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A Guide to Smoking at East Bay Bars

In a culture that's become increasingly hostile to the habit, there are still some places to light up.

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Mark Guajardo had been a regular at the Club House Cocktail Lounge for about five years when it went up for sale in 2010. The narrowly shaped dive bar in Alameda had a lot going for it: a horseshoe pit, a jukebox, a pinball machine, and an already dedicated clientele thanks to its heavy-handed bartenders. The sixty-year-old Vietnam veteran, who said he came to Alameda to work for the Navy after suffering multiple gunshot wounds overseas, said the sale was announced around the same time he received a sizeable disability payment for his wartime injuries. He wasn't doing anything at the time, and despite his lack of bar experience, figured "Why not?" But what really solidified the deal for Guajardo was the bar's smoking patio.

A lifelong cigarette smoker (he said he started when he was around eighteen and now smokes about a pack a day), Guajardo liked the fact that patrons who are partial to having a smoke with their drink can simultaneously celebrate the two vices to their livers' and lungs' content. "When it's good weather like we have right now, it's really nice to go out there and sip your beer and smoke your cigarette, as opposed to going out front," Guajardo explained. It might seem like an obvious pairing — after all, smoking and drinking go together like peanut butter and jelly — but at a time when smoking regulations have grown increasingly restrictive and a majority of the population is comprised of nonsmokers, bars with designated smoking patios are a growing minority.

For those who do smoke, bars like the Club House offer a breath of fresh — or, uh, smoky — air, whereby smoke-friendly patios provide a sort of middle ground: Smokers can puff away without offending non-smoking patrons and without ditching their drinks inside a bar while they huddle outside the front door, conceivably blowing smoke right back inside. Jason Herbers, co-owner of the Eli's Mile High Club in Oakland, set up ten picnic tables and a handful of sand-filled buckets for use as ashtrays on his bar's spacious back patio when he bought the place in 2008. He said providing a comfortable space for smokers diminishes loitering out front, thus lessening potential noise complaints from neighboring residences.

While Herbers doesn't smoke himself (he's from Virginia, and recalls "gnarly" dining experiences at restaurants cloudy with cigarette smoke), as a bar and restaurant owner he said he tries to accommodate his customers, even for a practice he doesn't personally endorse. "I see the culture of drinking not going anywhere," he said, "and I definitely see the culture of smoking starting to diminish. And I think it's a positive thing." But as long as drinkers continue to smoke and the law continues to permit it when it's more than 25 feet from a business' doorway, the bar's smoking patio will prevail. "Bad habits complement each other," Herbers said. "Who doesn't like a cigarette after dinner?"

And as Dale Turkette, the chief cook and glass washer at the smoking patio-equipped Stork Club, pointed out, having a smoking area can be a boon for bars. The way he sees it, the more a smoker drinks, the more they smoke, and the more likely they are to stay and have another drink. As he put it: "It's not good for their health, but it's good for business."

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