Gotham filters its social scene

Party planners forced to cope with city's nicotine withdrawal

Gotham’s new smoking restrictions have yet to extinguish industryites the party circuit.

By week two of the city’s new prohibition era, Variety had spotted “The Shape of Things” co-stars Gretchen Mol and Rachel Weisz and editor-“The Kid Stays in the Picture” producer Graydon Carter puffing away at soirees for their pics, and one of the city’s gossip watchdogs had already outed pop chanteuse Britney Spears for inhaling illicitly.

Party planners and venue owners, meanwhile, have no choice but to cope with nicotine withdrawal in the wake of the new restrictions.

On May 1, it was out with the ashtrays , when the month long grace period on new smoking restrictions ended. Special events — even those closed to the public — are subject to the same rules as bars and clubs everywhere: no smoking. Outdoor spaces are exempt; covered outdoor spaces (like tents) are not.

A few weeks into the new law, planners are still struggling to figure out how best to comply with the law and keep their guests happy. In Gotham, it is much easier to give up carbs than to forsake cigarettes.

“Anyone who does PR or plans special events needs to address this issue,” says Nancy Kane of the Susan Magrino Agency. “In the past, we’ve designated smoking in a separate room anyway. Now the question is, how will they smoke and what are the ramifications for us?”

“We now have to indicate if there are patios for smoking,” says special events producer/club owner Noah Tepperberg. Some sites, like restaurant Serafina and the World Bar, took a creative approach to the prohibition. Serafina’s menu includes items such as gnocchi and panna cotta, flavored with tobacco (just like Mamma used to make). World Bar has created a “smokeless Manhattan” cocktail out of ingredients like flamed orange peel to replicate a puff.

David Sarner of lounge Rehab gave away Nicorette gum to help people cope, only to have to deal with scraping gum off his floors.

The burden of the law falls on venue owners, not on scofflaw patrons or party planners, so venue owners are understandably concerned about the ramifications, not to mention expense, from the ban. Violations mean a $200-400 fine for the first offense. Repeat violations can result in possible suspension or revocation of a permit.

Luckily for most hosts, guests seem to be abiding by the law and excusing themselves outside.

“It hasn’t been a huge problem yet, thank god,” sighs club owner Eytan Sugarman of Suede, who worries that his staff will have to patrol the venue like policemen. “But some people do feel more of a sense of entitlement.”

Sugarman is among club owners considering adding a clause to contracts with events planners stipulating responsibility for those caught lighting up.

Those tempted to look the other way as celeb partygoers puff away must contend with press stumbling upon a proverbial smoking gun and charges of preferential treatment denied their nicotine fix. .

Non-celebs at “The Shape of Things” after-bow bash at Gotham’s Independent restaurant grumbled when they were forced to cough up their cigarettes as the film’s stars puffed away undisturbed. At least one club requires partygoers to check their cigarettes at the door.

“Because there’s a special event with client objectives and media there, you’re really under the microscope,” Tepperberg says.Organizers have had to beef up their security staff for smoker re-entry to parties. . Now dashing out for a quick puff means wristbands and handstamps to separate guests from crashers and other hoi polloi. “In New York City, you’re limited to the sidewalk, which is a public area,” says Kane. “Photographers or slightly crazed fans have the right to be out there. Paparazzi lines will have to be better defined.”

A spokesman in the mayor’s office says that events held in public spaces must adhere to the smoking law for worker safety reasons. However, an event held at a private home falls outside of jurisdiction even if there are caterers working that night. An event sponsored by a tobacco company also passes muster.

While club owners are largely abiding by the law, not everyone has given up without a fight.

David Rabin, prexy of the New York Night Life Association and co-owner of the Union Bar and Lotus, has been vocal about the effect the ban has had on businesses thus far.

“Every argument we made has come to fruition: places are closing and laying off employees,” he says.

Angst levels are expected to spike further during cooler weather. And to further complicate things, yet more restriction go into effect July 25 courtesy state legislation.

Still, planner/marketer Lyman Carter of Plug remains optimistic for his colleagues.

“It won’t affect an event that’s packaged properly,” he says. “The brand, the spectacle, we’re all diehards — we live in New York and love to go out.”

(Additional reporting by Gabrielle Mitchell-Marell)

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