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Where There's Smoke, There's the Shadow of AB 13

June 16, 1995|KATHIE JENKINS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lots of restaurants are throwing private cigar dinners these days. There's just one problem: Most of them are breaking the law.

According to Assembly Bill 13, which took effect Jan. 1, lighting up is banned in most indoor workplaces and virtually all restaurants throughout California. You can, however, smoke in the bar in most places--at least for the moment.

To get around the law, many restaurants--Silver Grille in Beverly Hills, Cameron's in Pasadena, Aioli in Torrance, L'Opera Ristorante in Long Beach, to name a few--are either setting aside a special room or closing their restaurant for the night and holding "private" cigar dinners.

Last week the owners of L'Opera, who had scheduled a cigar dinner in the restaurant's private dining room, received a surprise phone call from the city of Long Beach. It was Theresa Marino, project director for the city's tobacco education program, informing them that by allowing their employees to serve the meal, the restaurant was in violation of the smoking ordinance. "They've made it a workplace situation," Marino says. "And AB 13 says there's no smoking in the workplace."

These cigar dinners also raise the issue of what constitutes a "private" dinner. "A lot of these cigar dinners are heavily promoted and open to the public," says Cynthia Hallett, chronic disease projects coordinator for L.A. County's Department of Health Services. "If the event is publicized and anyone can attend, it's hardly private."

L'Opera's cigar dinner (scheduled for tonight) is still taking place. The determined owners are going to serve the food themselves in order to get around the law. (Service may be a little slow!) But Marino says the owners are still breaking the law. "California legislative counsel interprets cigar dinners in violation of AB 13 because the restaurant is still a workplace whether employees are present or not," she says.

"I can't believe this," responds L'Opera co-owner Enzo DeMuro, when informed that he and his partners would still be breaking the law. "I'm going to do it anyway. I have 60 people coming to dinner tonight and my customers are my first priority. . . . And we are going to have a lot of fun."

DeMuro has some leeway before any possible punishment. A restaurant doesn't get a $100 fine until its fourth citation. The next fine would be $200 and any subsequent citations within the year would be $500.

Schatzi in Santa Monica, Bambu in Malibu, I Cugini in Santa Monica and Eclipse on Melrose have been holding cigar dinners on their patios. "That's OK, because it's outside," Hallett says. "My question is what will they do in November when it gets a little colder?"

Pasadena restaurateurs have their own smoking problems. Two years before AB 13 passed, the city put through its own strict smoking policy. To get it passed, its sponsors had to compromise with the local restaurant association. Smoking would be allowed in certain special circumstances: in a separate dining room and only if a separate ventilation system was installed.

Cameron's was one of a dozen Pasadena restaurants that spent the money to accommodate its smoking customers, including cigar puffers. The restaurant plans to hold its first cigar dinner Aug. 3.

Technically, since AB 13 went into effect, even such designated dining rooms for smokers are now illegal, says Mel Lim, Pasadena's environmental health manager. But his office hasn't forced the issue yet. He says that won't happen until Jan. 1, 1997, when all bars in California will have to go smoke-free. "The majority of Pasadena's restaurants are already nonsmoking except for these 12," he says. "That might give these businesses enough time to recover their costs.

"It's put us in a predicament," Lim adds. "Here these restaurants spent $30,000 to 40,000 putting in the special rooms that the local ordinance allowed them to have. Then AB 13 comes in and screws things up."

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Spellbinder: A fancy plastic-covered press kit arrived in the mail last week from the California Restaurant Assn. touting its Western Restaurant Show at the Los Angeles Convention Center this summer. Too bad they didn't spend any money on a proofreader--the event had been misspelled "Western Restuarant Show" in big bold letters in two places on the cover.

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News From the North: Chefs Anne and David Gingrass opened Hawthorne Lane last week. The restaurant, a block from San Francisco's Museum of Modern Art and Moscone Center, is serving what they refer to as "San Francisco cuisine." Considering the husband-and-wife chef team are Spago alumni who opened and ran Wolfgang Puck's San Francisco restaurant Postrio for five years, you might reasonably expect the food to taste closer to "Los Angeles cuisine" . . . Paul Bertolli, who was chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley for 10 years, is now co-owner and chef of Oliveto, an Oakland cafe and restaurant . . . Grand Cafe, the Kimpton Group's latest creation, opens Wednesday adjacent to the new Hotel Monaco. Warning: If you call information for the number, be sure to ask for the Grand Cafe on Geary Street. The restaurant was inadvertently given the same name as Grand Cafe on Sixth Street.

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