Cigarettes and alcohol share something of a lengthy, intimate history. People have flocked to taverns for a drink and a smoke for as long as the prohibition recall has allowed it, and so many musicians have penned odes to the dubious duo, you'd think Jack Daniels and the Marlboro Man were lifelong companions.
But as the health risk of cigarettes began usurping their romanticism, the smoke began to clear in many public domains. Several metropolises -- Minneapolis / St. Paul, Chicago, Madison, for example -- have announced city-wide smoking bans in public places and even a few of Milwaukee's own suburbs have joined in on the trend. Still, despite many local restaurants kicking the habit, smoking is largely a regular at just about every bar in the city.
With the efforts of organizations like Smoke Free Wisconsin and the Smoke-Free Milwaukee Project, an eventual ban seems nearly inevitable. But for now, not having an official law in place gives establishment owners the choice of allowing the ash-tray fillers or not.
Joe Halser of Cudahy's City Lounge is one of the few bar owners in the area who does not allow smoking indoors.
"We're not anti-smoking, I just think bar owners should have a choice, and we just wanted to offer a clean, progressive environment that everyone can enjoy," says Halser, mentioning there is a covered outdoor beer garden with heat lamps in back where smokers are welcome to light up.
"Eighty percent of the population doesn't smoke. It's no different than going to a party at someone's house and they ask you to smoke out in the garage. It should really be a non-issue."
Peter Jest, owner Shank Hall, hasn't completely outlawed cigarettes at his concert venue, but implements occasional, show-specific bans.
"We do that mostly at the request of the artist," he told OnMilwaukee.com. "There are a number of artists who have allergies, health issues or just don't want to deal with smoke. I don't know if it'll become a trend with rock bands, but a lot of the singer / songwriters who come to the club request that we go smoke-free."
And in an astonishing about-face, Scott Johnson snuffed out smoking in his infamously hazy Riverwest coffeeshop, Fuel Cafe, after 14 years in business.
"We thought that being one of the last remaining hold-outs would help our business, but it really hasn't," he told OnMilwaukee.com's Molly Snyder Edler in an interview about his decision. "It is the end of an era. It feels weird, but that's the way it is. Things change. What people want has changed, what Leslie (Montemurro) and I want has changed.
"Milwaukee and Wisconsin are one of the last few hold outs, and smoking is no Alamo. We don't feel like there is some great ideal to stand and fight for. It's a massive cultural shift and must be recognized as such."
A bar without smokers is still a rare find in Milwaukee, but here are a few places to breathe freely while having a drink.
1850 N. Water St., (414) 431-9009
It'd be arguably difficult to pull of an authentic Irish pub without clouds of smoke, but this new Water Street bar and restaurant has reserved its entire second floor bar and dining room for non-smokers.
2102 N. Prospect Ave., (414) 287-2053
This Euro café and bustling bar boasts its status as the only smoke-free bar on the East Side. Its German and Belgian beer selection is something to boast about, as well.
3455 E. Layton Ave., Cudahy, (414) 747-8408
This spacious Cudahy newcomer is another one that's been butt-free from the beginning, and has a fresh, clean feel to prove it. Owner Joe Halser offers brews from his own label, III Dachshunds Beer Co., too.
177 N. Broadway, (414) 225-9800
Cuvee stands out not only as a classy smoke-free place in the Third Ward, but also as Milwaukee's first champagne lounge.
House of Guinness
354 W. Main St., Waukesha, (262) 446-0181
This Waukesha Irish pub goes entirely smoke-free starting in 2009, so enjoy the clear air while you're selecting three of their 15 draughts to sample during their $4 Tap Tour Tours, 3-7 p.m.
4022 N. Oakland Ave., Shorewood, (414) 967-0222
This place opened in summer 2007 and has been smoke-free since the start, so there's no lingering smoke smell here. (A smoking ban for the village will go into effect in 2009, banning smoking in all bars, restaurants and other public places.)
2989 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., (414) 744-0393
Palm has been serving up some one of the best beer selections in Milwaukee for years, making it a must-stop for any suds lover. Owner Bruno Johnson decided to go smoke-free in early 2008.
441 E. Lincoln Ave.,(414) 481-2393
Palm Tavern owner Johnson opened Sugar Maple in spring '08 and, like Palm, the bar has an impressive and extensive beer list and an entirely smoke-free environment.
2155 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., (414) 312-7766
Bay View newcomer Telluride is known as an eco-friendly bar, so it's little surprise that the interior is smoke-free (although the owners allow smoking on their outdoor beer garden.)
718 E. Burleigh St.
This "make out" lounge in Riverwest is far too cozy to allow smoking. Besides, you'll be too busy in the kissing booths to think about lighting up.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”