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Posted at 2:09 PM ET, 12/ 4/2009

Despite ban, Wilson Boulevard is still smoking

By Fritz Hahn

At Whitlow's on Wilson last night, it seemed like any other Thursday -- a band played on the stage in the restaurant, patrons carried around large plastic mugs of beer that they could refill for $1.50, and friends played pool and hung out at the bar, cigarettes in hand.

Wait, wasn't smoking banned in Virginia as of Dec. 1? Well, yes and no.

For most bars and restaurants, smoking is now limited to outdoor areas. But the law allows smoking indoors if there's a walled-off and separately ventilated space.

Whitlow's was able to take advantage of this rule because the large room known as the Sandbar -- the games room with pool tables and a large patio -- was a separate, adjoining building until 10 years ago, when Whitlow's purchased it, explains assistant general manager Nadim Kouttab. At that time, managers added some doors between the buildings and installed a bar. Now, they're keeping the doors closed between the original Whitlow's, which is smoke-free, and the Sandbar. "It has its own pre-existing ventilation system," Kouttab says. "When the law was passed, we went over the logistics with a fine-tooth comb and realized we were one of the few establishments that could do this."

Ruling out smoking altogether, he says, "was never really an option."

Other Arlington bars are also trying hard to accommodate smokers. The Clarendon Grill, which voluntarily banned smoking last year, has one of the most elaborate setups: a temporary roof over its large back patio and bar. Rows of heat lamps hang from the ceiling to keep things toasty.

I checked out nightspots along Wilson Boulevard from Rosslyn to Ballston to see if they're doing anything special for smokers, and it's a mixed bag. At Ragtime, a lone heater and cigarette-butt receptacle stood on the sidewalk by the front door. The Front Page has a few heaters on its patio. Galaxy Hut covered its narrow side patio with awnings, but the space isn't heated. Velocity Five installed two tall plastic ashtrays on its huge covered patio. (And conveniently, there's a TV so smokers don't have to miss the game.) But at Eventide, the roof deck is completely closed until April.

There could be good news coming from Gua-Rapo, which may be able to allow hookah smoking at its upstairs bar again once some construction work is done, but there's no timetable for that yet.

Know of any other bars with good setups for smokers? Add your comments or send an e-mail to

-- Fritz Hahn

By Fritz Hahn  | December 4, 2009; 2:09 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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Smoking in bars is disgusting and I'm glad VA has finally banned it. Shame on those bars for finding loopholes.

Posted by: horace1 | December 4, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

This is awesome. Before, you had to seek out the places that were smoke free. Now its the opposite. My lungs feel better already!

Posted by: cbr1 | December 4, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for posting this so as I non-smoker I'll know which bars to not give my business. You can add Bailey's to the list too, which is continuing to allow smoking in not just 1, but 2 out of its 3 main areas, thus nearly completely catering to smokers.

I realize the separately-ventilated-room loophole is a great victory for smokers but I hope other non-smokers will join me in supporting the fine Arlington establishments that fully uphold the ban and put a premium on public health :)

Posted by: amyg8r | December 4, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

yay for bars in VA for being able to keep all kinds of patron's happy.

and people, its a bar - smoking is practically expected in bars... its like banning liquor. i keep hoping that they overturn the law anyway - and mind you im a NON smoker - i just think its wrong to MAKE privately owned establishment go non-smoking. if you are a non smoker and dont like the smoke, go elsewhere. and if the owners wanted your business they would have gone non smoking earlier. supply and demand folks.

Posted by: spaganya | December 5, 2009 3:09 AM | Report abuse

I've been to two shows in local Charlottesville bars this week and almost passed out from the abundance of O2 and lack of cigarette smoke. I'll be going out a lot more often now that I know I won't be putting my health and clean clothes at risk (often have I wondered, coming home after a night out, "If that got into my shirt, what's gotten into my _lungs_?").

If anything, establishments will make money off of this because nonsmokers like myself will be going out much more often. Like most whiny minorities, smokers have tended to consider themselves the sum of the universe and ignored everyone else. There are 3x as many nonsmokers as there are smokers - we'll gladly make up your shortfall in night club spending. It's about time the rest of us stopped suffering just because when you were in high school you thought getting addicted to that cr@p was cool. Most of you now would give your lives to be able to quit, and a third of you will give your lives because you can't. Dumb people, dumb choices. What else is there to say?

Posted by: treetopflyer | December 6, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

Nick's Nightclub (the country place out in Alexandria) has one of the seperate rooms with its own ventilation system (the back room where karaoke is held) so smoking is allowed there.

Posted by: iseedc | December 8, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Ramparts in Fairlington still caters to smokers. Smoking is allowed in the large, main bar area which is in a separate room with its own ventilation. The smaller dining room (with its very small bar) is non-smoking. As a non-smoker who frequented this neighborhood pub, I think I'll look for an actual non-smoking bar to hang out at now.

Posted by: misterbeauregard | December 8, 2009 7:35 PM | Report abuse

It amazes me how many of thse people who complain about smoking will probably over-drink and get behind a wheel. Smoking is bad for you.. Yes we understand that... But so is drinking and eating fatty foods and to some religions, pork and to vegitarians -- eating ANY meat might put them in a frenzy. Until they make smoking ILLEGAL... I say the bar and restaruant should be allowed to do as they please. It is a privately owned place that pays taxes. If you don't want to go there then don't.. it is up to you (as it should be of the owner of his establishment)~~

Posted by: JRybka1611 | December 9, 2009 4:00 PM | Report abuse

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