Pensacola, Florida
Friday June 23rd 2017


Up In Smoke

One More Local Bar Debates Going Smoke-Free
by Jeremy Morrison

Over the past two decades, public smoking has been relegated to sidewalks and doorways. Many states have banned it from all public buildings.

Florida enacted a smoking ban in 2003, but bars are excluded. Smoke is still allowed to waft lazily past the neon beer signs and exhausted filtration systems of the states drinking establishments.

While bars are exempt from the smoking ban, many of the local establishments have voluntarily imposed such bans. Owners have cited employee health concerns, personal preference and customer feedback as factors in their decisions.

Wisteria Tavern is the oldest bar in Pensacola. Nestled on East Hills 12th Avenue, the cozy neighborhood haunt opened up in the mid-1930s. Up until a couple of years ago, patrons were allowed to smoke inside.

I just couldnt stand the smoke anymore, said Terry Abbott, owner of Wisteria.

Abbott is not a smoker himself. He said he wished he had made the change earlier.

Business is better now than its ever been before, Abbott adds.

Out at Pensacola Beach, Paddy OLearys Irish Pub may also be going smoke-free. Seamus Hunt, the bars co-owner, floated the idea on Paddys Facebook page. He asked for feedback and promised a more comfortable smoking area outside.

Gary [Humphrey] and I hate the smoke and we hear ongoing complaints, Hunt posted. Would you be more likely to come in if it was smoke free? Are you a smoker? Would you still come in if you are a smoker?

The response has been mostly positive. But Hunt already suspected that would be the case.

A lot of customers would tell me, oh, we love Paddy OLearys, but we hate the smoke, he said. I heard that umpteen times.

Hunt knows that Mike Ashby turned downtowns Intermission into a smoke-free establishment last year. Hes heard good things.

From what I hear, it was a very big success for him, Hunt said.

Intermission is located on Palafox in downtown Pensacola. Smokers were ushered outside its doors in 2011.

It was a year ago March, its been great, its been fantastic, said Ashby. I cant believe I didnt do it sooner.

For a little more than a year, smokers at Intermission have had to step out back, or enjoy their cigarettes at one of the tables framed by the iconic tile work outside the entrance.

You dont have far to walk, said Ashby.

Like the folks at Wisteria and Paddys, Ashby didnt enjoy working in a smoky environment. He didnt like breathing it in, or smelling like smoke.

Of course, your clothes and hair, Ashby said. You walk outyou know how it isyou walk out and you smell like smoke.

Smelling of stale cigarette smoke pales, however, in comparison to the health risks associated with smoking tobacco or breathing in second-hand smoke. Studies have shown that restaurant and bar employees are exposed to significantly higher amounts of second-hand smoke than the general populace or their office-working counterparts.

Hunt said the market is the main force driving his decision. More customers than not prefer their pints without the smoke.

Weve always had a lot of complaints from the customers about the smoke, he said.

But Paddy OLearys wont be going completely smoke-freeat least, not right away.

I think were going to phase it in to start off with, Hunt said.

The bars day crowd tends to be comprised of more smokers than the evening crowd. In an effort to please as many people as possible, smoking will be allowed during the daytime, but not at night.

Theres 22 people in there and 21 of them are smoking during the day, explained Hunt, adding that his day-shift staff have their own concernsour daytime employees definitely dont want to lose our daytime customers.

Some patrons at Wisteria grumbled a bit when Abbott decided to ban smoking. After all, change is tough after more than 70 years.

Anytime you make a change that drastic it takes a little while, said Abbott.

At Intermission the switch was also met with a few scowls. The older, happy-hour guy wasnt ready for change.

I have had a few come in and they dont like it, but its a short conversation, Ashby said. The old-timers that went to happy hours, theyre used to having a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

At Azalea Lounge, off of Davis Highway, smokers still enjoy holding that cigarette in the other hand. The idea of sending them outside to smoke seemed to strike bartender Melba Murphy as odd.

Itd lose a lot of the customers, she said.

Murphy has been at Azaleasor The Zfor many years, through two owners. She believes the cliental appreciates the atmosphere the bar provides.

I think the biggest reason is that most of our customers smoke, Murphy said.

And while smoking used to be commonplace in publiccertainly in barsits tolerance now earns establishments reputations. Places become knownfor good or bad, depending on perspectiveas somewhere thats bound to be wall-to-wall fog.

Did I mention this place is smoky? wrote one online reviewer of Azaleas. You will come out of here with burning eyes and a desire to deep clean your hair and every piece of clothing you have on, not excluding underwear.

Murphy said the smoke doesnt bother herI been at it so long when shes tending bar. She guesses most of the other employees dont care either.

I think all of em but myself smoke, anyways, Murphy said.

A number of states have taken the step of banning smoking in bars. Hunts native Ireland went that direction some years ago. He wishes Florida would extend its ban to cover bars.

Thats what I wish would happen here, Hunt said. Thatd make it easier. Much easier.

If other local transition tales serve as any model, Paddys shouldnt expect to suffer much backlash from stubbing out the smoking. The move appears to have played well for other bars in the area.

Its been a good year, said Ashby, looking back on Intermissions first smoke-free year. I think Ive seen a small increase in business, it smells better and I feel healthier.