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Posted at 12:11 PM ET, 10/16/2007

Aroma Lights Up the Night

By Fritz Hahn

A friend and I went to Aroma last night to say goodbye to longtime bartender Krishna Ramsundar, and as we walked in, we took in the aroma. It wasn't because we were caught up in the moment -- it was because we smelled the fragrant odor of burning tobacco. Ashtrays were scattered across the bar, a guy lit up a celebratory cigar and, later, one man wandered in while puffing away on a pipe.

For a moment, we felt like we were in some 2006 bizarro world. Was this the patrons' way of saying goodbye to Krishna, a bartender who likes the occasional smoke break while working? Was this a critical mass-style protest against the city-wide smoking ban?

Hardly. All the puffing away was completely legal, because Aroma is the first D.C. bar to receive a hardship exemption from the city's Department of Health.

In the six months after the smoking ban began, Aroma's owners say, business fell at least 20 percent from the year before. "Aroma was set up as a cigar bar, and [smoking] was pretty core to its identity," explains Curt Large, the chief operating officer of Bedrock Management, Aroma's parent company. Once smokers could no longer enjoy a cigar or cigarette with their cocktails or cognac, he says, they simply stopped coming.

Cynics might argue that there are other factors besides the lack of smoking to keep people away -- warm weather, more competition from neighborhood bars -- but in order to receive the hardship exemption, Aroma went through what Large described as a "pretty rigorous" process of submitting its sales and tax records for the previous year and proving that the fall in revenues wasn't due to a sudden increase in prices or fewer operating hours.

With the exemption, Aroma can allow smoking for a period of up to three years. In the meantime, Large says that the company isn't pursuing hardship wavers for any of its other neighborhood taverns. Sales are down at Bedrock Billiards and Atomic Billiards, but on the other hand, Buffalo Billiards and Mackey's "are doing better than ever."

-- Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | October 16, 2007; 12:11 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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Doesn't pretty much everyone who frequents a cigar bar (or a hookah bar) smoke?!

Posted by: Duh! | October 16, 2007 1:09 PM | Report abuse

hey fritz, i smoke in the lower bar at Rumors all the time, what ban?

Posted by: light up dc | October 16, 2007 1:11 PM | Report abuse

I have a problem with the ban an I am not a smoker.

Posted by: Richard | October 16, 2007 1:13 PM | Report abuse

I am a full supporter for the ban being up the the establishment and not the city/town/state. If an owner wants to allow it in there establishment than its up to the patrons to decide if they choose to go there not anyone else.

Posted by: Ragnat | October 16, 2007 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Score one for the good guys!

As an ex-smoker, I thoroughly enjoy going out to bars and not having to deal with smoke. I can come home smelling fresh as a daisy and not at all like smoke!

But dagnabit, it's not up to me to tell other people what they can and can't do in their privately owned establishment. And it's not up to the government or all those anti-smoking do-gooders who stick their noses into other peoples business.

Posted by: Dan | October 16, 2007 1:42 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Dan. I quit smoking about a year ago. I quit for health reasons, not because it is a "disgusting habit" as some people say. In fact, I really miss smoking and all I have left to enjoy is 2nd hand smoke. Now, because of the ban, I don't even have THAT.

Posted by: eric wexler | October 16, 2007 2:02 PM | Report abuse

Fritz, people smoke all the time at Ozio, a bar in Dupont. Is Ozio exempt too? And like the poster before me said, Rumors, too.

Posted by: ESB | October 16, 2007 3:09 PM | Report abuse

ESB - According to, Ozio's has an exemption from the smoking ban.

Rumor's isn't listed as a bar with an exemption but it may have obtained one recently ... or people are smoking there anyway and it is in violation of the ban.

For anyone not familiar with the ban, has some good information on it. Note that I don't agree with the ban ... Just wanted to point people to a good resource about it.

Posted by: Shadowboxer | October 16, 2007 3:42 PM | Report abuse

I am a semi-regular at Aroma and I am very sorry that they lifted the smoking ban there. It was nice to be able to sit in a bar like Aroma without being inundated with smoke. Maybe I won't go there as much now.

Posted by: CP denizen | October 16, 2007 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Ozio has an exemption. If you're smoking in a bar that doesn't have an exemption -- Chi Cha, Shelly's, Gazuza, Agua Ardiente, Ollie's Trolley, Ozio and now Aroma -- than both you and the bar can be fined.

Posted by: Fritz | October 16, 2007 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Look, before the ban the real choice for non-smokers was go out vs. don't go out, because just a few people smoking in a place makes the whole place reek, and everywhere had at least a few people smoking. This way is much more fair - those who don't want to go outside to smoke can find special places with like-minded people without forcing bad choices on the rest of us (who happen to have a stronger sense of self-preservation). I'm so sick of all the whining from smokers who have contributed so greatly to my dry cleaning bill and polluted my lungs in previous years!

Posted by: Nicole | October 16, 2007 4:28 PM | Report abuse

and Dan, I don't care what you do until it's in my personal airspace, because then it is _you_ in my business, not the other way around.

Posted by: Nicole | October 16, 2007 4:29 PM | Report abuse

Guess where I won't be going!

Posted by: ChickieBaby | October 16, 2007 4:32 PM | Report abuse

Call out the PC police! We who know what's best for everyone cannot allow a bar to exist that lets people enjoy smoking. Freedom can be a dangerous concept!

Posted by: concernedcitizen3 | October 17, 2007 1:01 AM | Report abuse

i used to be a regular at aroma and have definitely noticed a severe dropoff in business, but it seems to have more to do with the departure of long-time staff (lilly and bill...and now, krishna). their business started suffering at least 8 months before the smoking ban even went into effect.

Posted by: adrienne | October 17, 2007 2:38 AM | Report abuse

I'm headed to ARoma w/ a full pack and my last lung.

Posted by: ERC | October 17, 2007 9:18 AM | Report abuse

I think they ought to have an exemption on whether the Health Department inspects their kitchen for rodents. It shouldn't be up to The Big, Bad Government to tell a private establishment whether or not they allow their customers to consume rat feces.

Darned anti-rat do-gooders!

Posted by: Josh | October 17, 2007 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Who goes there? The place reaks of curry. At least the smell of smoke cancels out the curry smell.

Posted by: Aroma LOL? | October 17, 2007 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Even my love of smoking won't take me back to that place. The manager/bartender (Derek? Eric?) is always REALLY rude to everyone. Aroma is lame now.

Posted by: anonymous | October 17, 2007 2:47 PM | Report abuse


It's a bar. It has never had a kitchen. You must be confusing it with some other place.

Posted by: Uh? | October 17, 2007 2:57 PM | Report abuse

The manager's name is Eric and, as I've said before, he's a nice person if you are nice to him. If you f with him, he will f with you.

Posted by: Cleveland Park denizen | October 17, 2007 6:05 PM | Report abuse

I too was at Aroma this week and was a little freaked out at the smoking. What a let down. Aroma used to be a cool bar to hang out at. Losing good staff and pushing smoke on everyone is just annoying. They oughta be ashamed they can't muster enough attention w/o smoking. Get creative, people!

Posted by: nightowlgal | October 18, 2007 10:26 AM | Report abuse

All you people pushing the "freedom" argument KNOW that it doesn't REALLY apply to smoking because you cannot smoke in a public place without affecting the health and well-being of the people around you. So it's not a simple argument of "what you do with your body is your business as long as you're not hur . . ." Oh wait. Yes. This is where the argument breaks down.

If you don't support the smoking ban, just say you don't support it; but don't use some half-cocked argument that wouldn't even win you a high-school debate.

Posted by: Cin_in_DC | October 18, 2007 5:37 PM | Report abuse

If air filtration machines can make the air in a welding shop OSHA safe, it can handle bar smoke too.

Posted by: Bill Hannegan | October 18, 2007 6:59 PM | Report abuse

I still wouldn't go to Aroma. I pretty much gave up on DC bars back in January when the ban first started, and now only go if I'm doing happy hour with my co-workers.

Shout out to all the people at Shooter McGee's, which is N.Va's answer to Cheers. Even though I'm consistently the youngest patron, I'm still treated nicely.

Posted by: YourStrawberry23 | October 19, 2007 9:37 AM | Report abuse

I am a local. I used to love my neighborhood bar Aroma EXCEPT for the smoke. I am completely bummed that they are allowing smoking again and will definitely stop going. :( The air circulation is horrible in that bar. Why would I choose to suck someone else's exhaust when there are a half dozen other non-smoking bars right next door?? I think they are going to lose more business this way, because all their non-smoking regulars will move to another CP pub. (Pre-ban, we had no choice but to go to smoking bar.)

And yes, the real reason they lost business was the loss of fantastic staff and a great DJ - because that was a big part of the atmosphere. Their GM is an idiot ruining a formerly great bar.

P.S. Krishna, you are a god! We'll miss you.

Posted by: Bummed | October 19, 2007 11:27 AM | Report abuse

The government expects the tax revenue from smoking to pay for programs like healthcare, SCHIP, and other stuff. While at the same time they are banning the use of the product. The only logical correction is to allow some exemptions.

It should really be up to the bar owner if they want to be smoke free. Afterall, nothing stopped them from not allowing smoking in the bar before. Point being, not one bar owner would ever do it because its not what the majority of people going to a bar wants.

For those few anti-smoking, complaining people out there who yell how stinky the smoke is and their clothes stick. Go somewhere else and drink, like home or a bowling alley. Its like walking into a bar and complaining you smell beer. dah!

The fires in CA have produced more smoke and toxins in the air than years of combined smoking in the USA.

You "do gooders" who complain most certainly are not driving around a hybrid car and have solar panels on your house either. My little bit of tobacco smoke is NOTHING compared to the percent of toxins you put into the air from other activities.

Before you know it, we will not even be able to cook outside on the grill if the smoke blows across the yard into a neighbors yard.

Point being, there are bigger and better things to worry about than my little cigarette on an evening out. Quit taking away my rights because at some point its going to start to effect you as well.

Posted by: Eric | November 8, 2007 2:04 AM | Report abuse

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