By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published May 08, 2009 at 11:14 AM

Now that state lawmakers have reached a deal to prohibit smoking in virtually all workplaces -- including restaurants and taverns -- we wondered how local business operators would react to the ban, which will start in July, 2010.

The plan would replace the hodgepodge of local ordinances restricting smoking that have been passed in dozens of communities, including Madison, Appleton, Eau Claire and, for a time, Wauwatosa.

Upon ratification, Wisconsin will be the 26th state to ban smoking in all bars and restaurants, joining Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota.

Under the new rules, smokers who violate the ban would be fined between $100 and $250. Bar owners would not be fined as long as they take steps to prevent smoking in their establishments.

We asked several bar and restaurant owners for their thoughts. Feel free to use the Talkback feature to add yours.

B.J. Seidel
Burnhearts, 2599 S. Logan Ave.

"The smoking ban is a tough position to take as a smoker and bar owner, but I think it is bound to happen (as it has all over the world) and we have no choice but to accept it when it does. I believe it will have an immediate negative impact on our business, but I am hopeful that it will not have a long-term affect on us.

"Burnhearts will not actively enforce the bill until it has become law. We are currently looking for a solution so that our smokers will not be stuck on the freezing cold street in front of the bar during the dead of winter. We are also concerned that our neighbors will not be affected by an increased number of patrons smoking on our streets. I think with a little ingenuity we can make our bar smoke-free while still accommodating to the independent spirit of the smokers."

Joe Sorge
Water Buffalo, Swig, AJ Bombers and Sullivan's

"My initial reaction is that the ban is good for the health and reputation of Wisconsin. However, as a business owner I believe the choice to designate your business smoke-free should be yours to make.

"Since our businesses are primarily smoke-free establishments I do not expect an impact.

"I think the bar mentality (at least mine and different
than a restaurant mentality) is to hold on as long as possible and let our guests enjoy the right to choose."

Mike Eitel
Diablos Rojos Restaurant Group (Trocadero, Cafe Hollander, Cafe Centraal, Fat Abbey Biercafe)

"Hallelujah! Free at last! We've wanting a fair, level playing field ban for years.

"With this type of ban (statewide, as opposed to city- or county-wide), I know that businesses will end up doing better after an adjustment period of a few months. I've watched three bans go into effect right before my eyes over the last decade. I was trying to open a Nomad in San Francisco when they put their ban in place about eight years ago. All the bar owners were screaming and resistant and saying the ban would put them out of business. Within a few months, you didn't hear a peep because they had just seen record profits from the new influx of people who could now enjoy themselves in bars and restaurants.

"Conversely, I did watch the negative effects of a ban in Minneapolis four years ago while I was helping to open a Nomad up there. The difference was what I call "The Island Effect." The bigger the geographical area involved in a band, the less chance of the loss of business to unfair and arbitrary ban borders. St. Paul was too close to Minneapolis, so their bars were able to pack in all the smokers while those on the border of Minneapolis saw their business dry up. MOst were able to hang on until the statewide ban kicked in. In San Francisco, there are literally no adjacent suburbs -- it is completely surrounded by water and long bridges.

"Probably the most humorous moments are on the night the ban takes effect. It made for huge pro/anti-smoking parties in Paris, Dublin, London, San Francisco and even Minneapolis. When you are out that night, you feel like you are a part of history -- good stuff.

"Our group is likely to change its smoking policies this winter. We were hoping the ban would take effect by the end of ‘09. Feedback from a vast majority of our customers in "pro-ban," however, we have to buffer that with our appreciation for the loyal customers we have who do enjoy smoking at our barstools. I think we have a plan for the winter that makes sense for everybody. We just need to polish it a bit before the snow flies."

Peter Jest
Shank Hall, 1434 N. Farwell Ave.

"I'm part of the Tavern League. My big concern was that any ban had to be statewide. It would not be fair to guys on the border of West Allis or West Milwaukee if it wasn't statewide.

"We could kind of see this coming, so it wasn't a big shock. I was kind of worried because Milwaukee has so many small bars -- the mom and pop places on the South Side, where you go in and it seems like everyone is smoking. I wonder if those people will stay home now.

"I don't think it's going to be a big transition for us. Probably 20 to 40 percent of our shows are smoke-free, at the request of the artist. Sometimes we allow smoking only at the bar, but we've been letting people go outside to smoke during smoke-free shows for years. Only occasionally will someone show up and say "I'm not paying to get in if I can't smoke." Some of the acts we book either like to smoke themselves or don't want to make their fans go outside, so they request it. It's gone both ways, but it won't be a big change for us.

"In a way, smoking is part of the rock and roll culture. I guess if Keith Richards ever wants to play (at Shank Hall), I'm going to pay the fine.

"I hope the city has tolerance for bar owners. If half your crowd is outside at 1 a.m., you can't blame the noise on the owner. I also wonder what will happen on Water Street and the other strips. Will people congregate in certain spots and smoke?"

"I guess that's the biggest thing, to me. All the people who said they would go out if places were less smoky had better go out now."

Deanne Wecker
Lee's Luxury Lounge, 2988 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

"My initial reaction to the ban is that I don't like the government interfering with my business decisions. A forced smoking ban does not help my corner tap in tough economic times. There are plenty of non-smoking establishments in our city and in Wisconsin now so why do we need a ban?

"I think it will hurt my business, particularly in the winter. I think there are plenty of establishments that are smoke free and it works for them and people applaud them--I do too. But many small bar owners are going to be hurt by this.

"I think that if some bars do "jump ahead" and go smoke-free early, it will be because it was the right thing to do economically for their business. No one is going to go smoke-free early if it's going to hurt their sales."

Scott Johnson
Balzac, Comet Cafe, Hi Hat/Garage, Honeypie and Palomino

"My initial reaction to the ban is elation. We can't wait. At this point I'll bet 15 percent of our customers are smokers, but their smoking affects everyone. It makes every customer's hair and clothes smell, it makes the interiors of our buildings musty smelling and adds a ton of extra maintenance and cost to our operations. Also, it likely drives away an unknown number of potential non-smoking customers who just can't stand or won't tolerate the smoke.

"I think it will impact our businesses on the East Side and in Bay View in a very positive way, though I cant speak for other bar / restaurants in other parts of the city or state. We serve food at every location and have already begun to limit smoking to one degree or another at Comet (no smoking until the kitchen closes at 10 p.m.) and Palomino (no smoking in the dining area until the kitchen closes at 10 p.m).

"Fuel Cafe went non-smoking three years ago and our business improved dramatically. Fortunately or unfortunately, cigarette smoking is just not that popular anymore. The difficulty is in the adjustment to that fact. I personally think that two years from now, no one will remember or care.

"We have been tempted to jump ahead of the ban and have been discussing it with our partners and managers, almost more than any other subject, for at least a year. Unfortunately, we (as a great deal of bar owners are) are not prepared, in this economy, to give up that 15 percent of smoking customers at this moment. But I must say that for us the tipping point is very close.

"Anyone who has visited bars in California, New York, Austin, Seattle, etc. comes away with the overwhelming impression that frequenting bars is still a fun and social experience without the cigarette smoke. It's a win-win. That said, I still believe that if an owner-operated and bar-tended "mom and pop" style tavern wants to allow smoking, they should be able, but in bar / restaurants, it's time."

John Dye
Bryant's Cocktail Lounge, 1579 S. 9th St.

"I have mixed reactions. As a consumer, an ex-smoker, an employer and the family member of several people who have died from smoking, I am happy. As a bar owner, I am a bit nervous.

"I think it may have a negative impact at first, but I think after people get used to the ban, business will be the same or better. When I visit non-smoking states and cities, I try to talk to smokers and bar owners about the ban. Surprisingly, I have found that most people are supportive of the ban. Bar owners didn't see the loss in business they expected and customers (smokers and not) generally say they feel a lot better in the morning. In Milwaukee, we may not have the same experience, but I think it will eventually be OK.

"I believe we are already seeing a trend toward non-smoking establishments. I think the smoking ban may give some bar owners the confidence to move forward with a non-smoking policy prior to the ban."

Marc Bianchini
On the Marc Restaurants (Osteria del Mondo, Cubanitas, Indulge)

"I think it's great, because It now levels the playing field."

I think it will have positive effect for restaurants, but bars that sell food may see a slight fall off. I base this on my hometown of New York City, where business went up."

Marisa Graff-Lange
Blackbird, 3007 S Kinnickinnic Ave.

"As a bar owner and sometimes bar patron I cannot wait for the smoking ban! Of course, we, Blackbird, will wait until the ban to change. We have a lot of young 21-to-35-year-old customers that would most likely hang out somewhere else if they could not smoke in our bar. That is not to say that Blackbird does not have other draws but people do like to live it up when in a bar.

As a former smoker, I often only went out in winter so that I could smoke in bars. As a non-smoker, I try to avoid smoky bars. I do think that if the ban is city wide it will not effect our business as long as we are granted allowances to create a smoking area outside... perhaps a patio for example."

Drew Konop
Karma Bar and Grill, 600 E. Ogden Ave.

"My initial reaction is that I think it should be up to the operator to decide if they want to be smoking allowed or non-smoking. We decided to have a non-smoking level and a smoking level. Other bars are voluntarily smoke-free to appeal to their patrons. The free market will show if there is significant demand for smoke free, and bar/restaurant operators will respond.

"I don't see much of an impact to our business. When I visit Minneapolis or Chicago, I go outside to smoke. I smoke less, but I don't go out less. Fortunately, we have a patio for smokers if a ban is passed.

"I personally won't jump ahead to ban smoking before a law is passed. The feedback we hear is that cigars are offensive but cigarettes are tolerable.

"Maybe smoke is less noticeable in our building because of the structure, but I wouldn't expect many places to ban before a law is passed because I don't believe the demand is there. It goes back to the free market concept -- if I heard it was what our customers want, I would do it. But many bar patrons like to smoke either socially or habitually."

Greg Landig
Bomb Shelter, 1517 S. 2nd St.

"Well I personally don't think it's the governments place to decide what a business can and cannot do as long as it's legal, and currently the purchase and use to tobacco products is legal. I also understand the health concerns and rights of non-smokers, who have a choice to frequent or not an establishment based on it's smoking policy.

"With that said, as long as a smoking ban is enforced state wide I have no problem. If the ban is just in selected municipalities it will effect the sales of small businesses. Should a ban be passed here, I would no longer renew my tobacco sales license which would be a lost stream of revenue to the city which they will find another way to pass on to the taxpayer."

Diane Dowland
Monkey Bar, 1619 S. 1st St.

"When they were initially talking about the smoking ban, I had fear because i lived in Tempe, Arizona for 8 years and when they banned smoking in Mesa, everyone abandoned bars and restaurants there and went to Tempe and Scottsdale. A lot of places went out of business quickly. And this was in the late '90s, when the bans were just beginning. Then they banned smoking in Tempe, everyone went to Scottsdale and again, a lot of places went out of business again.

"They have to make it statewide. However, people aren't smoking like they used to. We've been noticing all of a sudden that no one is smoking in the bar. We don't even have a cigarette machine any more and we're busier than ever. I don't think it will really affect anyone as much as they think it will.

"I've never smoked a cigarette in my life, and my dad died of lung cancer related to smoking. I'm certainly not "pro cigarette," but seriously think it should be left up to the business owner.

"On the other hand, it would be nice to go home and not smell like a cigarette at the end of the night."

Chris Leffler
Leff's Lucky Town, 7208 W. State St., Wauwatosa

"My initial reaction is that I saw it coming. In fact I'm surprised that it doesn't take effect Jan. 1, 2010. I guess it was inevitable and I cannot say I'm disappointed.

Beyond the usual arguments against smoking like the effects of secondhand smoke and the effect smoking has on health care costs that impact us all, I'll be happy not to have deal with all the ashtrays and the damage smoke does to TVs, walls, pictures, fans, compressors and more. I'm not a smoker and I admit there are times when I don't even stop in my bar in the middle of the day to check things out in fear that I'll come out stinking. Once I'm in the bar and have a few, the smoke doesn't bother me too much, but it will be refreshing to not have to deal with it.

"The ban will create a change of clientele at Leff's. I think we'll lose some customers, but gain some new ones. I really think it will net itself out. Hopefully by doing the expansion we are going through, we are preparing ourselves for the ban quite well by creating an area, easily accessible, for smoking patrons to go. Like I said, I saw this coming fast and have prepared for it to limit the negative effect on our business.

"I don't think too many places will go smoke free before they have to. There is a fear of the unknown. If they thought their business would do better without smoking, they would have done it already. Although I think it is a farce, the argument that many tavern or restaurant owners have requested that everybody be on an even playing field. If a bar goes smoke-free early they may perceive themselves at an unfair advantage. Having said that, Leff's may be one of the places that goes smoke free early. We are currently adding 1200 square feet of indoor bar space and about 1000 square feet of patio. Our intention is to have the 1,200 sq. feet indoor to be non-smoking. I think there will be more demand for the non smoking space than the original 1,700 sq. feet of the bar where smoking will be permitted.

I am concerned for some of the places where the majority of the patrons smoke. They will probably not survive. The old codgers don't have the concept of going outside to smoke. My main opposition to the smoking ban is simply that the government is telling businesses that have been through good and bad and survived and do the best for their business are told to ban the smoking. That should be the businesses' decision. The no smoking contingency says that bars and restaurants will do better when there is no smoking. Well then they should run the business and put their neck on the line. A simple solution would be to grandfather the ban in. Any new applications, permits or licenses granted must be for smoke-free establishments. Then, if the smoke free places did better than those with smoke more and more places would go smoke free. It is called free enterprise."