Georgene Kolar is a regular at the Golden Steer restaurant and lounge where she enjoys the company of a drink and a smoke. But Kolar, an Oak Park resident, said she would be less likely to frequent any bars in Forest Park if the village allows a county smoking ban to take effect this spring.
“It’s like ‘Big Brother’ telling you everything,” Kolar said. “It makes you feel stupid.”
Smokers in Forest Park may soon be told to take it outside thanks to an ordinance approved by the Cook County Board of Commissioners last March. That ban, which would affect bars, restaurants, bowling alleys and other venues that have traditionally been tobacco friendly, will take hold on March 15, 2007, unless officials here enact their own ordinance.
The village council has not addressed the issue as of yet, but Village Administrator Mike Sturino said the day for that decision is growing near.
“The deadline is approaching and if we don’t do anything the county is going to impose their restrictive ordinance,” Sturino said. “That’s OK, if that’s what you want.”
At Francesca’s Fiore on Madison Street, 26-year-old manager Jamie Rouse said a ban on smoking would be just fine for her, but it may impact sales at the restaurant. Francesca’s allows smokers to light up within a designated area near the bar, but the remainder of the seating is non-smoking.
Rouse, an occasional smoker, said many of her employees would likely appreciate breathing cleaner air while at work.
“Personally, I favor it, but as a business I don’t know,” Rouse said. “It’s hard. There are a lot of smokers that come here.”
One block to the east, Shanahan’s night manager Ross Boveri said doing away with smoking detracts from the very experience people are seeking.
“I think it’s the whole bar atmosphere,” Boveri said.
At Shanahan’s patrons may also puff on a cigar. Boveri, a smoker himself, said as long as the venue is well ventilated, business owners ought to be able to regulate smoking as they see fit.
In deciding how to respond to the county ordinance, Sturino said village commissioners may need to consider what he sees as a “strong Libertarian streak” among residents resistant to such government intrusions. On the other hand, democracy aims to meet the greater good, so the health of wait staff and children subjected to second hand smoke should also be considered, Sturino said.
A compromise between the county ban and the absence of any village regulations is a likely outcome, Sturino said.
According to the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, there are some 50 eating and drinking establishments in the village. As it stands, those businesses are free to allow or prohibit smoking.
Commissioner Mark Hosty is the manager of Healy’s Westside on Madison Street where seven out of 10 customers will have an ashtray in front of them, Hosty said. The commissioner said his “unique perspective” as a restaurateur is part of the reason he was elected to the council, and he will weigh in when the council takes up the matter.
A non-smoker, Hosty said it’s not the government’s place to regulate personal habits, and he would prefer to see market forces dictate. However, Hosty said some type of compromise is likely.
“I am a firm believer in voting with your dollars,” Hosty said.
Establishments that emphasize darts and billiards over creative food choices could be deeply affected by a smoking ban, Hosty said. If the village fails to enact its own ordinance, Hosty said it is doubtful people will continue to support these businesses.
Places like the Shortstop Lounge on Madison Street cater to the very patrons Hosty said the village might lose if a smoking ban takes hold. Margo Tanaka, a 28-year-old smoker and bartender at the Shortstop, estimated some 75 percent of her customers enjoy a cigarette with their drink.
“Just about all the regulars smoke,” Tanaka said.
At La Piazza on Circle Avenue, owner and chef Gaetano DiBenedetto opened his restaurant with a no smoking policy and said he has no regrets. The fact that more and more governing bodies in the U.S. are forcing smokers outside, DiBenedetto said, is proof that people want a smoke free environment.
“The only things worth smoking are meat and fish,” DiBenedetto said.