Groveling for right to a light

DC has granted its first exemption to the smoking ban:

The D.C. government has granted its first exemption to the smoking ban for a bar in Cleveland Park. Owners of the cigar bar Aroma say they had a 20 percent drop in business within six months after the city passed a smoking ban for all bars and restaurants last January. That makes the bar eligible to apply for an exemption.

Curt Large, of the bar’s parent company Bedrock Management, says Aroma had to go through a rigorous process. Owners had to submit sales and tax records and prove the fall in revenues wasn’t caused by a sudden increase in prices or fewer operating hours.

Nice to see the government only forced Aroma to endure six months of depressed sales before deciding that, hey, maybe a cigar bar should be allowed to let its patrons smoke.

In another news, I need to check out Aroma post haste!

Comments

  1. Barzelay says:

    I saw the sign in their window this weekend, and thought, “That’s odd.” It was a small, simple sign, maybe a foot wide, that said something like, “Smoking permitted here!”

    The thing is… it may now be claiming that it’s a cigar bar, but it never seemed to style itself that way before the ban. My roommates and I just thought it was a “bar,” we never saw anyone smoking cigars in there before the ban, and none of their signage indicates anything about smoking (and we’re pretty sure the signage hasn’t changed while we’ve lived in our house). Indeed, reading reviews around the internet (WaPo, Yelp, etc.), I can’t find anyone talking about it being a cigar bar or smoking bar at all.

    So apparently, a possibly coincidental drop in business (during a time in which several other bars opened in Cleveland Park) combined with six months of effort is all it takes to get a government-granted monopoly on smoking + drinking in D.C. Still support it?

  2. Barzelay says:

    By the way, the fact that the company that owns Aroma also owns several other bars is kind of interesting. They aren’t pursuing the exemption for their other bars, and business at several of their locations has gone up. So the end result is that the smoking ban has, for them, forced them to differentiate their locations. They now have a niche smoking bar, as well as a bunch of non-smoking bars. I think that’s actually a good result, even if it doesn’t justify the ban.

    If there would have been a decent number of legitimate non-smoking options for going out in the district, the ban would never have passed. If Aroma’s result ends up being duplicated by other establishments, and there end up being a bunch of smoking bars, I think that would be great. I think we can all agree that, from the perspective of consumers, the ideal condition is where one has a choice to attend a smoking or non-smoking bar, without having to sacrifice all the other qualities of a bar. We can argue about whether or not that result justifies the ban, but if things turn out that way, I’ll be happy.

  3. Jacob Grier says:

    Regardless of whether that history is accurate, no, I don’t support a government granted monopoly. But right now proving oneself as a cigar (or hookah) bar is the only way to give smokers options, so if they’ve managed to prove that to the city council I have no objections. I hope other bars follow suit — we agree that the ideal situation is to have a variety of options for all preferences.

    As you know, I think the decision ought to be left up to individual bar owners (i.e. no ban). But since that’s not the way things are going, as an alternative to the “ban and beg” system we have now I’d like to see the city auction off some set amount of smoking licenses. That way the bars who would gain the most from letting their patrons smoke would buy the licenses and we could avoid this ridiculous practice of making businesses “prove” that the ban has adversely impacted their sales.

  4. Barzelay says:

    Auctioning off smoking licenses actually sounds like an excellent idea. The question would be how many licenses should be auctioned off, and whether there should be any restrictions on geographical clustering of those licenses. I.e., might the city have to say, “We’ll be auctioning off six smoking licenses for businesses on 18th St. NW between U St. and Columbia?”

    If it ended up that there were enough licenses that most of the bars in Georgetown, DuPont Circle, and Adams-Morgan allowed smoking, we’d be back to where we were before the ban–only worse, since it would present a further barrier to entry for new businesses, and businesses in burgeoning going-out areas like Chinatown, H St NE, 8th St SE, etc.

  5. Zhubin says:

    Eagerly rushing into and patronizing every smoking bar in the city is probably not the healthiest way to show solidarity with the anti-ban movement, Jacob.

  6. David White says:

    Having spent much time at Aroma, I can say that it’s never been a cigar bar (or at least not recently). On the other hand, overcoming bullshit with more bullshit is a fitting outcome, in my opinion, in this situation. As far as tobacco licenses go, why would you want to apply a market solution to a non-market problem?

  7. Jacob Grier says:

    It’s not my first choice, but a market solution is better than leaving it up to some bureaucratic process.

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