Atlanta gay bar owners open to proposed smoking ban

The Atlanta City Council is considering a broad ban on smoking in public places that would impact several gay bars around the city.

The ordinance introduced April 15 would ban smoking indoors at all restaurants and bars in the city, as well as eliminate smoking lounges at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, according to the AJC. It would also redefine smoking to include e-cigarettes and vaping.

Atlanta City Councilmember Matt Westmoreland, who sponsored the ordinance, said the ban ensures that everyone in the city “has the ability and right to breathe smoke-free air.”

“This legislation sends a clear message from the city council that we’re looking out for the public health of everyone who is in Atlanta and we look forward to having a conversation with the public in the coming weeks and months about this legislation and moving our city forward,” he said in a Facebook video (see below) after introducing the ordinance. 

Heretic limited smoking inside the popular Cheshire Bridge Road bar to its pub area and outdoor deck. Alan Collins, the bar's general manager, called that move “a very nice compromise.”

“The people who did not want to be around the smoke would be in the back and the people that didn’t mind it would be in the pub,” he told Project Q. “It’s worked out really well.”

Collins said he knew this broad new ordinance was coming.

“I’m a smoker and I have no problems going completely non-smoking,” he said.

Collins’ only concern was a stipulation in the ordinance that prohibits smoking within five feet of a building’s entrances, windows and ventilation systems. He said if that includes patios, which Heretic does allow smoking on, he’s “absolutely against it.” Westmoreland has not responded to Project Q for clarification about the buffer zone around buildings.

BJ Roosters allows smoking indoors, which owner Bobby Hamill said “very, very rarely” draws complaints from customers.

“I don’t have a problem if [the ordinance] does pass because if everybody has to do it, it will be fine,” he said. “But if they exclude certain places, I don’t necessarily think that’s fair.”

The Hideaway banned smoking indoors in 2017. Manager Ray Matheson, better known by his drag persona Ruby Redd, said they noticed that’s where the trends were going. 

“The other bars that did it even had compliments from the smokers, so we said let’s go ahead and do this,” he said. “We literally had very, very few if any complaints. People were just kind of relieved.”

Atlanta Eagle banned smoking indoors in 2013, and Woofs followed suit in 2016. Swinging Richards, Tripps and Opus continue to allow smoking indoors.

The proposed ban would include a broad array of public places, including hotels, motels, stores, offices, public transit, restrooms and parking structures, according to the AJC.

The city council will discuss the ordinance at a work session in May. If it passes, the policy could take effect as early as September, according to Eater Atlanta

Former Atlanta City Councilmember Alex Wan sponsored an ordinance that banned smoking in city parks in 2012.

LGBTQ City Councilmember Antonio Brown, who was sworn into office on Monday, did not respond to questions from Project Q about his views on the proposed smoking ban.

Westmoreland and Councilmember Andre Dickens talk more about the ban below.

UPDATE | Westmoreland followed up after this story was published saying that "several cities" across the country exempt patios from the smoking ban.
 
"Happy to talk with interested business owners to make sure the final piece of legislation reflects their thoughts on that issue," he said.