Aug 12, 2022 - News

Smoking ban would bring new era for Nashville dives

Interior photo of the Melrose Billiards bar.
Melrose Billiard Parlor. Photo: courtesy of A.Ray Hospitality

Nashville seems poised to outlaw smoking in the handful of age-restricted bars and music venues that still allow it.

  • At least one owner sees a "bittersweet" silver lining in the dissipating smoke clouds.

State of play: Smoking has been prohibited in most Tennessee businesses for more than a decade. But some exceptions remained, including 21-and-up bars.

  • Most bars implemented their own bans. But a new state law allows local governments to pass broader bans that apply to the holdouts.
  • An ordinance proposing a broader indoor smoking ban in Nashville was filed last month. It faces a pivotal vote at Tuesday's Metro Council meeting.

Why it matters: Austin Ray, who owns Melrose Billiard Parlor, said the expected change would be "the end of an era" for the bar and pool hall, which has allowed smoking since it opened in 1944.

Flashback: Ray, the president of A.Ray Hospitality, said in a statement that he seriously considered eliminating smoking when his company acquired the bar in 2016. But he deferred to longtime customers.

Yes, but: Ray said eliminating smoking offered "a wonderful opportunity to welcome guests who have not wanted to visit Billiards due to the smoke."

  • "Walking down the original terrazzo staircase to a historic underground escape is a unique experience that's been shared by dive bar lovers, including many celebrities," Ray said.
  • "We will now be able to share this experience with everyone."

The other side: Customers at another stalwart, Fran's East Side, told the Tennessee Lookout that expanding the smoking ban would unfairly penalize smokers.

  • "The people who smoke now, they have no options. You can't smoke at no restaurants. … The bar's all you got left," Fran's patron Donnie Barber told the Lookout.
  • "If you can't get in a bar and have a beer and a cigarette, it's f---ed up."

The big picture: Jamie Kent, a singer-songwriter and spokesperson for Musicians for a Smokefree Tennessee, tells Axios the ban would keep musicians and employees from working in a fog of secondhand smoke.

  • "This ordinance presents a huge opportunity to finally protect the health of our musicians and hospitality workers, while also attracting a whole new group of customers to these great bars and venues," Kent says.
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