Don"t smoke at the `Noke - Tavern joins other smoke-free restaurants

By Ruth Longoria

Go through the Roanoke Inn Tavern's doors any weekday afternoon and you're sure to find the regulars. They're perched on their regular bar stools or seated in their regular booths.

Many of those regular patrons regularly have a lit cigarette in one hand as whiffs of smoke waft through the air nearby. Waitresses wade through the visible vapors, smiling, chatting and serving their regular customers their regular drinks.

Despite the unhealthy air, which many of the servers would prefer to do without, it's a pleasant atmosphere. However, the servers refuse to let their names be in print saying so.

``Normally the whole bar gets filled up with smokers, and it's really hard to breathe -- but, don't put my name in the paper, I don't want my regulars to see I've said that,'' said one server.

Much to that waitress' relief, the oxygen-level portion of the Roanoke's atmosphere will be changing this week, when management at the turn-of-the-century Island landmark restaurant enacts its new no smoking rule. It's a decision that doesn't seem to bother many of the Roanoke's patrons, even the regulars.

``I've been coming here since 1953 and I think having (the Roanoke) go no smoking will be good,'' said 72-year-old Bing Bing, of Issaquah.

Bing used to be a smoker, when he was a young man in the military, but, he said, he quit after a doctor explained to him that smoking was bad for his health. He was sitting at the bar drinking a beer on Thursday afternoon, but moved to an outside table as more patrons entered the room and the smoke became more noticeable.

``I usually sit outside most of the time, but I like coming here, so I'd come either way. It beats sitting in traffic,'' Bing said.

Jerry Bob of Issaquah, 51, said he's thrilled about the upcoming changes.

``I just loathe smoking,'' Bob said as he sat at an outside table with a friend. ``I grew up with a father that smoked and I hate being exposed to it.''

Erin Meyer, 27, grew up on Mercer Island and has been a server at the Roanoke for the last three years. She said there have been mixed comments about the new rule, which takes effect Saturday.

``As an employee, I think it will be nice, but we hear both sides,'' Meyer said. ``The non-smokers are surprised we haven't done this before and some of the smokers gripe, but I think they'll adjust.''

Although the health of the employees and non-smoking patrons was an important consideration in the decision to go smoke free, there was another consideration: the building itself, said Roanoke owner Dorothy Reeck. Reeck inherited the building when her husband, Hal, died in 1993. Her mother-in-law, Laura Reeck, owned and ran the bar since 1940.

The Roanoke's no-smoking rule comes about in an effort to preserve the aging facility, which, through the years, has seen its share of smoke-filled air and layers of residue retained on its walls and animated signs of the past, Dorothy Reeck said. She is confident her customers will remain loyal to the establishment despite what some might consider an infringement on their rights.

``We didn't do an actual poll, but we did think about this a lot and ask a lot of people for input. The majority of people we serve are non-smokers and they don't like a smoke-filled room and second-hand smoke,'' she said. ``If people really want to smoke, there will be places they can go outside.''

Although smoking won't be allowed on the back lawn area, she's considering making an area available for smokers on the side of the building.

``I was kind of hoping the state would go smoke-free, several states have already, and look at what they've accomplished in Ireland. They've pretty much shown the world,'' she said. ``If they can go smoke-free in Ireland, we can surely do it here.''

Washington is one of the few Western states that allows smoking in public places. Eight states, including California and the former ``Marlboro Country'' state of Montana, have indoor smoking bans that include taverns and restaurants.

To date, lawmakers and lobbyists in this state haven't been successful in dictating where individual can or cannot smoke. But proponents of Initiative 901, which would ban smoking in public places turned in 240,000 signatures Friday. That is more than the 225,000 necessary to put the initiative on the November ballot. A $275,000 contribution to help with the campaign came from the American Cancer Society.

However, some momentum for the effort was snuffed out last week when someone broke into two anti-smoking initiative headquarters, in Seattle and Lacey, and between 80 and 100 petitions for the initiative were stolen in what some believe to be an attempt to stop the initiative in its smoke-free tracks.

Though the Roanoke isn't the first Island establishment to go smoke-free, some in town are surprised by the decision.

Ken Caldwell, manager of the Islander restaurant, was shocked to hear that the Roanoke is going to ban smoking. The Islander has been a non-smoking establishment since before Caldwell came to work there two-and-a-half years ago. The lack of smoke hasn't harmed business there. In fact, it's been a positive influence, he said.

``Many of our customers are young families and they prefer to be away from the smoke. I've heard several customers say that they really like the Roanoke and would go there more often, but the smoking is the only deterrent,'' Caldwell said. ``That always worked in our favor.''

But, it doesn't look like the Islander's and Roanoke's smoke-free environments will put pressure on other Island establishments to ban smoking in their bars.

Anna Sotelo, owner of Ana's Family Style Mexican Restaurant, plans to keep allowing patrons to smoke at the bar and thinks banning smoking will be detrimental to the Roanoke, as she believes it has been to the Islander.

``People count on being able to smoke,'' Sotelo said. ``The Islander is smoke-free and look how they've been unable to tap in on the bar crowd.''

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