New Orleans may be the place where you can “Do Whatcha Wanna” but thankfully that no longer includes sticking a lit end of a cigarette in my face while dancing to Rebirth Brass Band at the Maple Leaf Bar.
New Orleans recently joined the more than 700 other U.S. cities in adopting a smoke free ordinance for its bars and nightclubs. Louisiana restaurants have been smoke-free since 2007.
For the record, I wasn’t too bothered by the cigarette in my face. We were all enjoying the music; safety goggles might have been nice to have.
That was a few years back. And even before then, a movement was building to protect service workers and musicians from sidestream smoke. Can you imagine what it must feel like to suck in a lungful of smoke to sing or blow your horn. More and more establishments were going smoke free or, at the very least, creating a smoke-free performance space for musicians and their audience.
In my last visit, just two weeks before the ban went into effect (April 22), the smoke had cleared from just about every venue. One notable exception was a Bywater neighborhood bar, BJs–a quintessential New Orleans neighborhood dive bar that would never have gone smoke free if the law hadn’t required it. Still, it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t have to throw my clothes away after a night of listening to King James and the Special Men.
It may be too soon to tell the lasting impact of the ban. Early reports are that business hasn’t been hurt too badly by the ban. Drinkers will drink and smokers will smoke. So the biggest concern now is the noise factor.
Bars and nightclubs can be fined by the city if they create a “nuisance.” Since New Orleans is a collection of neighborhoods with bars and businesses in close proximity, when patrons go outside for a puff (the ban includes vaping), noise levels rise. With some bars operating 24/7 or until the very wee hours of the night, a group of “pissed” smokers outside a bar run the risk of pissing off the neighbors.
Well, I’ve got music that will take you back to the smoke-filled dive bars of New Orleans yore on Sweeney’s Gumbo YaYa. And you won’t need to wash your clothes and hair afterwards.