As smoking ban becomes law, bar owners cope
At 11:58 p.m. Wednesday at the Dizzy Rooster, Brian Short took a long drag on a Camel, his last legal one in an Austin bar.
“I’m exercising my rights while I still can,” the 30-year-old drummer with Dorkstar said.
Austin’s smoking ban, passed in May by 51.8 percent of voters, got its official, if rocky, start at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
At least one bar owner said he would not enforce the ban until pressed by the city. Another bar owner, vowing to enforce the ordinance to its hilt, phoned 911 to report a smoker.
“A lot of people are getting in their last smokes,” said Jessica Davoust, a bartender at the Dizzy Rooster.
Nearby on Sixth Street, a sign outside the Mooseknuckle Pub urged patrons to “Smoke ‘Em While Got ‘Em!!!”
But owner David Snowberger said he had not received official word from the city about how to enforce the ban and would not until he had been given instructions.
The prospect last spring of the smoking ban had unified some bar owners, who complained that it would lead to a devastating downturn in business. They argued the city should not prosecute proprietors for an offense committed by a patron.
Early Thursday, they coped with enforcing the ban.
Randall Stockton, who owns Beerland on Red River Street and who had campaigned against the ban, called 911 shortly after midnight to report a customer who did not extinguish a cigarette.
“These are my valued customers,” he said. “At 11:58, I’m friends with them, and then a couple of minutes later I’m calling the cops.”
One person by the bar said the call was excessive.
The ban became the subject of downtown regulars and employees at the stroke of midnight.
“Ownership should regulate the place,” said Alpha Ball, who mans the door at Plush, where ashtrays had been removed just before midnight, on Red River Street. “Why would they have laws for your own property?”