Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wednesday Weekly: Sadness at the passing of a regular habit?

The announcement was made some months back, and consequently, everyone involved has had plenty of time to prepare for it.

Now, it’s almost here.

On January 3, when NABC’s original Pizzeria & Public House re-opens for business in 2011 following two days closed (New Year’s Day and the usual Sunday), we’ll be smoke-free.

Beginning on the 3rd, smoking no longer will be permitted inside the building at 3312 Plaza Drive – the entire building. No hidden nooks and crannies, and no exceptions, at least if I have anything to say about it. If we’re going to do it, it should be done correctly, or not at all.

Human nature being what it is – customarily dilatory – there was a flurry of “pro” and “con” comments just after the original announcement, and then relative quiet; now, as the “dreaded” day draws near, the prospective policy change has been mentioned a couple of times in conversation, and I’ve started thinking about it again.

My conclusion?

There isn’t anything dreadful about it, not at all, at least for the majority of patrons and workers.

It continues to surprise me that even the employees who smoke support the idea of a smoke-free building; in fact, they’re the ones who reintroduced the idea in the first place. Servers are on the front line, and no one knows daily conditions better than they do. If they’re willing to step outside at intervals in order to ensure a full dining room (and more tips), it’s a powerful argument in favor of modernity.

At the same time, there are moments in life when you find yourself standing quite clearly on the wrong side of history, and unfortunately for self-identified regulars who smoke, this is one of those times. For them, a smoking ban is a threat, an affront, and perhaps a mortal insult, and in many ways, I sincerely regret the inconvenience to them. Following is a Facebook comment excerpt from one of them, who I’ve known for a very long time.

“The decision will be bad for most of the regulars, but good for the business (and there will simply be a new group of regulars sprout on the couches like so many potatoes.) I have thought for a LONG time the Sportstime side needed to go non-smoking. There is no division there to separate tables and toddlers. But, I feel the backroom of Rich O’s should stay smoking, at least Mon.-Thurs., when it is full of mostly smoking regulars and there is rarely a wait in non-smoking. Fri.-Sat. may still have smoking regulars, of course, but there is almost always a wait in non-smoking those nights. But policies drawn with wide, straight lines tend to be easier for others to follow. So yes, the smoking will send me out. I cannot imagine that is any kind of surprise, or concern."

They're reasonable thoughts, and although I might choose to tackle the clauses one at a time, much of it can be summarized thusly: Bans on indoor smoking are about workplace safety, period.

If second-hand smoke is harmful, and I personally have come to accept that it is, if to a still uncertain extent, there is no way to protect the health of workers except to make the smoking ban uniform. Compromises are impossible to incorporate, and before someone asks, I opposed the New Albany council’s citywide ban (over-turned by mayoral veto in 2008) precisely because it was porous. If universality in my own place, or the entire city, means that I must give up my cherished cigars indoors, then so be it.

However, since I first read the above earlier today, my thoughts have veered away from pure considerations of the indoor smoking issue.

Instead, I’ve been considering what it means to be a regular in this tobacco-laden context. The complaints about the smoking policy change that I’ve heard so far have come almost entirely from frequent customers who’ve spent much time and money seated in one or both sides of the operation, smoking before, during and after eating and drinking.

Not for a moment is it my intention to be anything but grateful for their patronage over the past years, and it is my sincere hope that when a bit of time has passed, that there’ll still be some way to accommodate them at the Pizzeria & Public House. I like them, and I’ll miss them.

Conversely, I need to state this for the record: Given the many, generally positive, qualities to our business as noted by visitors over the years, ranging from the pizza to the ambience, the staff, and of course the beers, I hope I can be forgiven for expressing personal sadness of an almost overwhelming degree when I hear folks who’ve always rightly viewed themselves as the establishment’s backbone of regular patronage cite smoking as a deal-breaker.

So, that’s all it was, all this time?

That’s all we meant to you – a dry, climate-conditioned place to smoke?

No, I’m not offended. I’m not angry. I’m not anything at all, except very sad, and sad to a profound depth that even I’m surprised at feeling, having concluded long ago that it’s rare for me to feel much of anything, any longer.

To be sure, the longtime friend quoted above is showing uncommon understanding about the situation, and so my comments here are not exclusively directed to her. In fact, I’m not sure my comments are directed at anything or anyone other than to me. It’s like something finally has become clear to me after being hidden all these years, presumably behind a cloud of smoke.

So: It is my belief that those individuals and entities unable to adapt are likely to lose out in the end, and my business continues to evolve. It always has, and I hope it never stops evolving.

Furthermore, I’d like to believe that individuals are capable of evolution and reinvention. I’ve tried to be open to these processes myself, with variable results; just the same, I’ve changed. I'm not the same person at 50 as I was thirty years ago. Thank heavens.

On the other hand, apart from cigars, cigarettes have never been my thing. Perhaps I just don’t know, and can’t possibly fathom, the nicotine angle to this “regular” equation. Perhaps it's the nicotine talking, and not the persons.

You guys will be missing so much. The Pizzeria & Public House is poised to kick ass in 2011, and it’s been a while since I’ve been this excited by the prospects, both aesthetic and commercial. It is unspeakably sad that there’ll be some absences during this wonderful time.

Sad. Very, very sad. I'm not sure what else to say about it, so I'll stop writing.


Leslea said...

Tim and I both quit smoking in the past year, and when we ate at Sportstime last weekend, our eyes were burning from the smoke on all sides of us. I feel guilty, too, exposing our unborn child to second-hand smoke. Would we ever complain? No. But it will be helpful to our family to be able to eat there without worrying about the kids' allergies and asthma acting up, as well. We love everything you do there, and while we may not be as regular as others, the waitstaff do know us from the frequency of our visits.

We keep coming back because it's the best everything--food, service, ambience, you name it. You have a right to be hurt. The tactics people are using to gang up on you just amount to bullying. You're doing the right thing, and I think you'll see a lot more customers come there more often who right now stop themselves from walking in because they *don't* want to deal with the smoke.

The Harmon-Tash gang is thrilled! We can't wait to taste the pizza & beer in the clear air.

jon faith said...

"We can't wait to taste the pizza & beer in the clear air."

I can't wait for the rapture, you have been warned.

David said...

Roger, you asked, "That’s all we meant to you – a dry, climate-conditioned place to smoke?"

What a load, and you know it.

I'm one of those who'll new be looking for a new bar, after years of near-daily patronage. I've thought about this a lot. Much more than my initial knee-jerk reaction might have indicated.

There are three reasons that I, and I daresay many of my smoking friends, have been Rich O's regulars for so many years. There's good beer to be enjoyed, and there's good conversation to be had, and yes, you can smoke there. By my count, that's three things, and it takes all three to make a visit to any establishment worthwhile for me.

If Rich O's stopped selling beer, do you think people would still go there, even if talking and smoking was still allowed? If there was some kind of ban on talking, but drinking and smoking were permitted, do you think your numbers would go up?

Of course not.

But ban the third leg of that triad and everything's supposed to be okay. We're just supposed to go outside, no matter the weather, and put up with it? Because it's politically incorrect to do what we do? Because money is more important than loyalty?

Look, I know I'm not going to change anyone's mind. But neither will anyone change mine.

I don't believe that this decision, or any like it anywhere in the world, had anything to do with worker safety. That's simply the battle cry that worked. After "for your own good" didn't work, and after "increased insurance rates" never even really got started, and after "oh but the poor nonsmoking customers" fell on deaf ears, it was "will somebody please think of the workers" that finally sparked and ignited.

Nobody at Rich O's is stupid. That's one of the things that I'll miss about that place. So don't treat us like we're stupid. For businesses, the smoking issue is a business issue. It's about money, plain and simple. And, for an awful lot of nonsmokers out there, it's simply a matter of hatred. That's right, they hate everything about smoking and smokers, and they'll rally behind anyone or anything that promises to remove all evidence of smoking from their lives.

And, starting in January, your bar will be full of those people. I wish you luck. I really do.

The New Albanian said...

I repeat: I find it sad that cigarettes stand in the way, and sad that smoking is a deal breaker.

Whether I expressed it here well, or badly, isn't that important. The sadness is genuine.

Because money is more important than loyalty?

Perhaps we're both guilty of spreading a load?

(He wrote with gentle intent)

The Bookseller said...

Roger, though I'm not mobile enough or whatever and really not a frequent diner-out, I know I would have spent much more time at the original if I could have tolerated the smoke. I grew up in a smoking family and they always had a cig before and after dinner. But the concentration of smoke at the pub was simply too much for me. And you know I'm nico-addicted in a less intrusive and maybe more offensive way.

When BSB opened with a smoke-free policy, it was an opening to enjoy your collective hospitality in a different setting. I hope we'll be eating more pizza and calzones in 2011.

Jeff Gillenwater said...

I'm wondering here, sincerely: Where else is anyone going to go locally to prop up the aforementioned three legged stool?

jon faith said...

Jeff, I've heard Jack's from a number of people.

Personally I don't think folks are taking this salvation endeavor seriously.

As for my own ontological preparation, I am going to make sure I am not injured in the poised kick ass of 2011.

Iamhoosier said...

One big problem with David's 3 way analogy. "you"

If you wanted a beer and I didn't want a beer, I could have tea. If I didn't want to listen to you talk, I could put my ear buds in. If I want to breath, well, you made that difficult.

Yes, I used to smoke. Never smoked in Richo's. Even after I quit, the "allowed" smoking in the bar never stopped me from being a patron. The fellowship and beer was enough for me even though smoke bothered me. Somehow, I managed to "sit" on a two legged stool and made it work. Too bad that you can't. Or won't even try.

Anonymous said...

The three legged stool analogy is getting good use lately. I welcome the change. Just think how much more you will be able to enjoy the aroma of the beer. A brewer spent a lot of time, energy, and love to make the aroma right.

Not the first David.

jon faith said...

Did you topple the mighty Philistine (not Roger)?

The New Albanian said...

I'm not sure why you pulled the comment, unless it was the bullshit reference. I wasn't offended.

Richard said...

I am looking forward to patronizing more often now that I won't reek of smoke when I leave. Thanks!

Jerry said...

I've been a non-smoker all my life and tolerated the smoke in bars and restaurants since there was no alternative. Even though my home is near Buechel, I regularly made the pilgrimage to NABC for good food and the plethora of beer offerings. Then Louisville enacted a smoking law that made the breweries and beer bars on my side of the river much more attractive. I think Roger realized this and made his decision to go smoke-free to compete with the Louisville establishments. It sounds like Indiana is poised to pass a statewide ban anyway. This is a world-wide trend. I'm happy that Roger choose to follow the trend and make NABC smoke-free.