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Phone Lines

The debate regarding cell phones in restaurants rages on.

Phone lines: My mention of cell-phone abuse in my review of Tres Margaritas ("Wasting Away in Margaritaville," August 19) prompted many responses, including several vehement voice-mail messages and e-mails defending people's inherent right to annoy the crap out of others.

The issue is gaining momentum nationally, too: Local reporter Brad Smith, who writes for Wireless Week, passed my piece on to the communication-trade publication's Washington, D.C., bureau chief, who's writing a story for the September 20 issue regarding the banning of cell phones in restaurants across the country. Although I haven't heard of any Denver restaurant doing that yet, I am starting to see signs posted in foyers here that ask diners to be courteous of others and turn off their cell phones.

And that's really all I'm asking for, too. When pagers first came out, the little suckers beeped constantly in public places, and then the manufacturers wisely started offering silent, vibrating versions. While many cell phones now have that vibrating option, too, putting them on your belt isn't easy -- and just try attaching your phone to a dress.

In a restaurant, the endless ringing of cell phones is bad enough. But then there's the fact that many people who answer them fail to understand that they don't need to talk as though they're standing under a waterfall at Niagara Falls. Imagine my recent experience at a local restaurant, where I attempted to focus on my dinner while a solo diner sitting nearby tried to whine his girlfriend into moving back in with him -- for a full hour. Now try to imagine what it will be like when everyone has a cell phone and sitting in a restaurant will hark back to the days of switchboard operators: one ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingies, a hundred ringy-dingies. I don't know about you, but one of the reasons I go out for meals is to get away from the phone and everything it represents: rigidly scheduled lives and hundreds of obligations that demand a return call right now.

Wireless Week bureau chief Caron Carlson says that while she's not finding many people in D.C. who care that others use their cell phones in the middle of restaurants, New York eateries are reacting strongly and swiftly. Some ban the phones altogether; others ask that they be checked at the coatroom; a couple have set up rooms off to the side, like cigar rooms, where people can go to chat; and a technologically advanced few have started emitting a radio wave through the dining room that effectively blocks anyone within a certain radius from getting a line out. Now, that's serious.

But reader John Semitus would say that's going too far. "This is going to start getting like Big Brother," he wrote after reading my Tres Margaritas review. "First everyone bans smoking, and now they're going to go after cell phones. Don't I have a right to conduct business or have a private conversation without somebody trying to regulate it?" Well, yeah, and you also have the right to relieve yourself, but you usually excuse yourself to go somewhere else to do it where it won't offend others, right?

Frankly, I'm not interested in having a meal with someone who is so important that he or she can't have an uninterrupted conversation with me. I mean, how rude -- especially if I'm paying. It's like call waiting with a vengeance, because the person whose phone is ringing usually either answers it without so much as an "Excuse me" or gets a pained look on his face as he listens to it ring because he can't stand not knowing who is trying to reach him. It could be Ed McMahon, for heaven's sakes. As far as I'm concerned, only doctors on call and men whose wives are going to have a baby within the next few minutes really need the things. (And what are those expectant hubbies doing out in restaurants, anyway?) The rest of you are fooling yourselves about how crucial you are to the survival of this planet.

So don't call us. And we won't call you.


Closed subjects: Many longtime local eateries won't be returning from summer vacation. One of the oldest to shut its doors was Tortilla Flat, at 2850 West Church Avenue in Littleton; originally opened in 1959 as The Shanty, the restaurant survived a flood and several moves but finally decided forty years was enough. I know quite a few people who are lamenting that loss; some of my neighbors remember that it was the place to go for chiles rellenos when they were kids, and they'd taken their own kids there for years, too.

Up in Boulder, Nancy's made it for 27 years before it closed for good at the end of August; owners Nancy Van Loon and Arnie Schmollinger finally decided they could use a permanent break. The owners of Karen's Kitchen in Louisville will soon turn Nancy's space into Karen's Garden Restaurant. A much younger Boulder spot, the Blue Plate Kitchen, at 2525 Arapahoe Road, is also gone. Owner Dave Query has a lot on his plate right now with two Jax Fish Houses (928 Pearl Street in Boulder and 1539 17th Street in Denver), Zolo Grill (also 2525 Arapahoe Road in Boulder) and the new baby Rhumba (950 Pearl Street in Boulder). When something had to give, Blue Plate was the logical thing to go, since Query says it had never found its niche.

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