I remember how downright pissed I was when the whole thing actually went down, when our mayor-in-charge said, “No more smoking in bars.” How in the fuck can he do this? I thought. How can a guy and some board just kick us in the teeth? This smacks of fascism. It’s like telling a guy with a bowling alley, “No more ugly shirts allowed on your lanes.” It topples tradition!
But the thing that really got my goat, besides how the thing went down, was how his Highness couched it in front of the microphones. “I’m worried about the employees,” he said, with the furrowed brow of concern, “who have to breathe in all that second-hand smoke. It’s not fair.”
Puh-leeze, I raved at the time, this ain’t about us it’s all about you and you know it! You don’t like seeing smoke in your favorite restaurants. That’s what’s going on here. And just for the record, Mein Fuhrer, speaking of those you’re rescuing, this isn’t some town in Wales where the only job is going down a goddam mine shaft. We picked these jobs, we knew the deal, smoking happens in bars so we weren’t just ambushed.
Wow, such outrage! Such righteous abuse from your then un-friendly bartender! But that’s how I actually felt at the time for besides my decline in income (people actually did stay away for a while), I also thought about certain customers affected. For example, how do you tell an eighty year-old woman who’s been coming to your joint forever, who likes a smoke with her Boodles martini before dinner, to go out and stand in the snow to enjoy that smoke? Know what I’m saying? Smoking isn’t illegal… it’s bad but it isn’t illegal… so why make our longtime customers feel like criminals?
But that was then and this is now and this is how I feel in 2010…
It all came flooding back the other night, in a flash and with mixed feelings, when a customer was heading for the door to knock off a Marlboro. He put a bev nap over his glass, winked and waved his cigarette, pointed to his glass while shaking his head meaning, “No, don’t pour that out!”… then smiled when he got that I got what the hell he was doing. ” Marcel Marceau couldn’t have mimed his act any better. But what happened next is what brought back all those memories. He tried to muffle a cough that wouldn’t stay down. It was hackingly ugly.
Christ, I thought, as I watched him go, thank God he’s going outside to blow that smoke! Remember when? Remember those nights when you not only had to breathe in all that shit, but went home every night smelling like you put out a three alarm?
And it was at that moment, silently of course, that I grudgingly had to thank old Mr. Bloomberg. For regardless of what his motivation was and regardless of the fact that he did it with an iron fist, the son-of-a-gun when it’s all said and done was right. The good, as it all turns out, outweighs the bad. And not just because of the major things, of which we are all aware, but the minor things of which you’re about to read…
First off, certain people who don’t smoke (and I’m only referring to a few) don’t get to act like assholes anymore while sitting near those who do. They don’t get to fan righteous noses and squirm like a three year-old child, as though the guy lighting up has just farted.
Secondly, bartenders don’t have to empty ash trays seemingly every ten seconds, especially if they have some “Felix Unger” in their make-up. As I do.
Thirdly, how about the part where going outside is a great way to meet new people, especially for guys who are strictly in a bar to meet women. It’s a meet-and-greet nexus! I remember this guy I used to observe who, when he spotted an attractive woman heading for the doorway, with his pack in his hand and his mind in his shorts would leap to his feet and follow her out like a cheetah. A cheetah who’d just seen a rabbit stub its toe! And he always had the perfect opener because of the situation. “Man, do you believe this mayor is actually making us do this?” (Instant something in common as he lights her cigarette!) But it’s also a way for all types to meet because just like back in high school, when the “smokers” would sneak outside to their smoking hideout, whether scholar or major screw-up they bonded as one. They were partners in crime!
Fourthly, smokers are saving money because of this ban. Yes, more than a few have stated over the years, as much as they hated that law, they were grateful because it made them cut way back. “If I’m sitting here smoking at the bar,” they would say, “I could go through a half a pack. Now that I’m going outside it’s three or four cigarettes. Smokes cost a fortune now!”
And finally, perhaps the most important upside to the downside in all this mess… the real gift the mayor has given to Barland … is that unless a splash of Angostura Bitters finds a path to his sleeve, your friendly bartender gets two nights out of a white shirt now!
But seriously… my whole hue and cry a long time ago when I tried to fight that law (a colleague and I were actually going to sell ashtrays with Bloomberg’s image on them, emblazoned with the words “Place your butt here!”) was that to really make this whole thing fair, to totally not wipe out a longstanding tradition, an owner should’ve been able to hang out a sign that said SMOKING ALLOWED or NO SMOKING, then let the customer decide if he wants to walk in. That’s the fair way. And where would your friendly bartender drink in that system? For all his bluster and bull, definitely the latter. Live and learn!
Ahhhh, smell that clean, fresh air, dear reader, that hint of Amaretto… doesn’t this beat drinking beneath Mt. Etna? See ya’ next week-end!