Brady Street Restaurant Owners Offer Smoking Options

by Tim Lambrecht

Following the leads of cities like New York, Minneapolis, Madison and Appleton, Alderman Joe Davis suggested a smoking ban for “all places that are open to the public” within the City Of Milwaukee. Cincinnati recently voted down such a ban, while Chicago is currently considering it.

The newly-proposed smoking ban would affect businesses like restaurants and bars. Bars that get at least 75% of their business from alcohol sales would have two years to comply with the ban, while restaurants would have only three months. The ban would also prohibit designated smoking areas immediately adjacent to outside public entrances. Business owners would also have to prevent smoke from outside patio smokers from drifting into their building through open windows or ventilation systems. The exceptions to the ban would be tobacco stores, outdoor patios and private homes, except when the home is also used for daycare services.

The Police Department as well as city health inspectors would enforce the ordinance. As drafted, the first violation would elicit a warning, the second a $75 fine, and any more violations within a calendar year would call for an additional $100 fine.

A March 2 public hearing on the proposed ban drew a substantial crowd to City Hall. Supporters voiced health concerns over secondhand smoke while opponents argued they have the right to smoke. Bar and restaurant owners said the ban could cost them 10 to 20% of their business. Ban proponents pointed out that Madison restaurants had experienced just the opposite, where revenue has actually increased 24%.

A proposed compromise provision would exempt smaller businesses (less than 50 patrons), that would include most “corner bars.”

Teri Regano, owner of Regano’s Roman Coin doesn’t like the ban. “I bet 80% of my customers smoke,” she declared. “What are they supposed to do? Go in the bathroom and sneak a cigarette like they were in high school?”

As a non-smoker herself, she knows the healthy effects of not smoking but wonders how such a law could be enforced. “I can see it for restaurants,” she said, “but when you go to a bar, you know what to expect.”

Across the street at the Brady Street Pharmacy, owner Jim Searles, whose dining area is segregated for smokers and non-smokers, thinks there should be exceptions to the law. “How will it affect small corner bars?” he wondered. “It could really hurt them. If a place has a designated smoking area where non-smokers aren’t exposed in any way, that should be good enough.”

Rochambo Coffee & Tea House up the street has such a policy. Patrons who wish to smoke can go upstairs while non-smokers stay downstairs. Oriental Coast and Emperor Of China also have segregated smoking in their dining areas. A similar policy can be found at many of the restaurants with bars on Brady Street. Bosley, Vucciria’s, Mimma’s, and Casablanca allow smoking in the bar area, with the dining area smoke-free.

Restaurants and coffee shops that are smoke-free include Apollo, Bella’s Fat Cat, and Starbucks. Brewed Awakenings/Anodyne Coffee has smoking only in their outdoor patio area, while Hi-Hat allows smoking in both their bar and dining areas.

Ultimately, the Public Safety Committee voted 3-2 to delay the vote on the smoking ban. The earliest the committee could bring it back is March 30. The Public Safety Committee is made up of Aldermen Tony Zielinski, Terry Witkowski, Michael McGee, Bob Donovan and Robert Puente. Donovan has already stated his opposition to the smoking ban. Mayor Tom Barrett is said to be reluctant to ban smoking in bars.

Three years ago, aldermen voted 16-1 to ban smoking in all city buildings and vehicles.

The debate over public health concerns versus smoker’s rights will continue. However, it might become a moot point at the city level. Recently, the state legislature voted 48-45 that local communities cannot enact ordinances tougher then the state’s restrictions; whether Governor Doyle will sign it is in some doubt.

Riverwest Currents online edition – February, 2006