This Saturday, July 3, marks the one-year anniversary of the Albuquerque Clean Indoor Air Ordinance, which banned smoking in city restaurants. If you recall, restaurants were given until this July to bring their in-house bars into compliance with stricter ventilation requirements or forbid smoking in them. According to Leo Bottos of the Environmental Health Department, most establishments have chosen to go nonsmoking rather than completely enclose their bars and install separate ventilation systems.
The ordinance defines a "restaurant bar" as one in which 50 percent or more of the gross revenues come from the sale of booze. The bar must be completely enclosed, with floor-to-ceiling walls and self-closing doors. The ventilation system must be separate, it must exchange the air in the bar at least every 15 minutes and it must maintain negative pressure so that smoke doesn't rush out into the restaurant when the door is opened. The bar area can't be bigger than the restaurant area and it can't include entrances, bathrooms or anything like that. Basically, if you don't smoke, you should never have to come into contact with smoke in a restaurant (unless you work there!).
So far, only a handful of restaurants have submitted renovation plans. Among them is The Quarters on the Westside. The popular barbecue restaurant chose to make their location on Yale nonsmoking but on the Westside, where the city line cuts a jagged line through a particularly restaurant-dense area, they chose to allow smoking. According to the restaurant's manager, Christy Dotson, they noticed an increase in business when the city's ban went into effect last year, as patrons who smoke packed into the 100-seat-capacity bar at The Quarters. Rather than lose that business to nearby restaurants that are outside city limits—and therefore not bound by the smoking ordinance—they chose to enclose the bar with glass walls. A powerful, separate ventilation system had been installed during construction of the building, she said.
At Great American Land and Cattle (Tramway and Indian School), General Manager Jerry Wright said that his whole restaurant went nonsmoking last year. The transition was easier than he had expected, Wright said, and most customers adjusted well, asking for tables on the patio if they choose to smoke. "Honestly, it didn't hurt me that bad," he said, "Now beef prices ..."
Many restaurant owners I spoke with wished that the smoking ban were state-wide instead of applying only to Albuquerque. Then city restaurant owners wouldn't have to worry that customers who smoke would defect to smoke-friendly restaurants in Los Ranchos, Bernalillo or on the Pueblos.
As of late June, with less than two weeks left before the deadline, several restaurants I contacted hadn't quite made up their minds yet on whether to comply with the new rules or quit allowing smoking. Beginning on Saturday, though, they'll face fines of up to $500 for allowing customers to puff without having met the new requirements.
For more information about the ordinance or to make a complaint, call the Environmental Health Department at 768-2600.