody on that patio after midnight," Haddad said.

Come January, smokers will be forced outside of D.C. bars and nightclubs. And Haddad, like many people in the service industry and their neighbors across the city, doesn't know how bars will walk the line between keeping the streets quiet and letting smokers get their nicotine fix.

The D.C. Council passed the ban on indoor smoking in January, and the measure took effect in restaurant dining rooms in April. On Jan. 2, nightclubs and bars will be required to kick the habit.

In neighborhoods such as Kalorama, Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan, where clubs and densely packed residential neighborhoods often coexist in tenuous balance, concerns are building that the ban might increase street noise and contribute to litter as smokers move onto sidewalks and into alleys.

"I'm 100 percent sure it's going to be a complete debacle," said Bryan Weaver, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Adams Morgan. "It's going to add to the friction that already exists [between] some of these establishments" and neighbors.

Bar owners are taking the concerns to heart, in part because advisory neighborhood commissions have significant influence when the time comes to renew alcohol licenses.

"There is a lot of anxiety on the part of the owners. [The ban] is a ridiculous solution to a problem," said Pat Patrick, vice president of the Adams Morgan Business and Professional Association. The group fears that businesses could lose smoking customers to Virginia nightspots.

To comply with the smoking ban, some bars and clubs have applied to advisory neighborhood commissions and the city for permission to allow patrons to congregate in a designated area of the sidewalk or to build outdoor smoking decks.

In Dupont Circle, advisory neighborhood commissioner Mike Silverstein said nightclubs MCCXXIII and Club Five received permission to build such decks. But MCCXXIII's approval came with strings attached: Because the deck is to be built next to the residential portion of St. Matthew's Cathedral, the smokers' refuge will have to close before midnight Mass at Christmas and hours before Easter services so the priests can sleep.

"It's something that always requires balancing and something that requires goodwill," Silverstein said of cooperation between bars and neighbors. "People want to live downtown and they want to live close by, but they also want to sleep."

Although Weaver, the Adams Morgan neighborhood commissioner, expressed serious doubts about the upcoming ban in the short term, he was confident the city will eventually work out the enforcement kinks.

Leila Abrar, a spokeswoman for the D.C. Department of Health, said the District is taking note of the lessons learned by other cities that have instituted smoking bans. She said the department is preparing an outreach effort and training health inspectors before enforcement of the new measure begins.

"We do not in any way want to be punitive," Abrar said. "It is a new law, so all of us are going to have to ease into it."

Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) is among those who worry about noise and potential congestion on the sidewalks of Adams Morgan, which he represents. But he said his constituents put a higher priority on establishing smoke-free areas.

His colleague, David A. Catania (I-At Large), chairman of the council's Committee on Health, said the city should enforce the ban fully. And he's not concerned about the potential for a bit more noise along busy night-life corridors.

"A few smokers on the sidewalk is not going to change the decibel level one bit," Catania said. "I think this is the right choice for the citizens."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company