Depending on how often you make the mistake of reading the online comments section of local news outlets, you may be wondering if it’s time for every drinker in Fort Worth to panic. This is true if you are a nonsmoker, dedicated to daily puffing in public, have a weird sex kink for the Marlboro Man, or once took a drag off something shaped like a Parliament but that was just a melted birthday candle. Apparently, musicians and bartenders should also be terrified, because the bar business as we know it will flatline. The reason for these public service announcements forecasting economic doom in our food and beverage sector? As of Monday, Mar 12, the ordinance banning smoking in bars and bingo parlors went into effect for the city of Fort Worth.
I get it — change is often chaotic. This is also America, where people regularly exercise their right to make bombastic and outrageous predictions. Putting aside arguments about personal freedoms and owners’ rights, there is a major talking point from some angry locals to which I take exception. The sole value of bars in this town is not to provide the public a place to suck down a pack of Camels.
Take a place like The Chat Room Pub (1263 W Magnolia Av, 817-922-8319). Every night of the week, its regulars, dubbed “Chat Rats,” cram themselves into the joint because they dig the overall vibe. The bartenders are friendly and serve a quality cocktail and/or a cold beer at a reasonable price. If you live locally, there’s a high chance you’ll be sharing a drink with your neighbors or running into interesting characters to socialize with or scoff at, depending. Yes, up until now, you were allowed to smoke inside the Chat. But that activity isn’t the true reason the bar became a go-to for the majority of its loyal patrons.
The same can be said of other local businesses that are much-beloved but no longer will be able to allow smoking. Ask the regulars why they happily hand their money over and spend their time at The Boiled Owl (909 W Magnolia Av, 817-920-9616), Finn MacCool’s Pub (1700 8th Av, 817-923-2121), Lola’s Saloon (2736 W 6th St, 817-877-0666), and Ye Olde Bull & Bush (2300 Montgomery St, 817-731-9206). I’d wager some single-malt Scotch that smoking is far down the list of pluses.
This is especially true with live music venues, where the vocal cords of entertainers take on the challenge of singing through the smog. Still, the venerable Keys Lounge (5677 Westcreek Dr, 817-292-8627) successfully bucked the system and went nonsmoking far before the ban took effect. Owner Danny Ross told the Weekly back in 2013 the decision was predicated on requests from musicians who wanted to play in an environment with cleaner air. The Keys ultimately thrived after the decision because it provides great drinks and killer live music, and the patrons valued those services more than lighting up.
It’s not like we are the only city to have a meltdown and predict the end of days for the nightlife scene when these bans go through. Back in 2003, the Live Music Capital of the World® put these restrictions in place, and there was a similar level of concern over economic impact. More than a decade later, that city seems to be doing alright — except there’s too many tourists and residents clogging up the works and making traffic the true disaster.
So perhaps in the coming days we can be mindful that it’s unlikely that a singular, often divisive personal habit has been the thing that’s really kept open the doors of our most precious local businesses. Instead, go hang out at one of these newly smoke-free joints and spread the love, not the smoke.