Smoking Ban Party Time
On Tuesday, Omaha's complete smoking ban unexpectedly went into effect when a state judge signed papers striking down the exemptions in the previous law. The partial ban held that if an establishment served food, smoking was banned. If there was no kitchen, or if the establishment had Keno, smoking was OK. These labyrinthine-esque exemptions led to lots of confusion, apparently. Or so I'm told. Anyway, the state agreed with the confused people, ruled the exemptions unconstitutional, and struck them down.
Wednesday, Dick Herculanum and I headed out to the bars to test this newfound smoke-free paradise. Calls to Continental Frutiger and Gilby Clarke went unreturned; we already knew what his answer would be, so we didn't bother calling Cliff Glypha. Now, the Omaha Police were allowing a grace period through the weekend, so that all barowners had time to learn of the new law since it came so unexpectedly. So we were curious who would enforce it, and who would play dumb.
Before we headed to the bar, we met at an ice cream parlor in Dundee for a local graphic design social happy hour. I don't know about anyone else, but ice cream is way better than beer. And I like beer a lot, as you well know. So imagine how much I love ice cream.
As we sat at tables on the sidewalk, we observed as a local TV crew went into the bar across the street. This particular bar, the loathsome Beer and Loathing in Dundee, is considering mounting a counter-attack on the judges' ruling, and no doubt the TV news crew wanted a juicy soundbite for the news. Whether or not you think smoking in bars is OK or not, a statewide ban for Nebraska takes effect in 11 months, so what are they really gaining? It will take two months to get a hearing, so even if they win, they get what, nine extra months of smoking before having to ban it again? They'll spend a fortune in legal fees for a short-term victory. Genius, those guys.
The first bar we hit was the Underwood, a notoriously smoky bar with equally notorious cheap beers. That was always the tradeoff at the 'Wood: you could get a beer as large as a properly pumped bicep for three bucks, but you'd slice a week off your lifespan from the smoke. That was a trade I made many times, my friends. 30 ounces of beer for three bucks is just too good. I might die when I'm 74 instead of when I'm 75, but I'll have the memories of cheap beers. Seems fair enough.
On Wednesday, as we walked up to the Underwood, all signs pointed to awesome. Namely, there were people standing outside on the sidewalk smoking -- could it be because they weren't allowed to do so inside?
One step inside and we had our answer. Fresh, clean air. For the first time, I could see the big screen TVs from across the room -- previously, it was like walking into a London Fog in that bar. Unbelievable. I could watch the College World Series on a TV from across the room! Such novelties! We ordered two Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boys -- $1.75!!! -- and sat down to enjoy the smoke-free times.
The patrons who were smokers were, for the most part, accepting of their fate. One guy announced with a touch of snark that he was heading to the "Smoke Garden" as he headed outside, but other than him, there were no complaints. We stayed for a second round of PBR tall boys. After all, why not? If it had been as smoky as usual, we might have left after one. But they got an extra round out of us. Don't ever let anyone tell you smoking ban costs bars money. You bet.
The second bar we headed to was The Homy Inn. Now, if there was ever a bar with the street cred to blow off a smoking ban, its the Homy. We pulled up outside, and immediately my perceptive eyes noted two things. One, there were no people outside smoking. Two, the decal on the door that read "Keno Inside: Smoking Permitted" was gone. The letters were peeled off the door, removed completely.
We opened the door and three of the first four people around the bar had cigarettes in their hands. Hey, if the cops are offering a grace period, they were milking it for every last glorious cancer-inducing second, and I applaud their gusto. We ordered up a pitcher of macro brew domestic beer and a bowl of popcorn.
When we sat down, we noticed something peculiar: the ashtrays were gone from the tables. As the night progressed, we noticed that some patrons asked for ashtrays and received them. At least they were no longer the default centerpiece on every table. They were now like a condiment: available upon request, like A1 Steak Sauce. Incidentally, A1 on a burger = 'Splosions of Taste Deliriousness. Its like Prince And The Revolution 1983 Delirious. Seriously.
Dick wanted me to call the local media to alert them to the smoking taking place, but if I learned anything from Carmelo Anthony, its that I should Stop Snitchin'. Not that I ever started, but nonetheless. I refused, but I allowed him to use my iPod Touch to send an email to a local TV Station's news bureau.
The third and last bar we hit was the Musette in Benson, another notoriously smoky joint. Just as with the Underwood, as we approached the bar we noticed people standing outside. Looked promising.
When we got to the door, there was a giant sign taped to it. "NO SMOKING. Smoking Ban is in effect for the city of Omaha as of Tuesday afternoon!!! 6-17-08" We promptly photographed this great moment in our lives to preserve it for posterity.
Inside the Musette, we found an atmosphere much like that of the Underwood: a surprisingly bright room had emerged from the fog of smoke. We ordered two cans of PBR and sat down to enjoy them in smoke-free awesomeness.
The grace period on enforcement led to a mixed bag of celebration, to be sure. The Underwood bartenders made their policy clear, making one guy put out his cigarette outside and telling anyone else with smokes on them that they had to take 'em outside. The Homy took down their Smoking Allowed signs, removed the ashtrays, but looked the other way if you chose to light up. And the Musette put a sign on their door alerting patrons to the ban, making it clear they were enforcing it.
I can't wait for the grace period to end, when looking the other way is no longer an option. Then it will truly be time to party. Prince and The Revolution 1989 Partytime.
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