FOOD- DISH- Court Square scare: More than toast burned at Tavern

Last week there was a real scare at 500 Court Square. As was first reported on the Hook's blog,, one of Charlottesville's landmark bar/restaurants was partially burned when a spark jumped from an aging power cord on a beer cooler.

At about 5am Wednesday, March 15, a Charlottesville police officer happened to notice smoke coming from the windows of the Court Square Tavern. Charlottesville firefighters were able to contain the flames before they burned through the ground floor of the 10-story building.

Dish shudders to think what might have happened if the fire had had more time to burn. Dozens of residents were sleeping in their condos above– not to mention the law offices of Michie Hamlett Rasmussen & Tweel.

(Thank goodness for our vigilant and well-trained public servants! From now on, we're going to stop complaining about all the fire trucks running drills through town with their sirens on and be real polite next time we get a speeding ticket.)

Dish was on the scene Wednesday morning while a three-man crew was cleaning up the debris on the sidewalk and weary Tavern owner Bill Curtis was surveying the damage inside. As far as Dish could tell, there was surprisingly little.

The back right corner of the bar was badly burned, as was the ceiling, and the whole place smelled like a barbeque pit. But the rest of the Tavern looked like it could have been open for business. Remarkably, the signature stained-glassed street-level window was still intact.

Curtis said the police called him at about 6am, and when he reached the scene, residents above were already being evacuated.

"I swear, every fire truck in town was there, and they had luxury buses all lined for the tenets above," says Curtis. Indeed, because of the quick response, the Tavern has a good chance of rising from the ashes before its 30th anniversary in July.

"Hopefully, we'll open again by then," says Curtis, who thinks it will take about three months to repair the damage. "I'm going to totally re-wire this place," he says, implying "never again." Amen.

Where there's smoke, there's smokers

One place you definitely won't see smoke is Baja Bean on April 6. Last week, a coalition of UVA anti-smoking groups sponsored the second Smoke-Free Night at the Mellow Mushroom on the Corner. Baja Bean is next.

The three groups– the Office of Health Promotion, Department of Student Health, and Tobacco Coalition– hope to light a fire under the General Assembly, which recently killed an effort to ban smoking in all Virginia restaurants (the Senate passed the ban, but the House nixed it) and encourage more restaurants in town to become smoke-free.

"The tragic death of Dana Reeve has brought more awareness to how deadly lung cancer can be," reads a recent release by the group. "By eliminating smoking in restaurants and public places, we can help to eliminate lung cancer."

Of course, the release fails to mention that Dana Reeve didn't smoke– although some have suggested that her cancer was caused by singing in smoky nightclubs in her youth.

Obviously, Dish is no fan of lung cancer and wouldn't encourage anyone to smoke (or discourage them from quitting), but smoking bans in places like New York City are just weird and don't work. Not only have bars ignored them, but so has the system. After all, how do you enforce such a thing?

As Prohibition taught us, you can't legislate virtuous behavior. Besides, as far as Dish is concerned, a bar without a little smoke is like a NASCAR pit without gas fumes or a party without wine and beer. Sure, it may be a lot healthier, but the atmosphere (however contaminated) just isn't the same.

The recently burned Court Square Tavern hopes to re-open before its 30th anniversary in July.