Illusions owner plans lawsuit to stop ordinance from taking effect
The debate over a smoking ban in bars has been billed as a battle between health advocates concerned about the impacts of secondhand smoke and business owners worried about losing customers.
But the executive director of the Dallas Tavern Guild, an association of about 20 local gay and lesbian bars, said recently he believes the smoking ban will ultimately benefit most members.
"I don’t anticipate us losing business," DTG Executive Director Michael Doughman said before the ordinance passed. "Actually I think that we will probably gain business. There are probably a lot of people who don’t come to bars simply because of the smoke issue."
The Dallas City Council voted 10-5 on Wednesday, Dec. 10 to expand the city’s smoking ordinance to prohibit the activity inside bars, billiard halls and other indoor workplaces. The new ordinance, which exempts tobacco shops, cigar bars and hookah bars, is set to take effect April 10.
Doughman said a majority of the Tavern Guild’s members supported the expanded smoking ordinance given that it won’t apply to patios. Under the ordinance, smoking will be prohibited within 15 feet of the entrances to bars, unless the area is considered a patio.
"We wanted most of all to be a voice of compromise and not create a situation that would require us to have to exclude a portion of our clientele," Doughman said in a statement after the ordinance passed. "We feel that most all of our clubs will be able to manage this policy without much difficulty and accommodate our smoking customers at the same time. … I also want to acknowledge that not all of our member clubs are in support of the ban and we have genuine concerns for the rights of those who smoke and worked hard to assure the exemptions of patios and other outside areas."
Tavern Guild members who opposed the ban included the owner of Illusions, a gay bar on Maple Avenue that lacks a patio.
Eddie Bonner, owner of Illusions, said Thursday morning he’s in the process of recruiting other business owners and organizations to initiate legal action against the city in an effort to prevent the ordinance from taking effect.
"My guess would be that if I’m not able to relocate or [add a patio], which I don’t think I can, and that ban goes into effect April 10, my guess would be within 30 to 60 days I wouldn’t have any other choice [but to close]," Bonner said.
The new smoking ordinance carries a $200 fine that can apply to both individual violators and business owners. But Alan Pierce, co-owner of the Round-Up Saloon and treasurer of the Tavern Guild, said he believes citations will be rare.
"It’s not like one person lights up and somebody is going to automatically call the health department," Pierce said. "We will handle it ourselves first. Ultimately if somebody were to really refuse and be belligerent they’d be asked to leave. We won’t be calling for enforcement unless something really bizarre happens."
The two city councilmembers who represent the Oak Lawn area, Angela Hunt and Pauline Medrano, voted in favor of the expanded smoking ordinance. Also voting in favor of the ban was Councilman Dave Neumann, who represents heavily gay areas of Oak Cliff.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 12, 2008.