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Fast Eddie’s Bon Air Legally Gets Around Illinois’ 2008 Smoking Ban

The last time I visited Fast Eddie’s Bon Air in Alton IL (map), in 1998 or 1099, it was filled with smoke. Yesterday my fiancé and I had lunch there, his first time. Owner Eddie Sholar was a vocal opponent of the Illinois smoking ban that started on January 1, 2008.

Exterior of Fast Eddie's Bon Air in Alton IL
Exterior of Fast Eddie’s Bon Air in Alton IL

In 2006:

Eddie Sholar doesn’t like all this talk about smoking bans. In his Alton bar, Fast Eddie’s Bon Air, about half the customers smoke. But he said they probably won’t quit if the politicians in Springfield enact a statewide ban. They’ll just drink someplace else. “They’re not going to come to a place where they can’t smoke, if other places are allowing it. If you have Missouri, where you can, and Illinois, where you can’t, they’re not going to come some place where they can’t do what they want to do,” Sholar said. The talk in Springfield this week was about a statewide smoking ban, which would replace Illinois’ six-week-old law that lets local governments outlaw smoking on their own. (Daily Chronicle)

Months after the ban started:

At Fast Eddie’s Bon Air in Alton, one of the state’s busiest bars, the owners spent some $800,000 to build an outdoor facility resembling an old-time ballpark. The serving bar sits beneath an overhang. In winter, massive heaters blow warm air on the patrons, many of them smokers.

“I would never credit this stupid smoking law, but it certainly has helped our business,” said Ed Sholar Jr., whose family owns the bar. (Chicago Tribune)

Nearly a million dollars for a patio? Once you see what was built you’ll understand why it cost so much. The street was moved to make room for the outdoor soon. Basically they built a massive addition to the building, the translucent roof is raised enough to make it outdoors — technically. Fans and heaters keep the temperature more hospitable than the parking lot. This design also make it easy to ensure all guests pass through the front door, have proper ID, and are 21 years old. After six years of twice the seating capacity I wonder how they feel about the smoking ban, business is still great but they likely took on debt to fund the outdoor space.

The outdoor area is largely enclosed.
The outdoor area is largely enclosed.
Indoors was nearly full at lunch
Indoors was nearly full at lunch

We sat indoors, but walked through the outdoor room when we left. It was noticeably smokey, despite the efforts to minimize it.  I wouldn’t sit there, but thankfully the inside is smoke-free. UrbanSpoon has 30 reviews and none mention smoking.  Yelp has 125 reviews, 19 mention smoke/smoking, the relevant parts from each:

  1. now that the inside is non-smoking, it’s more crowded outside…and that’s where the real action is
  2. We sat outside (under an awning) but couldn’t smell any smoke b/c of the efficient set-up of fans circulating the air.
  3. It’s smoke free inside, but there’s now a HUGE smoking area outside, complete with giant heaters for the winter months, and another bar.
  4. This place has a lot of history and a lot of character, and it’s much nicer now that smoking in indoor restaurants has been banned in Illinois.
  5. Not a fan at all. The outside is still smoking and with the canopy the smoke [sic] is unbearable. Went here for a friend’s birthday party to listen to his favorite band and I had to leave after an hour the smoke was so bad.
  6. I have only been once in the evening to enjoy the music and it was a great time, but since IL is smoke free now, I am a pretty big fan of Sunday lunches at Fast Eddies.
  7. Yeah it doesn’t look like much inside, but I enjoy all the different areas you can sit inside and the new patio is nice. Well, actually I dont know it anyother way. Sucks that thats where people have to smoke, but if I can eat unhealthy amounts of food and wreck my body in that way, then let people screw their lungs up all they want. Right?
  8. Love this place. Great live bands, cheap cheap CHEAP food and drink. Only bad is all the smoke and sometimes a tad rough crowd. Will always be a fan. Bring cash bc no credit cards are accepted.
  9. The patio was crowded. A large cloud of smoke lingered around the ceiling and it looked like everything was clouded by a haze. We stayed inside but somehow I still smelled like smoke when I left.
  10. I’d say my favorite part is that the inside is smoke free. I love that there’s still a nice outside area, but being able to breathe indoors is always a plus.
  11. Awesome place, bring friends. Can get noisy, so if you don’t like crowds or noise, stay away. No smoking indoors, which is good, but smoking allowed on back covered patio. 2 bars outside, 2 inside.
  12. They have a nice outdoor area, which in the winter is enclosed with a tent but not really heated much… and they seem to be defying IL law by allowing people to smoke in the outdoor area (yes, it’s illegal to allow it outdoors even).
  13. As for the crowd at Eddies, let’s just say it’s ermmm … interesting and eclectic. LOTS of bikers, lots of smokers, and lots of loud types. To call it a rough crowd seems suitable, to me. It’s just not the kind of place most who aren’t into A) smoking, B) drinking of cheap liquor (house drinks are made with the cheapest stuff you can find … Juarez tequila for margaritas (GAG), C) hanging with bikers, or D) eating lower quality food to save yourself a buck.
  14. It’s almost always a good time at Fast Eddie’s. They have the nice outdoor area for people to be able to smoke and watch TV without freezing, live bands all the time, and great prices on good bar food.
  15. Good concept, like the casual atmosphere.  Their covered patio is a neat idea.  The cover band was very good, the food is ok and cheap.  Drinks weren’t too expensive and service was prompt and fun to interact with.  Coming from an area with no inside smoking though, this place was horrible for that.
  16. Cheapest bar food ever.  The fact that it’s now smoke free makes me want to go to this place more and more often, but it’s hard to really justify going all the way out there just for 1$ brats and burgers and their amazing steak on a stick… no wait… it isn’t.
  17. Been to Fast Eddies many times and never been disappointed. Good food, cold beer, low prices. Non smoking inside is great.
  18. Its one step up from a dive bar. Its smoke free inside which makes it better.
  19. I go there because my friends enjoy the place. the outdoor area is covered with a plastic sheet which makes you feel like ur trapped in a glad bag in the hot sun with smokers all around you! not a good feeling or smell for your clothes! the floor outdoors is filthy, people just throw there peel n eat shells from the shrimp on the hot asphalt, like they were peanut shells. talk bout a great smell along with cig smoke! the only thing worth going for is the VERY COLD high priced beer.

Mixed reviews of the outdoor area, but all are happy the indoor space is smoke-free.

Looking outside from inside
Looking outside from inside
Outside we see the wall the encloses the outdoor area.
Outside we see the wall the encloses the outdoor area where a street once existed.

The outdoor area is a smokey area, likely damaging to the servers who work there. However, the smoke-free interior allows those servers who’re concerned about second-hand smoke to continue working without having to take health risks. Customers can experience Fast Eddie’s without having to pass through the smokey outdoor area.

Compromises are just that.

— Steve Patterson


Three Years (Mostly) Smoke-Free in St. Louis City & County

Cat's Meow
Cat’s Meow in Soulard is an exempt bar for 2 more years

Three years ago today smoking bans took affect effect in St. Louis and St. Louis County, making all restaurants and most bars smoke-free. In both city & county, small bars were exempted. In the city, the exemption expires after five years.

Are the exempt businesses preparing for two years from today when they’ll be smoke-free as well? Hopefully they’ve used the last three years to build a patio, or plans are in the works for the next two years.

The opponents of the ban were correct, I’ve been annoyed by the number of smokers outside of some businesses. But I try to pass quickly or take a different route — much better than others having to inhale second-hand smoke indoors.

A year into the bans St. Louis magazine did a story on the impact, see Of Smoking Butts and Chapped Booties: Smoking Ban Delights Some Restaurateurs, Enrages Others. In short, some said business was better, others not so much.

I know I’m happy, I go out more often. I don’t spend time trying to decide where to find a smoke-free restaurant to meet friends for dinner. We still spend time debating location & menu though.  I’ve not seen any studies on the St. Louis market to see what impact, if any, the bans have had.

I’d like to see casinos become smoke-free, I had to go through the Lumiere Link a couple of months ago and it was awful passing by the casino area. I’m also tired of hotels having smoking and non-smoking rooms. The Chicago hotel I want to stay at next month only has a disabled room with roll-in shower in smoking. I’d rather not shower than try to sleep in a smoking room.

— Steve Patterson

One Year Smoke-Free

The predictions of a few were dire a year ago as St. Louis City & County went mostly smoke-free. What happened? Like every year, some places closed and others opened.

Some places started off claiming they were exempt, posting the required sign to warn potential customers before entering.

ABOVE: Milo's Tavern on the Hill posted the required sign a year ago

I used the above photograph in a post on January 10, 2011 titled Smoking Allowed Here where I questioned the exemption for this establishment. Milo’s is owned by 10th ward alderman Joe Vollmer. Ald Vollmer told me that day, barely a week into the new law, that he and his business partner were considering making Milo’s smoke-free.

ABOVE: Milo's went smoke-free on February 7, 2011 (click for website)

I stopped in for lunch last month and confirmed they didn’t close because they went smoke-free nor did they go back to being a smoking establishment.

ABOVE: The sign in the window is now the one required for smoke-free establishments

I received the following message from owner Ald Joe Vollmer:

Overall business is up maybe 3 to 5 percent. We are seeing new faces and we are missing some of the old ones. The majority response is highly positive. We have embraced the change, and will always do whatever we can to make Milos a great experience.

I’m told other establishments weren’t so fortunate, non-smokers didn’t replace the lost smokers. Others said smokers wouldn’t buy much but sit for hours…smoking.

The Royale on Kingshighway went smoke-free in 2008, I asked owner Steve Smith if he noticed a drop in business once more bars were smoke-free:

Honestly I saw no real difference. We have had our strongest sales year to date, but we have gained consistently every year since we opened nearly seven years ago. We saw a bit of a bump when we went smoke free. We were smoking from the spring of 05 to the spring of 08. People certainly still smoke here, but they now just step outside. It has been seamless if even unremarkable. There is no more noise.

People’s mindsets for the most part have changed. It has been two years since I even posted a sign that we are smoke free anywhere in the place. It is expected now to be smoke free, and most ask the doorman before entering if they can smoke out back. We have had only a handful of instances when we started the policy in which someone unwittingly lit up indoors. Now people are just expecting to step outside to smoke.

I talked to MokaBe’s owner Mo Costello last week, she was glad they were forced to go smoke-free a year ago. To Costello the construction on Grand, the closed Grand viaduct and the economy have been bigger issues for her

Many places built nice outdoor patios in 2011 to accommodate smokers. The very smokey Riley’s Pub on Arsenal is in the middle of improving the space in front of their business.

ABOVE: Riley's Pub at Arsenal & Arkansas Ave on 12/26/2011

I have no idea what their plans are once this work is completed. I talked to friends that live within walking distance and they no longer patronize Riley’s because they now have so many smoke-free options. Hopefully they will opt to go smoke-free before the exemption expires. I found no mention of a patio on Riley’s Facebook page.

The last day of the exemption is New Year’s Day 2016, four more years to adjust and become smoke-free on 1/2/2016. I’m sure a few will cry fowl and say they didn’t  have time to prepare, to build patio space for their smoking customers. By then hopefully some places have smoke-free outdoor spaces as well, nothing ruins a meal like cigarette smoke.

- Steve Patterson

This Week’s Poll Closed Due to Self-Selection Bias

I’ve never closed a weekly poll before, I’ve always let them run Sunday to Sunday.  But on Monday I decided to close this week’s poll. Why? When the number of votes after 36 hours exceeded the typical number of votes for an entire week it was very clear I was not getting the perspective of my usual reader. The poll had zero value with such a highly biased sample:

Self-selection bias, which is possible whenever the group of people being studied has any form of control over whether to participate. Participants’ decision to participate may be correlated with traits that affect the study, making the participants a non-representative sample. For example, people who have strong opinions or substantial knowledge may be more willing to spend time answering a survey than those who do not. Another example is online and phone-in polls, which are biased samples because the respondents are self-selected. Those individuals who are highly motivated to respond, typically individuals who have strong opinions, are overrepresented, and individuals that are indifferent or apathetic are less likely to respond. This often leads to a polarization of responses with extreme perspectives being given a disproportionate weight in the summary. As a result, these types of polls are regarded as unscientific.

There have been many weekly polls in the last couple of years where the results differed from my personal viewpoint, but that was the viewpoints of the readers.

ABOVE: A Cigarette butts littering Aloe Plaza

That said, here are the results from the first 36 hours of the poll:

  1. Should be repealed 47 [40.87%]
  2. Don’t like the law, but I do like having more smoke-free places 10 [8.7%]
  3. So glad we are finally a smoke-free city! 23 [20%]
  4. Great, but we need to remove exemptions so all employers are smoke-free 33 [28.7%]
  5. Other: 2 [1.74%]
  6. unsure/no opinion 0 [0%]

Those who want to repeal the ban make up the single biggest group, but nearly half like the law (48%).  Here were the two other answers:

  1. i like it, leave smokers some places tho
  2. In America, smoking cigarettes is freedom. Stop infringing on my freedom!

Ah yes freedom! The freedom to make others smell your addictive habit. The freedom to make anyplace smell like an ashtray simply from the toxins contained in your clothing. The freedom to fill the bus or light rail train car with smoke. The freedom to be completely inconsiderate of others around you.

Most likely I will never do a poll about smoking again.

– Steve Patterson

Poll: Thoughts on St. Louis’ Smoke-free Law [UPDATED]

ABOVE: Bars that qualify for an exemption must post a warning sign

As of January 2, 2011 most businesses in St. Louis are now smoke-free. Now that we are past the halfway point in the year I’m curious on your thoughts. When the law was debated in 2009 many opposed the law on principal. Some are still fighting the law.

Do you feel differently about the law now? Should we repeal or expand? The poll is in the upper right corner of the blog.

– Steve Patterson

Update @ 7pm on Monday August 15, 2011:

This week’s poll has been closed after only a day & a half, the pro-smoking forces had caused more votes than a typical week.

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann Vetoed Smoke-Free Bill

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann

Yesterday St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann vetoed a bill that would have given voters the opportunity to decide if they wanted their county to go smoke-free. In the poll last week the single answer with the most was the one where he would sign the bill and voters would approve:

Q: When Will St. Charles County Go Smoke-Free?

  1. Ehlmann will sign bill and voters will approve it in Nov 2012 16 [32%]
  2. Only after a statewide ban 13 [26%]
  3. Never 8 [16%]
  4. Other answer… 4 [8%]
  5. Eventually, Ehlmann will sign bill but voters won’t approve it in Nov 2012 3 [6%]
  6. Eventually, Ehlmann will veto this bill but this change will come later 3 [6%]
  7. Ehlmann will veto this bill but the County Council will override, voters approve in Nov 2012 2 [4%]
  8. Ehlmann will veto this bill but the County Council will override, voters reject in Nov 2012 1 [2%]

The issue was the casino exemption:

“If the purpose of the smoking ban is to protect the health of employees, there is no rational reason to exclude casino floor workers,” the Republican executive said in his veto message.

“If tobacco smoke is harmful, there is no reason to exempt cigar bars, while regulating bars that allow cigarette smoking.” (source)

The other answers were:

  1. How should I know?
  2. Who cares, St Charles county is a worthless pile of crap
  3. Why ban a legal product? Heavy perfume makes me ill…ban overly scented people
  4. I feel that speculating over what will happen is kind of pointless.

My reason for the poll was to show regional interest in going smoke-free.  Maybe there isn’t such interest? Expect additional bills to bring this to voters, most likely without an exemption for casinos.

– Steve Patterson

Poll: When Will St. Charles County Go Smoke-Free?

Interesting news from St. Charles County last week:

The fate of a proposed countywide smoking ban is now up to County Executive Steve Ehlmann.

The County Council voted 4-2 on Tuesday night for legislation to put the proposal on the November 2012 election ballot. Ehlmann has yet to signal whether he’ll sign or veto the measure, which would apply to bars, restaurants and most other indoor public places. (STLToday.com)

With St. Louis City & County now smoke-free, with some unfortunate exceptions, it would be nice to see more of the region become smoke-free.

He [Ehlman] has 10 days to veto or sign the bill. If he does neither, the bill is automatically approved. (Patch.com)

This is the subject of the poll this week: When Will St. Charles County Go Smoke-Free?  The poll is located in the upper right corner of the blog.

I hope Steve Ehlmann doesn’t veto this bill so the question goes to voters in November 2012.

– Steve Patterson

Wish Smokers Would Be Neater

We are almost at the end of five months of St. Louis’ smoke-free ordinance for most establishments.  The other morning I snapped the above pic on Washington Ave.  Really? Can’t smokers be a bit neater and properly dispose of their butts? Opponents of the smoke-free law will likely try to say this wouldn’t be a problem if they could smoke indoors but the health risks of that are worse than this unsightly mess.

– Steve Patterson

Warning Smoking Allowed Here (Updated)

January 10, 2011 Smoke Free 127 Comments

I view compliance with the sign requirements of the new smoke-free ordinance as a sign the business owner is aware of the change that began on Sunday 1/2/2011. The last thing I want is to argue with a proprietor about the law, I want them to know the law so that if a fellow customer lights up inside the owner knows they need to ask them to take it outside or face fines.  Entering an establishment lacking the required n0-smoking sign or exemption warning gives me pause, especially if that business had allowed smoking prior to 1/2/2011.

Saturday I thought I’d check out the compliance of a few places that had allowed smoking, I decided to start with establishments owned by two aldermen.

Cat's Meow
ABOVE: The Cat's Meow owned by the wife & daughter of 9th ward alderman Ken Ortmann's

The Cat’s Meow at 2600 S. 11th in Soulard.   With only 1,173sf on the ground floor of the building there is no question that it falls under the 2,000sf necessary to claim an exemption.

ABOVE: Required warning sign over the door at the Cat's Meow

Above the entry is the required sign: “WARNING SMOKING ALLOWED HERE.”  The Cat’s Meow website makes no mention of food, clearly it is a bar.  A sign at the bottom of the door indicates patrons must be at least 21 to enter. It appears the Ortmann family is in compliance.  The Cat’s Meow, however, will need to go smoke-free by January 2, 2016.

Next, to Milo’s on the Hill owned by 10th ward alderman Joe Vollmer.

img_2488Milo’s is located at 5201 Wilson. No point beating around the bush, Ald. Vollmer is in violation of the new smoke-free ordinance.

img_2489The warning sign is posted to the left of the entry door, but no way does Milo’s meet the criteria for an exemption.  What criteria you ask?

Bars in existence on the effective date of this ordinance in which only persons aged twenty one (21) years old or older are permitted to enter the premises, the square footage of the entire floor area of the level of the building on which the bar establishment is located is two thousand (2000) square feet or less. The square footage shall not include kitchen areas, storage areas and bathrooms. The bar shall prominently displays outside of the premises at each entrance and above the bar the following sign in lettering that is black bold Arial font at (ninety-eight) 98 point size: “WARNING : SMOKING ALLOWED HERE”. This exemption for bars shall expire five (5) years after the effective date of this ordinance.

A bar is defined by the ordinance as:

“Bar” means an establishment that is devoted to the serving of alcoholic beverages for consumption by guests on the premises and in which the serving of food is only incidental to the consumption of those beverages, including but not limited to, taverns, nightclubs, cocktail lounges, and cabarets.

But in the case of Milo’s:

  1. Persons under 21 are permitted inside
  2. The ground floor of the building is 2,532sf which makes the under 2,000sf size questionable, at best.
  3. The website describes Milo’s as a “Restaurant, Bar, Bocce Garden” and has a complete menu.  Restaurants are not exempt.
  4. Food specials were advertised on a chalkboard out front.
ABOVE: Food hardly seems "incidental" at Milo's

My phone call to Ald. Vollmer was not returned.  He is up for reelection this year, he faces Republican Jessee Irwin in the April 5, 2011 general election.  I have filed a complaint with the Citizens Service Bureau (CSB).

- Steve Patterson

UPDATE 1/10/2011 @ 5:30pm

I had a very nice message from Ald. Vollmer today.  He explained the Health Dept visited his business and determined it was under 2,000sf as defined by the ordinance.  The Health Dept also defined “incidental” food as up to 25% of sales, which he says he meets.  Before January 2nd Milo’s allowed all ages to enter but now, to comply with the law, he is turning away groups that include persons under 21.  He’d like to change the law to remove the under 21 requirement but is now considering going smoke-free.

Readers: Businesses Will Think They Are Grandfathered On New Smoke-Free Laws

ABOVE: Chevy's restaurant in Olivette lacked the required universal no-smoking symbol on Sunday
ABOVE: Chevy's restaurant in Olivette lacked the required universal no-smoking symbol on Sunday

Every year the week between December 25th and January 1st is the lowest readership.  Last week was no exception so I’m not surprised at the low number of votes in the weekly poll.  The current poll had more voters in the first 24 hours than all of last week. Here are the results:

Q: Will St. Louis businesses be ready when the smoke-free law begins on 1/2/2011?

  1. No, many will incorrectly think they are “grandfathered” 23 [34.33%]
  2. Yes, most will post the required signs but some won’t 20 [29.85%]
  3. No, some will post the required signs but most won’t 19 [28.36%]
  4. Unsure/no opinion 3 [4.48%]
  5. Other answer… 2 [2.99%]

The majority feel businesses wouldn’t be ready for Sunday, but for different reasons.  The two “other” answers were:

  1. Stupid poll
  2. NO, most will ignore or think they are exempt.

Sunday night I had dinner at Chevy’s in Olivette.  This was one establishment I stopped going to in 2008 due to the fact they permitted smoking in the bar area. It was nice to return for dinner with friends in a smoke-free environment. But like so many businesses, Chevy’s didn’t have the required universal no-smoking symbol displayed at the entrance.

Yesterday I went down both sides of Washington Ave from 10th to 16th trying to find a single business in compliance with the sign requirement of the new ordinance. Like St. Louis County, no smoking signs must be displayed at all entrances.   I’ve yet to see a business in compliance.  You might point out it has only been a few days. True, but both laws were passed in 2009, businesses had all of 2010 to get ready.  Businesses that were already smoke-free just needed to add a universal no-smoking symbol at each entrance.

How can compliance be so bad?  The departments responsible for enforcement got the word out didn’t they?

ABOVE: The St. Louis Dept of Health website last night gives you heat advisory alerts and where to find cooling centers, click to view larger version.

The St. Louis Department of Health could use a calendar, they think it is still summer. Someone should check on Dept of Health webmaster James A. Heitert to see what he is working on. It sure wasn’t putting out press releases.

ABOVE: Last press release issued by Health Dept was in May 2009

Although I shouldn’t put much stock in the City’s Press Release page to be accurate.

mayorprIt shows one press release from the Mayor’s Office in October 2010 and then March before that.  I know I’ve received many press releases not listed here.  It seems our folks at City Hall are so incompetent they can’t seem to get the word out about a significant new law with over a year to do so.  Or maybe they did but they forgot to archive the press release?

Licensed business owners could have easily received a notice of the new law with their license renewal in 2010, but they didn’t.  Successful compliance begins with communications.  Maybe the aldermen spread the word at well attended neighborhood meetings?  Can we get some real leadership in City Hall?

– Steve Patterson


The Sunday Poll isn't scientific, but a way to see what readers think on different topics.



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