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Smoking: Down but Not Out in Beverly Hills

May 10, 1987|Tom Schiller | Tom Schiller, one of the original writers and film makers for "Saturday Night Live," is currently working on an air-exhaust system for the Los Angeles Basin..

At 8:42 last Thursday night, Klaus and Maria Wiener, of Frankfurt, West Germany, walked into Mr. Chew's restaurant on Camden Drive. After a delicious meal, Klaus, as was his custom, lit up a Schimmelpenninck cigar. Within 15 minutes he was arrested, separated from his wife and thrown into the Beverly Hills jail pending receipt of a stiff fine.

All this in the wake of the new ruling by the Beverly Hills City Council prohibiting smoking in restaurants. As a result of Wiener's incarceration, his wife had to get a job to raise enough money to spring him. Klaus himself said, "I hate Beverly Hills now."

Smokers and restaurateurs alike are annoyed at the new tough anti-smoking laws and look for ways to circumvent them.

One restaurant, Le Parc Place on Bedford, adopted a radical plan developed by aeronautical designer Raoul Pivnic. Smokers were escorted to a raised platform in the middle of the restaurant with millions of microminiature air suction ducts above and below tables. The installation failed, however, when two male customers lost their hairpieces in the machinery.

A smoker who refuses to be identified has invented a literal smoke screen. He enters the restaurant equipped with surgical plastic nose tubing hooked up to an asbestos-lined briefcase. Ingeniously concealed within is a special device that holds a lit cigarette. Smoke is sucked away via a vacuum tube similar to a dentist's saliva drainer. The hard part is lighting the cigarette inside the briefcase.

Sgt. Dick Blalog of the Beverly Hills Police Department's new Butt-Out Squad is in charge of enforcing the recent ruling. "It can get pretty hairy sometimes," the rugged officer, himself an anti-smoker, admits. "Last Monday we were called to make an arrest at the Kalifornia Kanalone Kitchen on South Beverly Drive. I observed a 73-year-old woman refusing to extinguish her cigarette after repeated warnings from the manager. It wasn't pretty, trying to rustle a smoke away from an old lady, but the law is the law--I merely enforce it." Ironically, the woman, an ex-dancer, once achieved fame as the tap-dancing pack of Lucky Strikes on the old "Hit Parade" TV show.

Lawbreakers are placed in the "Smoke Tank" and subjected to repeated showings of a documentary made by Emmy-award winning Oscar Stoneblatz. Done in Andy Warhol style, it is the grueling account of "Trudy," who endlessly chain-smokes to Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance." "If that doesn't cure them, nothing will," says Stoneblatz, chewing on betel leaves, a habit he picked up when he stopped smoking during the filming.

Meanwhile, Jack Lishness, owner of the Shanghai Dumpling restaurant on El Camino, has solved the problem by hiring seductive cigarette girls who lure customers away from the table and out back, where alfresco smoking is legal. Wives and girlfriends are upset, but Lishness promises to have Chippendale-type "cigarette boys" soon.

La Rodeo Jardins allows smoking under the stars. Entrepreneur Alfredo Frescati was inspired to change his name to Al Fresco. He leases himself out for the evening, sits at your table and when you light up, assures any complainers that you're dining Al Fresco. There are related legal questions, however; $200-an-hour Beverly Hills lawyers are chain-smoking as they seek answers.

If ashtray sales are down, Beverly Hills sign painters are enjoying a golden era. Shirley Umberto, owner of Le Semiotic Shoppe on Camden says "Thank you for not smoking" is being replaced by "Don't even think of smoking here."

Fortunately for restaurant owners, there is an indoor loophole. The law allows smoking inside a restaurant connected to a hotel. A rash of eat, smoke and sleep hostelries are in the planning stages.

El Knish may join with the Matchbox and Le Badinage to create a chain of smokers' hotel-restaurants. Innhales will feature food and accommodations for the gourmet puffer. "Sleepy Pete's Diner," slated for little Santa Monica, projects "couchette" dining. Maitre d' Sal Delmonico explains that after a delicious meal, customers may recline in convertible dining chairs, acquired from the French Railway System, and smoke to their heart's content--legally. Nathan Hale's delicatessen is talking about rooms and cots built in back near the last booths. A smokesperson said, "It'll be the only hotel in town featuring gefilte fish for room service. Of course, the usual smoked dishes will be available."

Ralph Curity, president of Gazebo Hotel Group Ltd., unveiled plans for the multimillion-dollar Au Dormir Fume Smoke 'n Sleep Restaurant equipped with walk-in humidors and smoked-glass partitions, protected by fireproof bed and table linen. He is particularly proud of the projected Carmen Room, with portraits of opera's famous cigarette girl.

It is said that primitive man lived, ate and breathed in smoky environments. Perhaps that is why there are still some people who enjoy dining in smoke-filled rooms or lighting foot-long cigars after dinner. Although I'm not a smoker, I don't care whether people smoke or not in restaurants as long as it isn't blowing directly in my face. Some of my most memorable meals were prepared by chefs with cigarettes dangling out of their mouths.

To be sure, we are ruining our lungs and the ozone layer with all manner of smoke, auto exhaust and belching factories. But how much more are we ruining it with clouded, anxiety-ridden thoughts, frenzied activity and hostile competition?

Perhaps the greatest anxiety among Beverly Hills restaurateurs is that smokers will start eating down the road in hated Century City.

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