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Winners, losers, and unanswered questions in smoke-free SA

Photo: Michael Barajas, License: N/A

Michael Barajas

Bar America: a Southtown icon, now smoke-free

Alibis General Manager Tracey Thurman said the same, though her clientele, who like a smoke while dancing or punching her touch-screen games, are mildly inconvenienced to step out. “We have a strong regular crowd,” she said. “Everything from bankers to bikers.”

Ron Herrera, co-owner of SoHo Martini & Wine Bar, says he’s lost a few dedicated cigar smokers, but on the whole the clientele has adjusted. They simply step outside to his tiny patio and light up. “Are we okay? Yeah,” he said. “I just don’t like being told how to run my own business.”

But the question remains: as a cigar bar, should Herrera’s patrons even have to step outside for a drag?

Herrera assumed SoHo was ban-exempt, falling under the umbrella term “retail tobacco store” in the city’s ordinance. On the Friday after the ban went into effect, Herrera said he got a call from the Mayor’s office, telling him he couldn’t keep his cigar-bar status if he continued to sell food, which apparently includes typical drink garnish like lemons, limes, and olives in cocktails (SoHo doesn’t carry the snacks found at some more traditional bars, like wings, fries, and pizza). Though Herrera found the logic a little baffling, he complied, saying the mayor’s rep threatened to sic a public health official on the bar if he didn’t. A city health employee still visited the following Monday to double down, he said.

Metro Health records show nobody’s filed a complaint against SoHo since the smoking ban went into effect, but here’s where the new ordinance gets slippery. The new piece of city code uses the term “bar” to describe a place a lot like SoHo, which is an “establishment that is devoted to the serving of alcoholic beverages for consumption by guests.” But SoHo also sells cigars to patrons (though it’s unclear how many of late), and the new ordinance doesn’t say whether tobacco products must make up a certain percent of sales in order to become an exempt “tobacco retail establishment” or “cigar bar” — only that the place is “utilized primarily for the sale of tobacco products.” And Herrera’s brush with city officials seems especially peculiar considering patrons at neighboring Swig Martini Bar above the River Walk continue to smoke away — indoors.

Over the phone, Swig General Manager Michael Teran was uneasy discussing the matter, saying, “I don’t want to put a target on our backs.”

A list Metro Health provided to the Current show citizens have called in some 30 times since the ban complaining that a number of stores, private clubs, and bars are out of line with the new policy, Swig being one of them. Just three days after the ban went into effect, a customer called Metro Health complaining patrons were puffing away inside the bar. A Metro Health worker who followed up “observed employees smoking upon entry to establishment. Owner was using the old muni-code (which has not been updated) as a basis to smoke,” the complaint states. Metro Health gave Swig a warning not to smoke inside the bar, advising they put up some non-smoking signage.

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