WINCHESTER — A proposal for a downtown hookah bar has been forwarded for a final vote by City Council.
Even if approved, however, owner Emad Khazem may face additional challenges from the state before opening The Hookah Bar and Cafe Night Club at 30 E. Piccadilly St., site of the former Winchester Newsstand.
During council’s work session on Tuesday night, Councilor Kim Herbstritt noted that Virginia’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) authority requires any establishment with a license to serve alcohol to also serve food.
According to ABC regulations, “a minimum 45 percent of the total gross sales must be from food and nonalcoholic beverages. Conversely, alcohol sales should comprise no more than 55 percent of these sales.”
This shouldn’t be a problem for Khazem, whose business plan for the 21-and-older establishment calls for The Hookah Bar to serve both alcohol and prepared food.
But Herbstritt also noted that restaurants with areas designated for smokers must take measures to ensure that tobacco smoke does not interfere with non-smoking customers or adjacent buildings.
Virginia Code section 15.2-2825 requires that “any portion of a restaurant ... where smoking may be permitted is (i) structurally separated from the portion of the restaurant in which smoking is prohibited and to which ingress and egress is through a door and (ii) separately vented to prevent the recirculation of air from such area to the area of the restaurant where smoking is prohibited.”
“We’ve got to make certain things are in place to prevent that air from getting into other buildings,” Councilor Judy McKiernan said in support of Herbstritt’s concerns.
Virginia Code also states that restaurants that allow smoking must have a separate entrance for non-smokers. However, that rule does not apply to buildings that existed prior to Dec. 1, 2009, an indication that the Piccadilly Street property that was built in 1900 is exempt from the separate-entrance requirement.
Councilor Corey Sullivan said Herbstritt raised valid points, but City Council’s task is to decide if The Hookah Bar qualifies for a conditional-use permit (CUP) that would allow the establishment to operate in the Historic District building that has been vacant since the Winchester Newsstand closed on July 15, 2018. The issuance of state permits or licenses would then have to be worked out between Khazem and the commonwealth.
Councilor John Willingham said The Hookah Bar, which would allow communal smoking using water pipes, is unfairly being held to “a different standard” than other Winchester businesses that sell tobacco, including the John B. Hayes Tobacconist store half a block to the east at 50 E. Piccadilly St. For example, the city’s Planning Department recommends that a condition of Khazem’s CUP include much more signage warning patrons of the dangers of smoking than is required of the city’s other tobacco sellers.
“If you know you’re walking into a hookah bar or tobacco shop, you’re inherently taking risks,” Willingham said.
Herbstritt also said the proposed hookah bar would be near several downtown apartments and next door to Froggy’s Closet, a nonprofit at 32 E. Piccadilly St. that provides free clothing, shoes, diapers, car seats, toys, programs and more to at-risk and foster children.
McKiernan agreed, saying The Hookah Bar may be an unsuitable neighbor for an organization frequented by children.
The remaining members of City Council favored Khazem’s proposal and voted 7-2 to forward his CUP request to their next meeting on June 9. The only opposing votes were cast by Herbstritt and McKiernan.
Attending Tuesday night’s City Council work session, which was held via videoconference, were Mayor and council President David Smith, Vice Mayor John Hill, council Vice President Evan Clark and members Les Veach, Bill Wiley, Kim Herbstritt, Corey Sullivan, John Willingham and Judy McKiernan.