Smoke and Mirrors in Hermann, Missouri

Oct 3, 2007 at 11:17 am

Last week the New York Times devoted its Friday “Havens” feature to Hermann, Missouri, an 1850s “Rhineland Village” of 2,751 people hunkered down alongside the Missouri River. Here’s an enticing passage from the piece:

...the essential gewürztraminer character of the place -- a verdant lightness…envelops the hills, hushes the powerful Missouri, makes the rain fall softly and the leaves gently, and makes even the rock outcroppings crumble like cake.

As the article notes, it’s not only nature but the wineries that draw tourists from across the state to Hermann and its 70 area bed & breakfasts. Oddly enough, we heard yesterday from a Kansas City woman who was left with a bitter taste in her mouth after trying to reserve a room at the very B&B highlighted in the NYT article, the Hermann Hill Vineyard & Inn. Sara Brenner says she and her boyfriend tried to book a $247-a-night room for this coming Sunday but were refused the reservation after the inn staff inquired as to her boyfriend’s smoking habits.

Brenner -- who says her boyfriend, Corey, has lived with her for thirteen years and has never once smoked in their house -- says she told one of Hermann Hill’s employees that the inn’s non-smoking policy wouldn’t be a problem: If Corey craved a cigarette he could drive down the street, have a butt and come right back. The employee said she had to get the owner to approve the reservation. After Brenner didn’t hear back from Hermann Hill, she called again. Eventually she was left the following voice-mail message from the owner, Peggy Hammer:

"Sara, this is Peggy with Hermann Hill. Isabel was here and took your reservation yesterday, contingent on my approval. Corey is not going to be happy here. And it is just our policy that if anyone is a smoker they cannot stay. We want all of our guests to be happy, and I just don't think he will be. We would rather not have him until he quits. Not for us to say he has to quit, but he can't stay here if he is a smoker. So, no, there is no reservation for you here in October."

“I played the message for fifteen people -- smokers and non-smokers -- and they were all like, ‘Oh my God,’” complains Brenner. “She wasn’t very nice about it. If she had said, ‘Hey, this is our policy, I’m sorry it doesn’t work for you, let me know if you need help finding a new place,’ that would have been one thing. But suggesting that we change our life habits is totally unnecessary. Her Web site does say their place is a non-smoking environment. But she says they don’t allow smokers. And that’s not the same thing. I’m curious as to what would have happened if I had sat in a smoky bar for four hours and came back to the inn. It’s a policy that I don’t see how they can possibly regulate unless they blood-test at the door.”

Peggy Hammer responded to an e-mail inquiry from the RFT after we were unable to reach her by phone. Here’s her reply:

“When you look at our website ( you will see that we market our inn as a totally non-smoking property. Over the past 12 years of operation we have learned that our guest-driven business demands that will [sic] live up to that promise. Most people understand our policies and realize what ‘non-smoking’ means. There appears to be little middle ground on this issue and major hotel chains are now also marketing themselves as ‘totally non-smoking properties.’ Our staff is proud of our reputation for room cleanliness and we are dedicated to providing our guests with the best possible experience during their stay at Hermann Hill.”

-Kristen Hinman