False terraces spring up to circumvent smoking ban

Brazen Barcelona bar owners shifting walls to gain sidewalk space

A woman lights up on one of Barcelona's false terraces.
A woman lights up on one of Barcelona's false terraces.Carles Ribas

Many bars and restaurants in Barcelona were closed for reforms during the summer. The result of their work is on display now, and it looks like one of the most popular refurbishment jobs was the so-called falsa terraza, or phony sidewalk eating area. Construction workers remove the front door and move it several meters back, then build a new wall around it, thus creating a generous vestibule between the street and the new official entrance; this terraza, or terrace, with walls and a ceiling, is filled with tables and chairs where patrons are allowed to smoke, since technically they are not inside the establishment proper.

Bar owners and industry associations argue that setting up tables and chairs in entrance halls is not expressly prohibited by law, and therefore allowed. But city officials disagree with this view, and have already announced a new round of inspections to crack down on what amounts to a trick that bypasses the indoor smoking ban in public places.

The 2010 law establishes that smoking is only allowed in open spaces or those which are enclosed by two side walls at the most, notes the Barcelona Public Health Agency. Yet many people are smoking in these sheltered vestibules, especially in the districts of Eixample and Gràcia, as this newspaper confirmed.

It is not expressly prohibited and there are no complaints"

"These are new ways of distributing floor space and adapting it to new types of consumers. It improves on what the city has to offer. But it is up to the owner to make sure nothing illegal is being done, like smoking in a prohibited place," a source in the industry said.

Neither city officials nor industry associations could provide even a ballpark estimate of how many bars and restaurants have these phony terrazas.

"These places have no authorization, either in the form of an operating license or a terraza license," said a city spokeswoman. But the industry group Gremio de Restauradores has a different view. "In principle this reform is not expressly prohibited by the law, and when districts authorize the work there are no complaints," said a spokesperson. Indeed, district authorities may authorize the construction work, even if the space is later used in illegal ways.

A few establishment owners who agreed to talk to EL PAÍS on condition of anonymity ("to avoid reprisals") said that their refurbishing work had all the necessary permits, and that it makes no sense to now be told that the sheltered terrazas are illegal. Everyone agreed that now that the weather is getting cooler, more smokers prefer to remain inside these new spaces than go outdoors altogether for a smoke.

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