Smoke if you got ’em: Washington DC to OK hotel smoking

Non-smokers probably won’t be too excited by the news, but cigar smokers will rejoice. The Washington DC City Council passed a measure last week that eases smoking restrictions on hotels in our nation’s capital. The Special Event Exemption Emergency Act of 2010 carries an amendment that offers a way for hotels to be exempted from the city’s smoking ban. If you prefer your hotels sans puffing, there’s no cause for alarm – the rules are pretty narrow.

Hotels will be allowed to host special cigar-smoking events once a year, as long as at least 500 people are in attendance (which means the venue must be large enough to accommodate this number of guests). Also, the hotel will have to notify the Department of Health and pay a $250 fee. Quite simply, it has to be a pretty hefty occasion.

As with any “emergency” measure, you’d be correct to assume that this law was passed with something specific in mind. In this case, it was the city’s annual St. Patrick’s Day dinner, organized by the social organization the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. Historically, the patron saint of Ireland is toasted with brandy and a cigar.

In Washington DC, most emergency legislation lasts for 90 days, but this measure stretches out for 270, as the council also wanted to protect a charity event called Friday Night Fight, which is held on November 11. Last year, it raised more than $2.8 million for Fight for Children.

Smithsonian draws more people, brings in extra cash

Last year wasn’t bad for everyone. The Smithsonian Institution returned to past glory, logging more than 30 million visits. Action at the Smithsonian hasn’t been this high since before the 9/11-related travel market slump. The 18 museums and galleries — and the zoo — saw an up-tick of 19.4 percent in 2009, up from 25.15 million visits the year before. The fact it’s free to visit probably helped. A difficult economy, magnified for the travel market, left those actually taking to the road to find ways to cut costs. Free attractions take a big item out of a trip’s budget (and one that can sneak up on you in size). And, extended hours over the summer brought in more bodies.

Because of the increase in traffic, revenue at museum stores, theaters and restaurants actually increased from 2008, a rarity in the travel any industry last year. At least some of the credit belongs to locals, since hotel occupancy rates stayed flat from 2008 to 2009. The American History Museum was the star of the Smithsonian collection, drawing 1.4 million more people than it did in 2005, the last full year before its recent renovation began. The National Museum of Natural History added 450,000 visitors, bringing the 2009 total to 7.4 million, making it tops in the Smithsonian. Only the National Air and Space Museum and National Museum of the American Indian experienced declines.

[Photo by mp_eds via Flickr]

Airport food nastier than airline food

And you thought airline food was nasty …

Airport restaurants have been spanked hundreds of times over the past year for food safety violations, according to a USA Today review of inspection records. Check it out – close to 800 restaurants in 10 airports had tuna and turkey sandwiches that weren’t kept cold enough, raw meat getting a little too chummy with ready-to-eat meals, rat droppings and kitchens that didn’t have soap for employee hand-washing.


Yea, it gets nastier. Forty-two percent of the 57 restaurants at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport were found to have at least one “critical” violation each. At Reagan National Airport, it was even more disgusting: 77 percent of 35 restaurants. These were violations of a caliber that make the risk of illness common.

JFK, apparently, isn’t so bad. According to the New York City health department, “Restaurants at JFK have had relatively few problems with rodents in comparison to restaurants citywide.”

That’s one hell of a vote of confidence!

[Photo by asplosh via Flickr]

NYC tops U.S. list of most expensive cities

It’s not exactly shocking to see that New York City is the most expensive city in the United States. Groceries, gasoline and other items tend to run a tad more than twice the national average. Whether you rent or buy, you’ll spend a fortune in this city, where the average price for a home is $1.1 million and an apartment, on average, will cost $3,400 a month.

So, how can so many bloggers live here? Remember: these are averages. That means someone has to be on the underside of them.

Housing prices were also among the reasons why San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. worked their way into top spots on the list. Average home prices shot past $600,000 in all four of these cities. In Austin, the average home price is a much more modest $226,998, and it’s even more comfortable in Nashville, at $201,020.

The measure used to determine the cost of leaving in each of the cities is based on expenses in six categories: groceries, housing (rent/mortgage), healthcare, utilities, transportation and miscellaneous items. The prices of 57 goods in these categories were used.Six of the most expensive cities in the country are in California, with four of them among the top 10. Texas has four – Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Dallas. Most of the costliest cities are on the two coasts, though Chicago (14), Las Vegas (18), Phoenix (25) and St. Louis (35) made the top 40.

The most surprising appearance on the list of most expensive places to live is Detroit. Even though it’s plagued by unemployment of 16.7 percent, utilities are expensive. Electricity costs an average of $243.56 a month, compared to a mere $141.64 in Atlanta.

The ten most expensive cities on the list are:

  1. New York City
  2. San Francisco
  3. San Jose
  4. Los Angeles
  5. Washington DC
  6. San Diego
  7. Boston
  8. Philadeplhia
  9. Seattle
  10. Baltimore

Check out the full list here.



[Photo via MigrantBlogger]

Washington DC to become gay marriage destination

A new bill passed by the Washington, D.C. city council is already getting the hotel community excited over the possibilities. When Mayor Adrian Fenty signs it into law, gay marriage will be legal in our nation’s capital. For the hotel industry, that means a larger market from which to draw wedding clients and pump up some revenue in what has been a dismal market for the travel and hospitality industry.

It looks like March is the earliest the law could take effect. Even though it’s still a few months away, that isn’t nearly enough time to plan a wedding! But, the deals are nonetheless starting to pop up. The Affinia Liaison Capitol Hill is celebrating by extending its Pride Package rates for a year, to December 31, 2010. The rates start at $199 a night and include daily breakfast for two at Art and Soul restaurant and champagne cocktails for two from ArtBar. And, for each package booked, the hotel is going to donate $10 to White Knot for Equality, a non-profit that’s working for equal rights for the gay and lesbian community.

Remember to use the code PRIDE when you book your room!

[Photo by Keshet: GLBT inclusion in the Jewish Community]