Omar's goes smoke-free

Omar's, Ashland's oldest restaurant and first public cocktail lounge, put the kibosh on lighting up in the bar. The ceremonial last puff and crushing of the butt didn't actually take place during the self-imposed deadline of Thursday at 5 p.m.

Omar's closed its doors Sunday evening for interior renovations.

"Just your basic lipstick and rouge project," said a contractor attending to the finishing touches before Omar's reopened Thursday afternoon as a smoke free establishment.

Bruce Dwight, one of the owners, said the idea to go smoke-free before the state deadline went into effect Jan. 1, 2009, was part of their business plan for the year.

"We decided to do it before the summer tourists arrived," he said. "We get a lot of tourists from Washington and California where there is no smoking in bars. They're always taken aback when they see we allow it."

Dwight said some of his customers will probably be reluctant to change, "although I haven't heard any negative comments from my employees or our clients. But I have heard that the smoking in the bar was a detriment to my business and I've had a lot of people say, 'Good, now I can come back'."

Dan Otter, a smoker and longtime Omar's customer, described the first time he stepped into Omar's bar 20 years ago.

"I opened the door and my initial thought was, 'Oh my god!' because of all the smoke. And I'm a smoker," he said.

Otter said it was the food that brought him back year after year, despite the thick tobacco haze, and he welcomes the idea of a smoke-free bar.

"Everyone else is doing it. Plus, most of us smokers are trying to quit anyway. Some of the people who were trying to quit knew they could come to Omar's to bum a cigarette from someone. Now they won't have that option," he said.

Omar's move for the early deadline also inspired Oak Tree Northwest Bar Grill to declare April — as its first smoke-free day.

"We'll be posting notifications in a couple days so people can get used to the idea," said owner Gerald Allen. "I've been thinking about doing this for a while. But it was a tough decision because I know some people are going to be disappointed."

He said the smoke-free move may initially hurt business because there are still alternatives in town for people who smoke.

"But if the statistics are correct &

that fewer and fewer people are smoking cigarettes &

then I think it will even out and help us in the end," said Allen.

Bob Dreiszus owns the Beau Club, which occupies the location where the very first beer was served in Ashland after prohibition ended.

Dreiszus, a non-smoker himself, said he won't force smokers to stub out their butts one second before the law goes into effect, and even then it will be under protest.

"I'm opposed to the law because smoking is a choice and they are taking away that choice," he said. "Bars are bars, not health clubs."

Dennis Mortimer, a bartender at the Wild Goose Caf&

233; and Bar, said patrons can continue to smoke until the Jan. — deadline.

"Nobody seems too worried about it right now," he said.

Susan Chester, owner of the Black Sheep, said she made the bar smoke free years ago.

"I wish I had done it sooner if you want to know the truth," she said. "But I was trying to walk the line and respect peoples' rights. But the times have changed and I think it's wonderful that Omar's has made the change."

Reach reporter at 482-3456 x226.

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