Clearing the smoke

Clearing the smoke

You know how it goes. The first one to adopt a new trend is always viewed suspiciously, if not scorned and ridiculed. Take, for example, the first few daring folks to don flared jeans just a few years ago. Admit it. Many of you in your high-waisted, tapered Levi’s looked down on the mavericks in their reborn bell-bottoms. Until, of course, the trend went mainstream and you realized you were the one hopelessly out of style. Now, apparently, the high-waisted, skinny business is making a comeback, and Restaurantarama is thoroughly confused and avoiding denim altogether, but we digress. The point is, trendsetters are often doubted, and so it goes with restaurant no-smoking policies in this town.

Smoke doesn’t get in your eyes: The entire Downtown Grille, including its bar area, is now playing a nonsmoking tune, even though a proposed restaurant smoking ban failed to pass in the 2007 General Assembly.

The Downtown Grille raised quite a few eyebrows on April 1 when it voluntarily made the entire restaurant, including the bar area, smoke-free (you can still smoke on the patio, however). And this after the proposed restaurant smoking ban failed to pass in the 2007 General Assembly session. Is the Downtown Grille ahead of its time or just crazy?

The truth is, deep down, we all know the writing is on the wall for those who like to light up after their liquor and lobster. According to the last count of the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation, 21 states and the District of Columbia currently ban smoking in restaurants and 16 of those also ban smoking in bars. Restaurantarama predicts Virginia (yes, the fourth-highest tobacco-producing state) will get on board sometime this…century. It only makes sense, then, that a few places would just get it over with and become early adopters. But a traditional New York-style steak, seafood and cigar establishment? That’s pretty risky, right? Apparently many of you think so, because the rumors have been flying that business has suffered and that former Downtown Grille regulars are huffing and puffing over, well, the lack of huffing and puffing at their former favored hangout. We checked in with Downtown Grille manager and partner Robert Sawrey to clear the smoke on the smoke once and for all.
Of the four-month-old policy Sawrey says he’s "very happy we did it." And while he admits that he probably did lose a few regulars from the bar area, he’s says he’s had a net gain of customers since effecting the ban. In fact, the restaurant’s sales have exceeded the same period last year, he says.

Sawrey (who was wearing, incidentally, a very classic pair of straight-legged jeans when we spoke to him) says it was regular complaints from some of his other customers that finally convinced him to enact the policy, and it’s one, he points out, that maintains the Manhattan style that the establishment has had since opening its doors in 1999. All of Manhattan’s eateries, after all, are now smoke-free by law.  

So there you have it folks. The Downtown Grille’s no-light up policy did not, in fact, backfire. And the bar area was renovated in June to add cozy black leather booths to accommodate the additional diners who are now actually willing to eat a full course dinner there free of unsavory smoke rings. Check it out yourselves. All the cool kids are doing it.

Kiss these grits

In some of the best news since Restaurantarama learned eating a big breakfast is good for the waistline, Maya is now serving Sunday brunch. As of Sunday, August 5, the W. Main Street spot for upscale Southern fare officially opened its doors to nourish you after your Saturday night benders with its special version of the Bloody Mary with pickled green beans, eggs Benedict with country ham on a biscuit and other countrified brunch munchies all of which pair oh so nicely with a side of Maya’s stellar, homemade grits.   

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