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Banning smoking hasnt hurt bar attendance { January 9 2006 }

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Clear Peek at a Smoke-Free Future
Many D.C. Bars, Restaurants Have Snuffed Out the Practice, Citywide Ban or Not

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 9, 2006; B01

The band of regulars is crowded around the polished bar at Marty's, a Capitol Hill tavern down the street from the Navy Yard and a Marine barracks. George, Ray and Terry are there, ribbing one another and Jose, the bartender. Others are tending to their beers, digging absent-mindedly into bowls of popcorn.

The smokers, though, share the bar's single ashtray, planted outside on the sidewalk next to a glowing heat lamp that some use to light up. Marty's is a smoke-free bar and has been since it opened three years ago.

The future of nightlife in the District might look a lot like Marty's if the city's new smoking ban goes into effect.

The owner, John Boyle, initially experimented with allowing smoking after 10 p.m., but his customers revolted. A few days after the tavern opened, Boyle put the ashtray outside. He promotes the bar's smoke-free policy in his advertising.

Marty's is one of nearly 200 bars and restaurants in the District that in recent years decided on their own to ban smoking. The list includes Nora, a fine-dining restaurant in Dupont Circle; Halo, a Logan Circle gay bar; and Blues Alley, Georgetown's renowned jazz club.

"I would never let people smoke at Marty's, because it would ruin what we built up," said Boyle, who says he is a businessman, not an anti-smoking crusader. His other bar, Harry's, in the Harrington Hotel downtown, welcomes smokers, many of them European tourists.

Marty's draws a mix of neighborhood families, Marines, Hill staffers and shoppers.

Blues Alley went smoke-free in April 2004, prompted by requests from musical artists, especially vocalists, who wanted to perform in a smoke-free room.

So far, it hasn't affected attendance, said Kris Ross, the club's operations director.

"We get some complaints, like, 'Hey, jazz bars are supposed to be smoky.' But of course, it's usually the guys who are standing outside [smoking] who are saying that."

Eric Hirshfield, owner of the 18th & U Duplex Diner, added his restaurant-bar to the list of smoking-ban converts last week. Hours after the D.C. Council voted 11 to 1 to approve a smoking ban Wednesday, he put up a sign: "DC Smoking Ban 2006 Now In Effect."

The law must be signed by the mayor before it is implemented, and bars will not be required to comply for a year. But Hirshfield saw no need to wait.

"Customers appreciate it; smokers don't mind," he said. He wrote a letter supporting the ban to Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), who is considering a veto of the ban for fear it will hurt the city's vital hospitality industry.

"Everybody should stop kicking and screaming," Hirshfield said. "This is the wave of the future, and it's not going to turn back."

Smokefree DC, the organization that compiled a list of businesses that prohibit smoking, contends that the public is demanding smoke-free bars and restaurants and that a citywide ban will not cause economic hardship. Angela Bradbery, its co-founder, said the incomplete list, begun three years ago, illustrates that without a ban, smoke-free options would be limited mostly to restaurants.

"If you want to go to a bar or shoot pool, there really isn't much of a choice," she said.

Opponents of the ban say the list proves that allowing the free market to work will result in plenty of choices for both smokers and nonsmokers.

They say that a ban will put neighborhood taverns out of business and that many smokers who usually party in the city will go elsewhere. Virginia has no ban. Montgomery, Prince George's and Talbot counties ban smoking in most restaurants and bars. Howard County's council voted last week to prohibit smoking in new restaurants and bars.

At Marty's, some patrons said the feared effect of the ban is exaggerated. George Joiner, 67, can be found Wednesdays and Fridays at his favorite corner stool. He said he enjoys the company and the atmosphere and dislikes change. The lack of a blue cloud of smoke hovering over the 17-seat bar is a bonus.

"You have a bar you like, you're not going to leave it," he said, looking to his comrades around the bar for validation.

If implemented, the D.C. smoking ban, modeled on New York's, would apply immediately to all indoor workplaces and restaurant dining rooms but would allow smoking at bars. Come Jan. 2, 2007, the ban would expand to bars but would include exemptions for outdoor areas, hotel rooms and cigar and hookah bars. Hardship waivers could be issued by the mayor, but only to businesses that proved the ban had a "significant negative impact."

Those caught smoking in prohibited areas could be fined up to $1,000. An establishment would be fined $500 for each day someone is caught smoking.

At Marty's, Don Maceda said he became a regular because his eyes become red and he finds it hard to breathe around cigarette smoke.

"I liked it so much, I started working here," said Maceda, 30, who tends the bar and manages some evenings.

The bartender at Marty's, Jose Cunha, who has worked at smoking bars in the past, said smokers generally were better tippers, willing to wait longer for food and complained less.

"I always made more money in the smoking section," he said, pouring a drink for a customer, Constance Avery, who had returned from a smoke break outside.

But even Cunha is embracing change. He quit smoking two weeks ago.

2006 The Washington Post Company

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