Queens barroom smokers take last drag before ban

By Ayala Ben-Yehuda

Across Queens smokers greeted the city’s smoking ban, which took effect Sunday, with complaints and an overall sense of resignation while non-smokers applauded the move.

While nary an ashtray was to be found at most bars visited by the TimesLedger after the ban became official, cigarette smoke was still in the air Monday at Flynn’s Inn, an old-style Irish pub on Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside.

“If they repeal the law … I’ll be looking forward to a day off,” said Flynn’s owner Joe Leydon, who constantly works the bar by himself to get around the city smoking ban, which makes exceptions for watering holes in which the owner is the sole employee.

Down the street at Maggie Mays, the ban got a thumbs-down from a customer who nonetheless took his Marlboros outside.

“I’ll say two words about it: totalitarian state,” said Lawrence, 48, a Nassau resident who refused to give his last name. “We’re losing more and more rights every day.”

“It’ll take from my tips,” said Maggie Mays bartender Michelle Henry, 24. “It’s quicker to pick up a six-pack and go home and smoke in peace.”

On whether they expected the new law to hurt business, some bar owners said it was too soon to tell.

“I’m a little leery about it,” said John Monahan, who has owned the Bayside bar Monahan & Fitzgerald for 18 years.

The bar was full of patrons Monday night, many dressed in Mets hats and jerseys in celebration of baseball’s opening day. None were seen smoking.

“The room is a lot clearer, there’s no smoke, and the people who work here, they feel it, they smell it,” said Sheridan, who had people walk through the bar Saturday at midnight telling people to put out their cigarettes.

Sheridan said building a specially ventilated smoking room, as some Manhattan night spots have done, was too expensive a step to circumvent the ban.

That point became moot last week when Gov. George Pataki signed into law a state ban on smoking in all workplaces. The state law, which supersedes the city ban, does not make exceptions for owner-operated bars and does not allow smoking rooms, as the city law does for the next three years.

The state ban takes effect in four months and makes exceptions for native American casinos, hotel rooms, outdoor areas of bars and restaurants with no roof, membership associations and certain residential health-care facilities.

Cigar bars are also exempt, but whether the Middle Eastern hookah bars that dot Astoria’s Steinway Street and other parts of the borough qualify as cigar bars remains open to question.

“There’s generally an agreement that we’re going to attempt to make minor revisions to the state law to make sure we’re not harming any local businesses that were not intended to be included,” said Assemblyman Michael Gianaris (D-Astoria).

City Health Department inspectors will issue warnings to business owners until May 1, after which fines ranging from $200 for a first offense to $2,000 for a third offense will be issued.

Brendan Kenny, a bartender at Bayside’s K.C. Saloon, said enforcement would bring some opposition from customers.

“It’s hard enough telling [customers] ‘you’ve had enough to drink,’” he said.

Alex Catania, 50, who owns Bell Cleaners in Bayside, predicted his business would be hurt by the smoking bans.

“You don’t smell smoke on your clothes, you’re not going to dry clean as much,” said Catania, who was enjoying a night out at Donovan’s of Bayside.

Ex-smoker George Georgiou, 43, who sat a couple of stools away from Catania, approved of the ban for that very reason.

“It’s great,” he said. “I don’t go home smelling like cigarettes.”

Most patrons at Donovan’s, like Bayside resident Lisa Abbenda, took the situation in stride.

“I’m going to go outside to have a cigarette, and I’m okay with it,” she said.

Jeremy Harrow and Dustin Brown contributed to this report.

Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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