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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, June 26, 2006

Cell-phone booths? They're for real

By OLIVIA BARKER
USA Today

Cell-phone booths are being designed for all kinds of environments, some with velvet or leather cushions and walls. This one, designed for nightclubs, has a sliding door, made of transparent material so revelers don't ... you know, have a party for two in there.

Gannett News Service

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Just in time for his return to the silver screen, Superman's trusty phone booth is back. Only this time, there's a bit more room for his biceps.

Because the pay phone itself is gone, today's booths are BYOC bring your own cell.

In an effort to appease patrons and etiquette police, restaurants, bars, movie theaters and libraries are carving out spaces to separate yakkers from other customers.

Dennis Raney acknowledges that he has contributed to talk pollution. "I get on the cell phone and I do talk louder," says Raney, who last year launched Fort Wayne, Ind.-based C.P. Booth, a manufacturer of Clark Kent-era cabinets in clubby oak ($2,995) or diner-compatible melamine ($2,650).

Cingular took the initial step toward cell-phone civility in 2002 by designating Courtesy Zones, with couches or counters, in about 50 Loews theater lobbies across the U.S.

Then in 2003, The Biltmore Room, a Manhattan eatery turned bar, became famous for its leather-walled cell-phone booth, and Chicago's Boka restaurant unveiled its velvet-cushioned version.

The cell-phone booth's other benefit, proponents point out: a place to have a quiet conversation in a noisy venue.

Last month, Michael Salemi and a partner in Woburn, Mass., introduced the nightclub-friendly Cell Zone. The steel, soundresistant cylinder ($2,400 to $3,500) has a clear door. Proprietors "don't want anything going on inside there" other than cell-phone chatter, Salemi explains.

Jim Rogers is eyeing a Cell Zone for his upstairs bar at Michael's Harborside in Newburyport, Mass. With up to 400 people packed in, "this would really be put to use," says Rogers, the general manager and a co-owner. He's also considering one for the downstairs restaurant, where he has had complaints from customers about nattering neighbors.

But some manners maestros say cell-phone booths are about as welcome in restaurants as, well, cell-phones themselves. "You're really just enabling the bad behavior," says Tom Farley, editor of "Town & Country Modern Manners: The Thinking Person's Guide to Social Graces." "To the extent that they encourage people to get up in the middle of dinner and place a phone call, I think that's a bad thing."

Manuel Simpson of Winchester, Va., regularly dines alone, chatting on his cell phone while he waits for his meal. He has gotten the hairy stink-eye from other diners for it, but he has never been verbally chastised. Still, he says, he can't imagine ducking into a booth.

"It seems sort of dramatic," says Simpson, 28, who works in retail. After all, getting from table to booth requires conversation: "Wait one second! I'm on my way to the booth!"