In Bars & Clubs

Looking to get a drink without the stink?

Sniffing out Milwaukee's smoke-free bars



Note: The contents of this guide were checked for accuracy when this article was updated on Jan. 6, 2009 at 1:53 p.m. We continually update the thousands of articles on OnMilwaukee.com, but it's possible some details, specials and offers may have changed. As always, we recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the businesses mentioned in the guide.


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." Page 1 of 2 (view all on one page)

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Talkbacks

mkegrl | Jan. 16, 2009 at 5:36 p.m. (report)

ok, "skitters" - it's common sense we will all die... someday. but it should be a choice whether or not i want to inhale someone elses toxicity! if i want my lungs to stay smoke free, then smokers should respect that. we all come from a neutral environment... so bringing smoke into a public space therefore would not be fair to the non-smoking population!

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rootdown42 | Dec. 10, 2008 at 12:53 p.m. (report)

This is not an issue about private rights for businesses, it is a public health issue, and for that reason alone we should already have a ban (anyone who denies second-hand smoke is detrimental to your health is not worth listening to). Who doesn't fell better after a night of drinking in a non-smoking environment? Everyone I know who has been to a city/state/country with a ban loves it, smokers included. Polls indicate that a majority of people in Wisconsin want the ban. People from non-smoking towns like Appleton and Madison find it annoying that we're so behind the times. Its time we stopped paying attention to the Bar & Tavern league and passed this ban already.

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Barownerguy | Dec. 8, 2008 at 2:34 p.m. (report)

I own a small restaurant/bar in West Allis and went non-smoking until 10pm. Worked out great until I started live music and went after a later night crowd. Where are the non-smokers after 9pm???

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kndrice | Dec. 6, 2008 at 12:24 a.m. (report)

if smoke free bars are really what Milwaukee wanted, we would be overwhelmed by smoke free bars. As long it is legal, let the public and the bars decide which way they want to go. Non smoker rights do not supercede smoker rights. You may be surprised as more and more non-smoking bars pop up.

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patrickm1964 | Dec. 3, 2008 at 11:05 a.m. (report)

I don't smoke and I'm tired of my hair and clothes reeking of smoke when I get home. Whether there's a ban or not, I think it's time that I just start telling friends that I won't go to a bar that allows smoking. I just had dinner with five friends - four of whom are former smokers and one a current smoker. All five wanted a smoking ban in Milwaukee bars. I was surprised. Times are changing.

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