The new smoking section

More businesses turn to outdoor cafs to accommodate smokers

On a recent Sunday evening in early June, about 30 patrons guzzled beers, munched fried foods and puffed on cigarettes on the deck behind the CC Club, 2600 Lyndale Ave. S.

Before the smoking ban, the 62-year-old bar had a thick haze of smoke that hovered above its booths, pool tables, jukeboxes and other kitschy fixtures that have outlived many of its patrons.

The deck was inaugurated as the club's new smoking section the same day the city's smoking ban took effect in March last year. Since then, its heavy-smoking clientele has shifted outside. CC Club owner Moe Emard, who co-owns the grungy joint popularized by rockers with his wife Sharon and business partner Linda Rauen, built the enclosed patio to prepare for the smoking ban. It sits several feet above a previous employee parking lot.

&#8220Our deck is quite unique,” Emard said. &#8220It saved our business.”

Many business owners agree that outdoor cafs have become essential for serving those who want to sit outside, especially smokers. Most restaurants in the city have added them, and other existing cafs are being upgraded to accommodate smokers.

Some smokers say they intentionally seek bars/restaurants with outdoor seating available. Jessica Hogan, who was smoking with several friends outside the Local, 931 Nicollet Mall, on a warm Monday night, said that she's drawn to outdoor cafs. &#8220I love that you can't smoke inside. Even if I weren't a smoker, I'd want to sit outside. I like to people-watch,” she said.

However, others complain that they must hoof past sidewalks polluted by smoke. A North Loop neighborhood group member, Alice Eichholz, said via e-mail: &#8220the entrances to Downtown include a walk past a number of establishments where the sidewalks are either crowded and difficult to navigate at times when filled with smokers (waiting in line or just smoking) This is definitely a livability issue.”

For that reason, some restaurants such as Pizza Nea, 306 Hennepin Ave., and Ecopolitan, 2409 Lyndale Ave. S. don't allow smoking inside or outside. Ecopolitan employee Kaitlin Busse said the organic, health-conscious restaurant bans smoking from the premises as a way to &#8220keep the grounds looking good and promote well-being.”

Smoking outside

Patrons can get to the CC Club's deck from its back door or the handicap-accessible ramp. There are 15 tables. A wrought-iron fence frames the platform, and lights are fixed to the wood beams. Propped over the entrance is a TV and planters line the walls. Ashtrays can be found at each table. Fans and a gas heater are suspended across the width of the deck, hanging from the latticework roof.

The deck is an extension of the club.

Similarly, Mortimer's at 2001 Lyndale Ave. S. added a patio with standing room only in response to the smoking ban. Even though it helps compensate for the loss of a smoking section, Mortimer's bartender Marc Goetluck said that having the patio means contending with other issues, such as a city ordinance regarding nighttime noise, which forces everyone inside after 11:30 p.m.

&#8220The smoking ban really hurt all of the businesses,” he said. &#8220It's really a pain for me because I'm a smoker and I have to leave the bar.”

Regulating the sidewalk

Currently, there are 233 sidewalk cafes, excluding some coffee shops and bakeries that aren't counted because they don't sell liquor, according to information from the city's Business License Inspection department. That's a dramatic increase from 2002 when there were 154 licensed sidewalk cafs in the city. Twenty-four years ago, however, there were only 14 sidewalk cafes.

Since the smoking ban, 86 restaurants/bars have applied for permits to expand their beverage/alcohol premises. Of those, 35 were related to sidewalk cafs. Fifty-one were applications to expand seating outside such as in private patios or decks.

The city released a report in March that touted the positive influence of the smoking ban on local business. According to the study, which examined revenue taken in by restaurants/bars and other venues from 2003 to 2005, sales increased by 7.08 percent during the second and third quarters of 2005 compared with the same period in 2004. From 2003 to 2004, revenue grew 6.2 percent.

Anna Pratt can be reached at apratt@mnpubs.com and 436-4391.