My View/Bart Ely – European view of sidewalk dining from Old Towners perspective


Last week, while vacationing in Florence, Italy, I naturally dined in many restaurants.  At least in Florence, there is a strictly enforced smoking ban in restaurants that has been in place for five years, but no ban on smoking in the restaurants’ outdoor dining areas. 

In the City’s ongoing effort to attract businesses and tourists to Alexandria, and particularly to Old Town, Council has revised its outdoor seating policy for Old Town restaurants to now ban smoking at outdoor seats even though smoking is permitted inside restaurants.  This ban was confirmed by a City zoning inspector I chatted with recently at Bittersweet Restaurant on King Street.

It also is my understanding that there will be some sort of restriction on pets in outdoor dining areas — I am less certain on this point.  Presumably restaurateurs will have to enforce this smoking ban and any pet ban or face fines — that will make for a pleasant dining experience.  One wonders how this smoking ban will be regarded by tourists from National Harbor looking for fun times on the Fun Side of the Potomac.

I have never been a smoker and I don’t particularly like cigarette smoke, much preferring cigar and pipe smoke of others.  However, I strongly object to such nanny-statism. 

Also, it is not clear to me that the City has the authority from the General Assembly to ban smoking in outdoor eating areas since it is fairly clear that it does not have the authority from the General Assembly to ban smoking inside restaurants.  Possibly the City has overstepped its authority and faces expensive litigation over this issue.  The City of Alexandria has imposed a smoking ban for the outdoor seating areas even though the City apparently does not have the authority to ban smoking inside restaurants.

Leaving aside whether the City has the legal authority to ban smoking in the outdoor seating areas, it is not clear to me how smoking in outdoor dining areas can be so harmful to people when smoking has otherwise not been banned from the City’s sidewalks, at least not yet.

Bert Ely lives in Old Town.