Pictured: Mushroom co-owner Michael Shem-Tov at the site of the new King Street patio
After banning indoor smoking nearly two years ago, zoning officials at the City of Charleston made a move on Tuesday to give smokers an alternative to busy city sidewalks.
A request for a back patio at Mad River Bar & Grille on North Market Street was refused in 2007. But a new effort for a smaller patio received the thumbs up from city staff and the Board of Zoning Appeals largely due to the need for smoking space. The City of Charleston banned smoking in all indoor businesses in July 2007 after years of debate on the impact it would have on businesses, but with little conversation about where the smokers would go.
“What’s happening now is that there’s a large crowd of people on the front sidewalk on Market Street,” says Lee Batchelder, the city’s zoning director. “It’s more noticeable in this area because of the proximity of other bars and restaurants.
Nearby venues include the Market Street Saloon, Wild Wing Cafe, Purple Tree Lounge, and Henry’s Bar and Restaurant, among others.
“I think there’s a real need to provide outdoor space for these establishments,” Batchelder says, though not naming specific bars or restaurants.
The solution is a bit more palatable at Mad River because the building at the corner of East Bay and North Market Street has more space in the back than most downtown bars. The patio will include an outdoor bar (until 11 p.m.) and limited table seating.
Preservationists and representatives from the Ansonborough neighborhood opposed the request.
“This is just providing a bar and music, and it’s an intrusion into the neighborhood,” says Robert Gurley, executive director of the Charleston Preservation Society.
The zoning board refused a request for outside speakers, fearing the sound might travel a few blocks, affecting downtown residents.
A similar request last year for a rooftop patio at Mellow Mushroom on King Street was shot down by the zoning board because of opposition from the owners of the building next door, who had rental units that would have been adjacent to the roof-top patio.
On Thursday, Mellow Mushroom owners announced that they were able to work with the city to win approval for the patio:
"When the patio is complete it will have a lush tropical feel," according to a release. "Since there are residential apartments next to the Mellow Mushroom, there will not have an outdoor bar, live music, and will have reduced hours by closing at midnight instead of 2a.m. The focus instead will be on outdoor dining."
These successful requests could be followed by more businesses. Batchelder says patrons need a place to smoke.
“That shouldn’t be on the sidewalk in front of the business if at all possible,” he says.