In the Spotlight

News & Features
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
If you got 'em, smoke 'em outside
Larger view
A homemade sign sums up the sentiment at the Triple Rock Social Club. Proprietors of music clubs in Minneapolis and St. Paul say proposed smoking bans may put them out of business and hurt the local music scene. (MPR photo/Chris Roberts)
As debate over smoking bans in Minneapolis and St. Paul continues, opponents have often talked about how smoking and drinking go hand in hand. Add rock and roll to the mix and the allure of smoking only gets stronger. Proprietors of Twin Cities music clubs, where the vast majority of patrons smoke, say smoking bans could affect their livelihood and have a negative impact on the local music scene.

St. Paul, Minn. — Drinking, smoking and rock music are so incestuously intertwined that if you remove one you're going to get a strong reaction, especially if what you remove is as addictive as tobacco. At the Triple Rock Social Club in Minneapolis, regulars such as Andrea greet the idea of a smoking ban with deep disdain.

Larger view
Image Andrea, a Triple Rock regular.

"It disgusts me," she says. "I think it's really going to have a dramatic effect on the city. I think it's going to have a dramatic effect on all the bars, the nightlife. Everything is going to be incredibly sterile, clinical, ridiculous."

Most of the smokers at the Triple Rock believe businesses should be the ones deciding what goes on within their confines, not the government. And, says patron Anthony Wallen, since smoking is legal, it's also a matter of individual rights.

"We're of the legal age, and should be able to do it," Wallen says. "And if you don't want to be around it, you have that choice not to be around it."

The question of whether a smoking ban will drive customers away from music clubs is an easy one for Andrea to answer. Yes.

"I'm gonna be less prone to go anywhere, to be honest," she says. "I'd rather sit at home and drink some coffee and be able to smoke my cigarette, then go out and talk, have a five minute conversation, take a break to go outside, and, you know, that's not gonna be fun."

Larger view
Image Loyal Triple Rock customer Anthony.

Anthony Wallen plays in a band called the April Epidemic. It's performed a number of times at the Triple Rock, and Wallen estimates he frequents the club seven days a week. He says if a smoking ban goes into effect, he'll still go to see shows, but he won't park himself in the bar.

"I think that's where the clubs make a lot of their money. I want to come and see this band, I'm gonna show up a little early, probably have a couple cocktails or whatever and then hang around afterwards with my friends," he says.

Wallen thinks people will become more choosy about what bands they see and how long they stay. Relatively unknown bands, he says, will have a harder time finding audiences.

The stars must have been alligned differently on the night this reporter visited St. Paul's Turf Club. Most everyone who agreed to be interviewed, moderate to heavy smokers they were, welcomed the idea of a ban. Some said it might help them quit. Brenda of St. Paul says it's hard to argue with the reasoning behind a ban, protecting customers and workers from the dangers of second hand smoke.

Larger view
Image Turf Club patron Brenda

"I don't think people should have to be in a smoking area," Brenda says. "If they want to go out and have fun and listen to music and go to the bar and hang out with friends and they don't smoke, and you know, everybody does smoke at the bar so, I don't think it's a big deal people have to go outside."

Another Turf Club customer, Andrew of St. Paul, lived in Colorado where smoking bans have been implemented. Andrew says it was just something he got used to.

"If you can't deal with it, then you don't go out and you're mad and bitter about it and that's too bad," he says.

Turf Club manager Dave Ricker admits he's somewhat torn on the issue of a smoking ban. Ricker says he believes in the right of people to work in a safe environment but he's worried about how much business the bar will lose.

"Boy, I couldn't say percentages or anything but I think it would be significant," he says.

Ricker, who estimates 70 to 80 percent of Turf Club customers smoke, says there's a possibility a ban could force the bar to close. Over at the Triple Rock, owner Eric Funk is more vehement in his opposition to a ban.

Larger view
Image Triple Rock Social Club co-owner Eric Funk.

"It's not even so much a financial concern for me, although that is a concern," he says. "I'm worried that the city council is not looking at the repercussions of what can happen."

Funk says its important to remember that clubs charge a cover to hear music. The rules at most bars say once you pay the cover, you have to stay inside. Funk says he has no space left to create an outside smoking area, so people will have to go out on the street. For neighborhood bars like his, that creates a possible public nuisance problem and a logistical headache for the club. Funk can't imagine the problems it would pose for a place like First Avenue, dealing with long ticket lines and then mass exodus smoke breaks.

"It's hard enough to get everyone through that line once, you know," he says. "We don't have to do it as much because we're small and usually we don't have to deal with that sort of thing but the larger venues, they can't have people coming in and out 10, 15, times. In fact, most concerts, you're not allowed in and out. And there's a reason for that. It's because, what are they going to do when they go back out every time?"

Minneapolis City Council member Dean Zimmerman, sponsor of the smoking ban proposal in Minneapolis, says Funk may be over-estimating the number of cigarette breaks people need. If an establishment doesn't allow smoking, Zimmerman says people have proven over and over they can adjust their behavior accordingly.

"People go to movies all the time, they sit through a movie for a couple of hours, maybe two and half hours, don't have a cigarette and seem to survive quite well," he says. "And I certainly think they could go and listen to some music for an hour or two, and survive it."

Larger view
Image St. Paul City Council member Dave Thune.

Zimmerman expects the number of smokers on the streets may cause a few isolated problems, but nothing major. St. Paul City Council member and smoking ban sponsor Dave Thune says concern about smoke breaks at music venues is legitimate and the city is paying attention.

"One thing we've talked about is perhaps creating a fund of city money that we could give low interest loans or grants to sort of adapt their businesses," he says. "We've talked about perhaps changing outdoor service areas so that didn't create an extra parking requirement. We are listening. We are hearing some of these arguments and some of the objections and some of the concerns."

Still, Thune says he's confident that everyone will,as he puts it, survive and prosper without smoking in bars and restaurants.

One of the nation's best known indie rock clubs, CBGB's, is in New York where a smoking ban has been in effect for more than a year. CBGB's owner, Hilly Kristal says it hasn't been easy. He says he's had to hire another security guard to watch outside areas where smokers congregate, and he estimates revenues are down by as much as 12-percent. Kristal says other less known, less established clubs have suffered more.

"It is a hardship," he says, "but I think the more successful clubs will last. I don't mean the biggest ones, but the ones that are doing the best will last and the others are going to have a tough time."

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects