It's no fun clawing through a sea of smoke as you step outside of your favorite restaurant or bar. And smokers aren't stoked about standing out on the sidewalk while the cold beer mocks them from inside.
After banning indoor smoking nearly two years ago, City of Charleston zoning officials are giving pedestrians a little room to breath and providing smokers with an alternative to busy city sidewalks.
The city refused a back patio at Mad River Bar & Grille on North Market Street in 2007. But a smaller patio received the thumbs up last week, largely due to the need for smoking space. Charleston banned smoking inside all businesses in July 2007 after years of debate, but with little consideration of 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."
"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 streets 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.
Last week, Mellow Mushroom owners announced that they were able to win approval for the patio:
"When the patio is complete it will have a lush tropical feel," a press release from the restaurant states. "Since there are residential apartments next to the Mellow Mushroom, it will not have an outdoor bar, live music, and will have reduced hours by closing at midnight instead of 2 a.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.