Written by Staff

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

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dallas cigar bars exemptsmoking bans
tobacco legislation

Cuba hardly shines as liberty's emblem.

But in Dallas, the cubano-themed Havana Social Club is poised to become one of the few places in Dallas, perhaps the only one, where tobacco-loving barflies can smoke a cigarette or stogie with their rum, beer or mojito.

Dallas' newly expanded smoking ordinance, which city officials will begin enforcing April 10, will allow smoking in bars only if they generate at least 15 percent of their gross revenue from the "sale or rental of tobacco, tobacco products, smoking implements, or smoking accessories for on-premises consumption." That percentage had to exist as of last Wednesday.

The Havana Social Club, a year-old haunt in Victory Plaza with its leather chairs and stocked humidor, should easily qualify for the "cigar bar" exception, its owner says.

The cigar bar provision will not, however, apply to most other Dallas bars, which generate most of their revenue from alcohol and food.

It also means an established Dallas bar that doesn't today derive 15 percent of its gross revenue from tobacco and tobacco-related sales cannot suddenly do so and expect to fall under the city's cigar bar clause, Interim Assistant City Manager Forest Turner said.

"I feel really bad for all the bar owners," said Havana Social Club owner Carlos Rodriguez, a Cuban native who vocally lobbied the Dallas City Council against a city smoking ordinance expansion. On Wednesday, the expansion passed 10-5, with many council members declaring the decision a victory for Dallasites' health.

"But I must say: It's a huge plus for me," Mr. Rodriguez said. "We're going to have a big, big increase in business."

City officials aren't sure how many Dallas establishments will fall under the expanded smoking ordinance's cigar bar clause, although they'll soon begin to research the matter, said Ahsan Khan, Dallas City Hall's division manager for food protection and education.

But owners of at least two businesses that feature a smoking theme fear they'll be forced to extinguish their tobacco offerings next year.

"I'd have to run the numbers, but my cigar and tobacco sales probably account for 10 percent at best," said Amier Taherzadeh, owner of the Chateau Wine Market and Bodega Bar, which today boasts a well-appointed cigar lounge. "Is it going to kill my business to close the cigar bar? I don't think so. But it will have some impact."

Mr. Taherzadeh added that he'll likely still sell cigars for use in the courtyard portion of his business, as it remains legal in Dallas to smoke on a restaurant or bar patio or deck.

John Alsenih, owner of Dallas restaurant and bar Al-Amir, said smoking a hookah, a water pipe containing tobacco, is a popular pastime among his patrons.

"The vast majority of my sales are not water pipes, though," Mr. Alsenih said. "Not doing hookah will affect alcohol sales. It might help food sales. If business was a little stronger, it might be OK. But we're all on the edge in this economy. And hookah is just part of the tradition and experience."

One business expecting to capitalize on Dallas' smoking ban is Black Fin, a popular bar on Belt Line Road in Addison, a few blocks from the Dallas city limit.

Bar manager Mark Holguin predicted his business would markedly increase, since Addison's smoking law is among the more liberal in North Texas, allowing people to puff in restaurants and bars alike.

"We already get a fair amount of people from smoking restricted areas, and that's about to go up," Mr. Holguin said. "In Addison, we're going to try to stay a smoking city as long as we can."

Dallas officials, meanwhile, are busy finalizing what they say will be a four-month-long effort to educate businesses about the new smoking ordinance so they're ready to comply with it come April.

Dallas officials expect to spend $271,000 annually to enforce the ordinance, Mr. Turner said. Violators face $200 tickets.

But at Havana Social Club, the ashtrays will remain.

"Sometimes you're just lucky," Mr. Rodriguez mused.

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