Skip to comments.In Barrooms, Smoking Ban Is Less Reviled
Posted on 02/05/2005 6:24:19 PM PST by NYC GOP Chick
By JIM RUTENBERG and LILY KOPPEL
ack in 2002, when the City Council was weighing Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's proposal to eliminate smoking from all indoor public places, few opponents were more fiercely outspoken than James McBratney, president of the Staten Island Restaurant and Tavern Association.
He frequently ripped Mr. Bloomberg as a billionaire dictator with a prohibitionist streak that would undo small businesses like his bar and his restaurant. Visions of customers streaming to the legally smoke-filled pubs of New Jersey kept him awake at night.
Asked last week what he thought of the now two-year-old ban, Mr. McBratney sounded changed. "I have to admit," he said sheepishly, "I've seen no falloff in business in either establishment." He went on to describe what he once considered unimaginable: Customers actually seem to like it, and so does he.
By many predictions, the smoking ban, which went into effect on March 30, 2003, was to be the beginning of the end of the city's reputation as the capital of grit. Its famed nightlife would wither, critics warned, bar and restaurant businesses would sink, tourists would go elsewhere, and the mayor who wrought it all would pay a hefty price in the polls. And then there were those who said that city smokers, a rebellious class if ever there was one, simply would not abide.
But a review of city statistics, as well as interviews last week with dozens of bar patrons, workers and owners, found that the ban has not had the crushing effect on New York's economic, cultural and political landscapes predicted by many of its opponents.
Employment in restaurants and bars, one indicator of the city's service economy, has risen slightly since the ban went into effect, as has the number of restaurant permits requested and held, according to city records, although those increases could be attributed in part to several factors, including a general improvement in the city's economy.
City health inspectors report that 98 percent of bars and restaurants are in compliance with the rules, though some critics question those statistics. Wrath at Mr. Bloomberg, at least pertaining to the smoking ban, seems to be abating.
There are still those cursing the ban as an affront to their civil liberties, and some bar and restaurant owners say that it has undoubtedly caused a decline in business. City officials say they doubt that contention, pointing to data from the first year of the ban showing that restaurant and bar tax receipts were up 8.7 percent over the previous year's. They said they were still waiting for more detailed and current data from the state.
But a vast majority of bar and restaurant patrons interviewed last week, including self-described hard-core smokers, said they were surprised to find themselves pleased with cleaner air, cheaper dry-cleaning bills and a new social order created by the ban.
All of this comes as great relief to Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, commissioner of the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, who took his job on a promise from the mayor that the smoking ban would be given priority. "It was not a pleasant time," he said of the initial uproar over the ban. "There was a myth that this was very unpopular."
Dr. Frieden credits the apparent success of the new smoking rules here with encouraging other seemingly unlikely places to follow suit, or at least to consider doing so. Among them are Boston, Virginia, Australia, Ireland and Italy. Last week, the City Council in Philadelphia began reviewing a newly proposed bill to make bars and restaurants smoke-free.
The councilman who introduced the bill in Philadelphia, Michael A. Nutter, cited New York as an inspiration. "This is kind of the epitome of the song: 'If you can make it there,' " he said in an interview. "What people are saying is, 'If New York can deal with clean-air legislation, why can't we?' "
Mr. Nutter said he was not worried about the political ramifications.
Mr. Bloomberg's Republican critics have indicated they will raise the smoking rules during the Republican primary campaign as an example of what they call his Democratic tendency toward regulation. But many of the mayor's staunchest opponents said they thought the ban would have no effect on his re-election bid. One of his Democratic challengers, Gifford Miller, the City Council speaker, helped secure the ban's passage. And a leading contender for the Democratic mayoral nomination, Fernando Ferrer, has said he would not seek to overturn it.
"I thought he would lose 50,000 votes simply based on the smoking ban," said Robert Bookman, a lawyer for the New York Nightlife Association, a trade group that aggressively fought the ban. "I'm not so sure anymore."
That is no small thing for Mr. Bloomberg, who once faced hecklers in the streets because of the smoking ban, and whose drop in popularity after it was put in effect was illustrated by The New York Post in a front-page bar graph with cigarette butts.
Mr. Bookman did not dispute most of the good-news numbers the city presented in relation to the smoking ban, though he disagrees with the conclusion that the ban has not had an adverse impact on restaurants and bars.
"Clearly employment is up in New York City going into 2005 or the end of 2004 compared with the year before the smoking ban went into effect," he said. "The year before was 2002; 2002 was almost a depression in New York City. It was the recession plus the 9/11 economic impact. Everybody's doing better in New York compared with 2002."
Mr. Bookman said that the nightlife industries would be doing better still without the ban. But he conceded during an interview that his group had all but given up any lingering hope of overturning the city's provision. It is instead focusing in part on what he said were unfair enforcement issues, like ticketing bar owners for the misbehavior of smoking patrons or for an increase in noise complaints drawn by customers smoking outside. City officials say noise complaints have risen because the city's 311 complaint line has made it easier to file them, not because of outdoor smoking.
The turncoats of Mr. Bookman's once vocal movement can be found on the sidewalk on any given night. Huddled in a tent at the Bohemian Hall and Beer Garden in the Astoria section of Queens on Wednesday and chain-smoking by two heat lamps, Kate Bly, who teaches English to foreign exchange students, said she was surprised by her own positive reaction to the measure, which she had expected would be terrible.
"I was really against the smoking ban," she said. "I thought, bars are for sinful things, smoking, drinking. Now my reaction has changed. I used to feel clammy, stinky, disgusting. Now there's a nice breakup to the evening and a new crowd."
Jason Sitek, 31, said he had similarly begun to enjoy the ban, even if smoke-free bars subtract from what he used to think a New York City bar should be. "The whole nature of New York City and the bar is you can go into a smoky atmosphere," he said. "It's like Disney World now."
Still, he said, smoke-free bars have their advantages. "You realize you stop stinking, you don't smell like an ashtray," he said on Tuesday night as he smoked outside Spike Hill, a bar in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.
The temperature was hovering near 30 degrees, but down the street, in front of Rosemary's Greenpoint Tavern, Brian Rennie, 23, said he did not mind that he was forced outdoors to smoke. "I like going outside," he said. "I like to get fresh air."
Several smokers cited other advantages.
"I'm all for it. My dry-cleaning bill's gone way down," said John Payne, 36, who was smoking on Tuesday night outside Toad Hall, in SoHo. "And I'm smoking less."
A friend, Bill Cauclanis, 29, said, "There's a secondary scene now outside of bars - a smoker's scene."
He added: "You can meet a girl out here. Strike up a conversation."
What is good for singles like Mr. Cauclanis is bad for bartenders, who cannot so easily go outside and who find themselves increasingly cut out of the social scene in which they centrally stood. Now, they are often placed in the role of hall monitors, chiding those who disobediently light up, said Barry Crooks, who was tending bar at Toad Hall. Mr. Crooks, an owner of Toad Hall, said he was far more worried about a falloff in business of at least 10 percent, which he said was a result of the new smoking ordinance. "It hurt the volume of business," Mr. Crooks said.
While such complaints were once more common, and perhaps more heated, there are still plenty of them. "It hurts," said John Mulvey, owner of Bridget's Public House on Staten Island.
Public acceptance of the ban has "come around a little bit," Mr. Mulvey said. Business was off 25 percent right after the ban took effect, he said, but now that decline has stabilized at about 5 percent. And while Mr. Mulvey is no longer furious over the anti-smoking ordinance, he says it bothers him that he is not free to run his business as he sees fit - without government intervention.
Mr. Mulvey still has a champion in Audrey Silk, founder of NYC Clash, or Citizens Lobby Against Smoker Harassment. In an interview, Ms. Silk vowed to continue fighting the ban. "We're not giving up," she said.
It is a lowsy ban. Now they just smoke in front of the exit doors in holy congregation so when you walk out you get mushroom-clouded and lose 3-5 days of your life...
Ask anyone in Bay Ridge what they think of the Yuppie Douchbag Manhattanites smoking ban.
Same thing happened in San Francisco. It is indeed a lousy ban, but at the same time, I don't think bar owners realized just how much business they would keep and even gain if they had voluntarily gone non-smoking.
Outside the barrooms, on the other hand, where pedestrians have to sludge through the cloud...
How long before a Federal smoking ban?
That being said, bars should set their own rules.
Which FORCES the pedestrians inside the bars to get some fresh air. They are virtually captive there, so of course, they imbibe to forget their terrible plight. A brilliant buisness scheme.
How long before the subsidies for the tobacco industry go away?
once again the nyslimes has proved that they are the masters of slanting anything
as a ny metro resident the classic old fashioned neighborhood saloon is going by the way side
if the slimes went inside donovans and told the bar patrons its okay to light up a cigarette or pipe or cigar at least fifty percent of the patrons would have cheered wildly
non smokers definetly have their rights but god forbid our sage legislators would pass a law to accomodate everybody
I don't think bar owners realized just how much business they would keep and even gain if they had voluntarily gone non-smoking.
Do you realize you had the multi- million dollar business plan before the ban....and all to yourself!!!...if only you you would have gone with your convictions...You'd be rich ..and I could still light up in my local pub!....Woulda been a WIN-WIN!
My sentiments exactly. I oppose bans of these types, but bars and restaurants are afraid to implement bans unless forced to do so by law, for fear of losing customers. Yet the math would seem to argue that a greater number of establishments give it a try.
About 22% of American adults are smokers. Ans since their is a strong inverse relationship between smoking and income level, you'd think that at least some upscale establishments would give it a try. I think they'd substantially increase their business due to grateful non-smokers beating a path to their door.
In my opinion, nothing impairs the taste of food, and especially of a fine wine, than cigarette smoke in the vicinity. I hope bar and restaurant owners read this article and take heed.
Your right. Johnny Carson only lived to be 79.
Carsons brother said that he would have lived longer if he hadn't smoked.
Both of his parents lived into their 90's.
Personally, and as a smoker, I hope to live that long, or have a family like carsons.
Say what they will, they've lost plenty of my business.
"I'm just glad that on my first trip, I was able to fulfill a lifelong ambition: To sit in a New York blues bar, with a cigarette in one hand and a whiskey in the other."
Sorry to say those younger than you are SOL on that score. But Jersey is still smoker friendly, so stop by here on your next journey. I venture there's some jazz playing in Hoboken.
Yes, I know it's not the same.
Nanny-state nincompoops, with the REDUCED DRY CLEANING BILLS!,, ARRRRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!
Let me not say what is in my mind, for it is a sin.
Let me try again...
About 22% of American adults are smokers.
Ans And since their there is a strong inverse relationship between smoking and income level, you'd think that at least some upscale establishments would give it a try.
I think they'd substantially increase their business due to grateful non-smokers beating a path to their door. In my opinion, nothing impairs the taste of food, and especially of a fine wine, more than cigarette smoke in the vicinity. I hope bar and restaurant owners read this article and take heed.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.