Has anyone noticed that it's getting tougher for poor, ostracized smokers to feed their insidious monkey in the outdoor areas at bars? We're not just talking about sidewalk tables out front, but also the last frontier of state-sanctioned nicotine consumption: the bar backyard. Over the course of this summer, we've noticed increased smoking restrictions and even prohibitions in the backyards of several bars in Brooklyn, and some bar owners tell us the Health Department is cracking down. Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of DOH reprisal, one proprietor told us how the smoked sausage gets made:
Our most recent inspection was in April and everything went really well inside. Then the inspector goes out back and says, "Do you know about the policy for backyards?" I played dumb and said, "No." But the rule is that It's supposed to be one quarter of your yard, and that part has to be sectioned off. What I didn't know is that if you do that and people are in that area smoking, they're not allowed to drink or eat anything, which is so preposterous. And the inspector was cool; he knew it was stupid. He told me, "Take all your ashtrays, dump them and hide them. I'm not going to write you up for the ashtrays, but I have to write you up for smoking out here." We were fined $250. His decision to look the other way on the ashtrays meant I wasn't encouraging smoking; if he'd fined me for the ashtrays it would have been a lot more.
A few weeks later a guy came in for a follow-up inspection specifically for the smoking. When they come in they always show you their badge, then they sit down and do a lot of paperwork before looking at anything. So while he was doing that, I ran out and took out all the ashtrays and told people to stop smoking. He came outside and said, "Well, you're supposed to have No Smoking signs out there." So he allowed me to hand write No Smoking signs and paste them up really quick. It was so dodgy
What's really funny is that when the second inspector came outside there was a dog in the yard. He basically stepped over that dog and didn't even say anything about that. But that's a big fine that we're so worried about all the time. In the past they never even really looked outside. It seems that they're cracking down on everything, I guess because they need money right now. My exterminator always says, "13 years ago it used to be so different. They would warn you so you'd have a chance to make some changes, and then come back. Now they just fine you right away."
A Health Department spokesperson tells us that according to section 17-503(c) of the Smoke Free Air Act [pdf], smoking is not permitted in the outdoor areas of restaurants unless: "1) the outdoor area has no roof or other ceiling enclosure; (2) the smoking area constitutes no more than 25% of the outdoor seating capacity; 3) the smoking area is at least 3 feet away from the non-smoking area; and 4) the smoking area is clearly designated with signage." When asked if the rule also applies to bars, we were told, "It applies to FSEs, so both." (FSE=Food Service Establishment) However, the spokesperson also told us that smoking and drinking is permitted in these outdoor smoking sections.
But it's not just smokers in bar backyards that are suffering; the Health Department is coming for the strippers too... in their dressing rooms:
The owner of a gentleman's club in Astoria tells us, "The Health Department came twice in five days and didn't find anyone smoking, so they went downstairs into the stripper's dressing room, and by the back door they found an ashtray. We got a $200 fine for that. Everything's about stats, everything's about numbers. I understand we need law and order, but they find an ashtray far from where any customer is going to be and they slap a fine on us?
"I can't believe that if I own a bar I can't have a cigarette in my office. If you're paying five fucking grand a month in rent you can't go into your private office and have a cigarette? At my other bar in Manhattan we pay a grand a year to use the sidewalk for outdoor tables, and we got $500 worth of fines last year because you can't smoke outside. Why am I paying $9,000 for an outdoor section with tables so people can smoke, and then getting fined when they do?" It's almost as if the city is making more and more laws so they can collect more fines!