Pop Rocks: Bars ordering up smoke-free nights

For years, I have considered the smoke-filled bar my natural environment.

It’s where I have found the many bands I have embraced or, on occasion, derided. It’s where I have cultivated the relationships with the musicians, promoters and fans that have, and continue to, make my job endlessly interesting and always fulfilling. The bar, perhaps more than any desk I occupied or keyboard I clicked and clacked upon, is where I have gotten my best work done.

There were, of course, drawbacks. Communicating during a raucous rock set often means shouting over the din, and even that’s not always effective. There’s the occasional obstacle presented by patrons who, having found that the beer and booze flow freely, might have over-primed the pump.

And then there is the smell. A night out, whether for reasons professional or pleasurable, has nearly always meant retuning home smelling less than fresh.

But that, seemingly, is about to change, and I’ll be spending far less time in the fragrant environs I consider a second home.

Don’t get me wrong. I have no intentions of taking myself off the bar beat. There are bands yet to hear and sources yet to be cultivated. My work is far from done. It seems, however, that it’s becoming a far less smoky affair.

It was recently announced that, under new ownership, the famously hazy Joe’s Underground will become a nonsmoking establishment.

It follows in the footsteps of The Country Club and Somewhere in Augusta, which now have small smoking areas. At the Indian Queen, only the bar’s front porch is smoker-friendly. Following a similar tact, M.A.D. Studios, which is a liquor-free listening room rather than bar, has also remained smoke-free.

Now it appears Sky City might follow suit.

I spoke to Coco Rubio, the owner of the popular club, at the recent Camper Van Beethoven show. He said that a lot of artists, Camper Van Beethoven among them, are beginning to request smoke-free sets. He also said there is an increasingly large segment of potential patrons who choose to skip events at Sky City, often citing the smoke as a determining factor.

There was, a few years ago, a concerted civic effort to remove smoking from area bars. The compromise reached allowed it in businesses that didn’t allow anyone younger than 18 through the doors.

What makes the current trend so interesting – and encouraging – is that these businesses are eliminating or segregating smoking on their own. It’s a business decision, done because owners feel it is either fiscally responsible or socially acceptable.

It will be interesting to see how this pans out. Augusta has been one of the last holdouts in terms of bar smoking. If I were a betting man, I would say this trend represents the first small steps toward clearing the air.

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