Putting the Fire Out


By the time you read this, it will be illegal to smoke in New York City bars. A few spots marked the momentous occasion last weekend by holding huge sayonaras for the ciggie. Coyote Ugly threw an “Ash Bash,” B3’s Vinylholic weekly had a “Vinylholic Smokeout,” and B.B. King’s bid adieu to the dirty habit by giving away free cigarettes at their “Great NYC Smokeout” event last Thursday.

But what will replace the old cigarette-and-alcohol cocktail? At least one bar is planning a tobacco-inspired drink (which, frankly, sounds more disgusting than licking an ashtray). The World Bar at Trump World Tower is serving the “Smokeless Manhattan”—made with Churchill’s port and Laphroaig scotch. Owner Mark Grossich hopes the cocktail “will give customers the smoking sensation they crave.” I dunno about you, but most smokers I know don’t want to be reminded that they can’t light up. This sounds a bit like torture.

One bar is (smartly) preparing for the rage that accompanies nicotine withdrawal. Rehab will have nicotine gum on hand to stave off the murderous impulses of its customers. Co-owner Gil Traub (who smokes “a lot”) says they will have gum available at the bar indefinitely: “Hopefully Nicorette will be able to act as a pacifier.”

If it doesn’t, Traub says they will be stamping people’s hands so they can go outside, have a puff, and then re-enter. But even that raises complications between neighbors and nightlife. As David Rabin, head of the New York Nightlife Association—which argued against the law until it was blue in the face—says sarcastically, “It’s at the height of nice weather. The perfect time to dump hundreds of people out on the street.”

Some bars had planned to have separate smoking areas, and others like Blue & Gold that are family owned and operated and therefore would have been exempt from the ban under city law, are now S.O.L. thanks to the state law passed last week. The state law, which does not include such exemptions, overrides the city legislation and takes effect within 120 days.

Venues like Liquids, Sapphire Lounge, and the soon-to-be-opened megaclub Crobar, which were building some of those costly high-tech smoking rooms, are out anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 in uselessly spent fees. Traub said that Rehab had been planning to open an enclosed smoking room, and he’s glad they hadn’t started construction.

Rabin says the state legislation was a real surprise. “We got wind of it two days before,” he says. According to Rabin—a vehement non-smoker—the state pols pushed for a quick passing of the law because “no one wants to be seen as pro-smoke.”

The new law is going to lead to some awkward situations between bar owners and customers—especially since the former are subject to fines and eventual closure if they get more than three violations in a year. One city official suggested bar owners call the cops on their own customers. Sniffed Rabin, “That’s how I plan to build business in 2003—by having my customers arrested.”

But, Rabin added, “I don’t know how I’m going to tell a table full of Europeans who spent $700 on bottle service that they can’t smoke at three in the morning in Manhattan.”

Bar owners can rest easy. They won’t be fined straightaway; city officials are nice enough to give New Yorkers 30 days to adjust or quit for good.

Those who insist on inhaling must resort to limiting their bar-hopping to places with outdoor patios or smoking areas—East Village bar D.B.A. has an outdoor garden; the International Bar, just a stone’s throw away, offers a back patio; and the Lower East Side’s Parkside Lounge has designated an outdoor area for smokers.

While I admire New Yorkers’ headstrong determination to keep the smoke alive, I have to say that arguing against the smoking law—and I’m a smoker—is hard to do with conviction. “Uh, yeah, it’s absolutely my right to kill myself and others around me. Uh, yeah, I really want to come home smelling like smoke. Uh, yeah, smoking is a First Amendment God-given right!” I feel more strongly about legalizing drugs than I do about smoking in bars; I’d rather fight for the right to pop an E than to smoke a cigarette, simply because cigarettes are a guaranteed death sentence. Still, where will you find me at the next bar? Outside having a smoke.

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 1, 2003

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