Last Wednesday, the House voted 54–44 in favor of a bill that would exclude bars and casinos from smoke-free ordinances, but several Missoula establishments are already ahead of the game, having voluntarily submitted to smoke-free sentiments with success.
The Iron Horse Brew Pub’s smoke-free Thursdays, which last until 10 p.m., have been around for a long time. Owner Tami Ursich explains that the idea came from a group of patrons. “We’ll give it two solid months and if it works, we’ll keep it” was the original idea, she says. Twelve years later, smoke-free Thursdays have become a staple on the local bar scene.
“I love smoke-free nights,” says Hilary Rosenberg, who’s been a waitress at the Iron Horse for five-and-a-half years. “It’s so nice to leave not smelling like an ashtray. It’s cleaner and I breathe better.”
Supporters of House Bill 661 argue that smoking bans in bars and casinos translate to fewer patrons, but Ursich and Rosenberg are not so sure. “Business is more or less the same, but it’s a different crowd,” Rosenberg says.
Hammer Jack’s, doing business in the space that formerly housed The Ritz, is Missoula’s largest sports bar with 42 TVs and three projection screens—and it’s completely smoke-free.
“Something like 25 percent of people in Missoula are smokers,” says Jamie McHugh, who operates Hammer Jack’s with Jesse Coulter. During remodeling, McHugh says, he scrubbed the brown ceiling white—it was coated with thick tar from cigarette smoke. In addition to reduced cleaning costs, the bar’s smoke-free status should add years of working life to Hammer Jack’s TVs, McHugh says. Regular Chuck Goodman says the nonsmoking environment makes him come back. “That and the girls,” he adds.
Since opening last August, patrons like Goodman have made the smoke-free sports bar popular, and McHugh says he’s beating his projections.
In the meantime, HB 661 is still a long way from becoming law—over the next few weeks it will have to pass three readings in the Senate before Gov. Schweitzer would have a chance to sign it.