[UPDATE, JULY 12, 2018: The following story has been edited to correct errors concerning dates, Arlington's revisions to the ordinance and the city's efforts to educate bar owners about the new rules.]
Edward Redmond wasn’t always a rebel bar owner.
Redmond owns the Plaza Pub, which has been serving cold beer in east Arlington to smokers and nonsmokers alike since the 1950s. But Arlington’s new smoking ordinance, which bans smoking inside bars, went into effect May 1, 2018, leaving some of the city’s oldest bars caught in the crosshairs.
“The bars and patrons who are not compliant are receiving written warnings at this time,” Arlington spokeswoman Susan Schrock says of the new rules.
Schrock says citations are not being issued “unless the location has been given prior opportunity to make corrections and has refused to do so.”
And some are refusing.
“If you look around, we’re still smoking,” Redmond says. ”And there’s a reason for that.”
Redmond, who purchased the Irish pub more than a decade ago, says he’ll probably comply eventually, but he’s trying to figure out how to accommodate the customers he calls “family.” He says more than 90 percent of his customers are smokers, and he doesn’t want to send them outside in the triple-digit heat or into the pouring rain to smoke.
“These are diehard, regular customers here,” he says. “Blue-collar, hardworking people that just want to get off work, relax, have a beer and a cigarette and some good conversation.”
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Redmond nodded to a customer seated at the end of the bar whose grandson was diagnosed with cancer.
Plaza Pub and its customers hosted a fundraiser for the boy, and Redmond wonders what might happen to other customers in need if Arlington fines his small bar into nonexistence.
“We’re probably having a benefit every other month to help someone out, to bury a loved one,” he says. “People come to us, and we always respond, some that are not even customers.”
Redmond was part of a class-action lawsuit filed against Arlington over the ordinance.
Bill Gladen, who owns the 1851 Club, a gay bar along Division Street, has been trying to get a permit to build a patio, where his customers could smoke. Gladen explained that while people can go outside a bar and smoke, they can’t take their drinks with them outside unless there’s a patio. Places such as Milo’s on Division Street now advertise patios, but Gladen says he’s been trying to obtain a permit to build a smoking patio for a year.
Schrock says the city has discussed the issue with Gladen, but his current zoning doesn't allow patio construction, regardless of the smoking ordinance.
She also points out that the City Council held several meetings between January and May 2017 before approving the ordinance last year. The ordinance received a mix of support and opposition.
The 1851 Club has complied with the new ordinance since receiving a hand-delivered notice from the city, says Heather Lynd, the club’s manager.
“We immediately went nonsmoking,” she says. “We had to pick up the ashtrays right then. We don’t mind going nonsmoking.”
Gladen says he and his wife are nonsmokers, and he believes everything will be OK "because people are used to not smoking in places.” But since receiving official notice of the new ordinance, the 1851 Club has taken a financial nosedive.
“I think they’re trying to run out the small bars, really,” Gladen says. “These are the worst two weekends I’ve had in years since they’ve implemented this.”
Gladen said his bar doesn’t have a problem with Arlington police officers.
“They’ve been very good to us,” he says. “They don’t bother us. They don’t harass us.”
Still, he worries that his customers might have to leave Arlington to find a gay-friendly bar to accommodate them if he’s forced to close.
“I know that they’re wanting this to be a tourist town,” Gladen says. “They’ve got the new Texas Live [entertainment development] coming in, and they’re wanting everything to be new and glitz and shiny. But not everybody wants to be glitz and glitter. They just want a small little place they can go and do what they want to do and have a good time.
“I mean, were not causing any trouble,” he continues.
Everybody has always been welcome at the bar, Gladen says, and he's not happy about having to post a sign at the bar’s entrance thanking people for not smoking, informing them of the new ordinance and listing the phone number to report violators.
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“I don’t like the sound of that on my door, encouraging people to report a violation,” he says.
Arlington officials have sent Redmond signs, too. But he says he’s not posting them.
“The people that complain about smoking never in a million years would come to a place like this,” he says. “The little biddies that want to impose their will onto other people, they’ll never come. If I was nonsmoking, scrubbed down the walls, made the place smell like tulips, they still would never come to this bar.”
Arlington has published an FAQ about the new ordinance, available online.