New crop of 'gardens' accommodates smokers
Summer is officially here, and gardens are in full bloom. Beer gardens, that is.
Almost six months after the statewide smoking ban went into effect, resourceful bar owners are embracing the warm weather and making the most of "the 15-feet law."
"The smoking ban has been amazing for us," said Wayne Klein, owner of Crusens in Peoria, as he sat Friday night at the outdoor bar situated in the corner of the new 2,000-square-feet beer garden. "People who have never been here before are now coming because of the simple fact that we accommodate smokers."
Crusens recently finished construction on the new beer garden, which doubled the size of the patio and gave smokers a place to drink, eat and, of course, light up.
On Jan. 1, smoking within 15 feet of doors and open windows of public buildings became illegal in the state of Illinois. Smokers had to give up their habit or head outside for a smoke.
At Crusens, only a few tables out of the dozens on the patio are within 15 feet of the bar's back door, giving smokers freedom to drink and smoke at the same time again.
"These are the only places I go," said Dave Wright, of Peoria, who was puffing on a cigarette and having a few drinks with a group of people in Crusens' beer garden. "I'm glad it's finally summer."
Crusens, which is finishing a beer garden at anotherlocation, isn't the only establishment making the most of the smoking ban. Beer gardens are sprouting up all over the city.
"If they didn't have these things, bars might go out of business," said Dana Fulk, of East Peoria, who was smoking Friday night in the new beer garden at American Pi. "Even people who don't smoke want to go to a bar and have a cigarette."
Fulk was in the company of about a dozen smokers, all who were sipping a drink and puffing on a cigarette.
"During the winter, I have to hurry up and run outside, hoping a car is idling close by so the exhaust fumes will keep me warm," said Paul Arbisi, with a laugh. "It's a lot better to be a smoker when the weather is nice. It's sucks when it's 20 below."
Arbisi was also enjoying a cigarette at American Pi, which opened its 1,200-square-feet beer garden on the front of the building about a month ago. Owner Mike Petsas said he applied for the outdoor patio through the city's zoning committee and liquor commission about a year and a half ago, when he heard about the possibility of a statewide smoking ban.
"It was a long process," Petsas said of the application, which first had to get OK'd by the zoning committee before moving onto the liquor commission for approval. "I had been wanting a beer garden anyway. But then when I started hearing talk of the smoking ban, I knew there was no doubt we would need one."
Petsas said because the details of the smoking ban are still vague, he and the zoning committee aren't sure the concrete awning that covers the beer garden is legal. The space has open sides and is surrounded only by a lattice fence. Still, Petsas said he doesn't know "how the state feels about ceilings."
Either way, he said the 18-month application process for the beer garden was worth it.
"I'm really, really glad we did this," he said. "If we didn't go through with it, we would have lost all the smokers."
Erin Wood can be reached at (309) 686-3194 or email@example.com.