Dee Felice Café in Mainstrasse (529 Main St., Covington, 859-261-2365) had a waiting list on Saturday night. Why’s that remarkable? Well, because it’s been two weeks since the Jazz club banned smoking and, once upon a time, the cool cats of Jazz would not have gone smoke-free without a fuss. So it was in a spirit of celebration that we sat at the bar on Saturday night, waiting for the music to start, drinking some darn good cocktails and breathing some smoke-free air.
Bartender Ron, who has worked at the cafe since 1988, said the move had “alienated” three customers but gained many more.
“From my perspective, I’m glad to see it gone,” he said, as he passed me a perfect Manhattan. Then I dug in to a plate of fried oysters, and my husband, a hard-core smoke hater who had to be dragged to Dee Felice before the ban, enjoyed a cosmopolitan and a grilled portabella with a nice, rich cream sauce. I have a feeling that we’ll be spending a lot more time and money at this cozy Covington corner in the future.
A few months ago, I wrote a column about a little diner, the Fort Wright Family Restaurant, that also went smoke free and told me that they’d gained customers. I know two restaurants isn’t a scientific sample, but none of the dire consequences that the (tobacco lobby-funded) smoking defenders predicted have come true for these businesses.
These two restaurants banned smoking voluntarily, on their own initiative. For the remainder of Kenton County restaurants, there might be a mandate. The county’s government, the Fiscal Court, approved a smoking ban at the end of December, right before the majority of its commissioners left office. The ban is for restaurants and doesn’t include bars, but there are bar/restaurants in the grey area that have to ban anyone under 18 from the premises in order to keep smokers, as I understand it. Pro-smoke forces hope that the newly elected commissioners will repeal the ban before it’s scheduled to go into effect on April 15.
An editorial in the Lexington Herald-Leader called for all three Northern Kentucky counties to ban smoking: “Many opponents of smoke-free laws believe they are fighting for freedom when, in fact, they’re playing stooges for the tobacco industry. … Nonetheless, 79 percent of the U.S. population now lives in places covered by some form of smoke-free law.” They pointed out that many southern Kentucky counties — further in the tobacco belt — have already got some prohibition on the books.
I hate to say this, because most of my friends support the ban, but I’d almost rather have businesses do what Dee Felice did — take a stand on their own to make their business smoke-free. Sure, there will be some places that hang onto their ashtrays until you pry them from their cold, stiff, nicotine-stained fingers. The Northern Kentucky Health Department publishes a list of all smoke-free restaurants (and bingo parlors!) on their Web site (www.nkyhealth.org) so patrons can plan ahead. But I think the strongest pro-ban argument is that employees like Bartender Ron really don’t have a free choice not to work in a smoky environment. In this recession, do you really think anyone has the luxury of quitting a job just because they can’t breathe clean air?
CONTACT ANNE MITCHELL: [email protected]