Bars remain smoke free

Bobby Shipman

Mardi Gras festivities packed Franklin Street with beads, booze and merriment last weekend in honor of the gluttonous holiday.

Whether a bar-goer fancied a funky vibe, a hipster hangout or an all night dance-party, Franklin had it all. Unless one was in search of a smokier atmosphere.

Although the Indiana Supreme Court ruled Evansville’s 2012 smoking ban unconstitutional, the majority of bar and private club owners chose to keep their establishments smoke-free despite winning the lawsuit to overturn the law.

Lauren McCrary, a senior public relations and advertising major, said she thinks the bars just wanted to have the rights returned.

“I think everyone has their own opinions and rights,” McCrary said. “I think smokers have the right to choose if they want to smoke inside or outside and businesses have the right to choose if they are smoking or non-smoking. The ban is (was)  kind of taking away those rights.”

McCrary started smoking in high-school and although she is attempting to quit, she said she is glad the ban was overturned.

She works at Tin Man Brewing Company, and often visits the nearby PG Café and Gallery and Lamasco’s Bar and Grill.

She said she would hate it if they allowed smoking.

“I would probably still go (to PG and Lamasco’s), it just wouldn’t be quite as comfortable,” she said. “Personally, as a smoker, I really don’t like going in and sitting in a bar filled with smoke. I would much rather just step outside.”

Lamasco’s owner Amy Rivers-Word said she became ecstatic when the smoking ban was first implicated because she has asthma.

“For me, I had terrible, terrible trouble the first couple of years when I bought the bar – I had double-pneumonia every year,” Word said. “I was constantly sick, constantly losing my voice.”

Word said she had always wanted to become non-smoking, but she was unsure how it would affect business.

“Once the ban came through, we immediately had no difference in our numbers and, in fact, very soon afterward we actually started to see an increase in revenue,” Word said.  “We realized that it is really no big deal to step outside and have a cigarette.”

Word said returning to smoking would have hurt business because smokers have become accustomed to going outside, and although many complain, she, as well as other bar owners, try to keep their customers happy.

“A bunch of us all made really nice patios,” she said. “We have heaters, in fact. We go through about $200 a week in propane just making sure that we keep our smokers  more (comfortable).”

Dalton Elpers enjoyed an evening out on Saturday.

The junior business management major relaxed in the back of the dimly lit Sportsman’s Bar and Grill with two friends.

Elpers said he was unaware the smoking ban was struck down, but he is glad his favorite bars remained smoke free.

A Wadesville, Ind., native, he frequents a local St. Wendel hangout – Silver Bell.

“(Silver Bell) used to allow smoking, and there was just so much smoke in there that your eyes watered,” Elpers said. “I just don’t like the smell. I don’t like smelling like cigarette smoke. It is just inconvenient. I would rather go home and drink there.”

Elpers’s pal from St. Wendel, Lane Koester, chimed in.

“You go to the boat and you come home and you’re coughing and your fricking throat is dry and your clothes stink,” Koester said. “As far as bars go, I don’t feel like you need smoke in them. If you want to have a cigarette, you can go outside.”

Koester said whether a bar allows smoking or not certainly factors into his nightlife decisions.

“You don’t want to go to a bar where you feel like you’re going to sit down and drink a beer and it’s going to taste like a cigarette,” he said. “It’s like drinking an ash tray.”

RiRa’s Irish Pub, Lamasco’s Bar and Grill, Main Gate, Backstage and Sportsman’s were just a few of many bars who remained smoke free within days of the ordinance ending.

After about a week of returning to smoking status, the bar’s Facebook page on Feb. 25, stated: “The Peep is again non-smoking effective immediately. Thanks to those of you who gave constructive feedback and comments.”

A blast of polarizing comments bombarded the post.

Some mocked.

“Look at the tear drops falling! You can handle drinking but not smoking? Bars used to be for people who took calculated risks,” one person commented. “Giving into a bunch of pu**ies will only give rise to new demands. Pretty soon they will demand Zima on tap and clean language only.”

Others celebrated.

“FANTASTIC!!!!!!! Thank you Steve Alsop (bar owner). We’ll definitely be there to support you.”

Rivers-Word said she is happy with her decision to remain smoke free.

“When the ban came through I was thrilled and I knew Evansville could not be that much different than the rest of the country,” Word said.  “I think at this point there are only 16 cities that have over 150,000 people that allow smoking laws in the U.S. So there was no question that our demographic (Evansville) was so different that a business model of smoking could not work here.”