Like many young smokers, I don't mind the Colorado Clean Indoor Air Act — the smoking ban, as it were, that took effect in this state July 1, 2006. I recognize my filthy habit as a phase, one I will (hopefully) leave behind once I'm a parent and a full-fledged professional. Rather than bitch and moan about my rights and the fascists who threaten them, I try to embrace the ban's positive effects on my life: I smoke fewer cigarettes, which by my fallacious calculations means I die slower; and my clothes don't reek like a smoke-stained ceiling tile, which means I do less laundry. I also kind of like going outside, not just for the change in scenery and the welcome opportunity to be alone with my (often) drunken thoughts, but because that's where all the smokers are, and we make better conversation.
I spent this past holiday season in Illinois, a state that just went smoke-free on January 1. During the week leading up to the big day, my friends and family were predictably sour about the impending ban. I couldn't blame them; for the past eighteen months, visits to the Midwest, however painful, had always redeemed themselves once beer-thirty rolled around and I could chain-smoke in a bar. In a fitting sendoff to times gone by, some college friends and I spent New Year's Eve at an "Up in Smoke" party in downtown Chicago — a $60 all-you-could-drink affair that included free cigarettes on every table. We drank hard, smoked ourselves stupid and earned a royal nicotine hangover for our efforts. So by noon the next day, my Midwestern kith were feeling significantly less bitter about the prospect of smoke-free nights out.
Still, it's refreshing (though not literally) to find a Colorado bar that's gone out of its way to make post-ban life comfortable for smokers. Tonight I'm at the Uptown Tavern (538 East 17th Avenue), a slightly upscale corner bar that allows smoking on its heated back patio. During warmer months, the patio roof extends only over a small bar and the Back Alley — an area that includes small-scale bowling, a shuffleboard table and various other arcade games; otherwise, this space is open to the air. In the winter, however, the roof expands, and the patio essentially becomes an extension of the entire building, with nary a draft or chill.
I'm with three Chicago friends on their way to Telluride for a week of skiing. Two of them smoke, so we pass by the fireplace, couches and plush booths of the front bar and proceed to embrace our own demise in the form of endless cigarettes and five-dollar drinks in the back. Somewhere around beer three or four, it occurs to me that I'm binge-drinking with sea-levelers, so I flag down our waitress and immediately order a round of waters. "You poor bastards," I tell them, "are about to shock your bodies by jumping almost 12,000 feet in 24 hours. Add to it the chain-smoking and booze, and it's probably wise to put back a water for every cocktail." They listen like Cub Scouts being warned about bears on their first camping trip, and we continue along our path of debauchery.
In general, I prefer low-key, divey bars with deep-fried fare and dirt-cheap beer, but circumstances arise when a neutral, comfortable place like the Tav — with its endless array of flat-screen TVs, Absolut Bloody Mary bar during weekend brunch and extensive 'til-midnight menu — is in order. It's often too crowded to carry on a conversation here, let alone find somewhere to sit. But with no major sporting event on the tube, no trivia competition packing groups of eight at every four-person table and no mind-shattering drink specials drawing all of Uptown through the doors, tonight is a glorious exception. Our food comes before anyone can wonder what's taking so long; new drinks arrive before the last ones are gone; ashtrays are replaced without notice. We are pigs in smoke-filled shit.
Until the hangover hits in the morning.
E-mail Drew Bixby at email@example.com.
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