The Tasting Panel magazine

January/February 2015

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28  /  the tasting panel  /  january/february 2015 I was living in Los Angeles in 1998, when all the bars went smoke-free. It was rough. We patrons of the Frolic Room didn't agree with the law. We at Frank n' Hank rarely observed the law. And we at the HMS Bounty passed around the bucket to cover the fines slapped on bartenders and bar owners. If for no other reason, we knew we were fighting for that whole "freedom" thing. That all lasted about two months. Then we just walked outside to smoke. Some of us even gave up smoking, since we only lit up while drinking in bars (a real category of customers, by the way). After a year, most of us agreed that the ban was mostly a good thing for the atmosphere. Despite conflict- ing research about whether or not smoking bans hurt bars' bottom lines, all I know is, whenever I'm back in L.A., those freedom-loving bars I used to haunt are open and smoke-free. So now the long ashtray of the law comes to the Triple Crown, a top-shelf neighborhood bar and one of the very last outposts of indoor smoking in San Marcos, Texas. The city (like an increasing number of cities in the Texas) went smoke-free in 2013, but the Crown has tended to its smoking customers for an additional year, based on an exemption that expired December 31. By the time you read this, it will be illegal to smoke cigarettes inside the Triple Crown. Some patrons are unhappy. Fellas, I've been there. I've done that. But we go to neighborhood bars for the neighbors. We go for the camaraderie. We go, occasionally, to get away from home or the job. So getting off our butts to smoke outside isn't going to be that big a deal, as long as we come back inside and see familiar faces. Some of us will just stop smoking altogether: With supreme apologies for the pun, smokers are a dying breed. Which is why, for any business's bottom line, the numbers are solidly in the non- smokers' favor. As I compose these notes, with a draft of Live Oak's Big Bark sitting beside one of those classic red plastic ashtrays (which will soon be useless here), I don't foresee the Triple Crown going up in smoke in the year ahead. This, too, will come to be seen as a positive step for Texas, which continues to modernize its alcohol laws. Case in point: Breweries and distilleries can finally sell their products directly to on-site visitors. However, package liquor stores remain locked to the public on Sundays, even though grocery stores are free to sell wine and beer seven days a week. The fight for freedom isn't over. And I realize none of this allays the concerns of bar owners, who depend on every purchase to pay the bills, to pay the bands, to pay the bartenders. Financially, this is probably going to hurt, at least for a little while. And there's still that concept of freedom, which seems to be getting lost in the haze of clearing up the air. But that's progress, and that's probably best for the atmosphere. Notes from the Triple Crown by Anthony Head / photo by Kirk Weddle MUSINGS ON SMOKE IN SAN MARCOS Not pictured: The smoke-free future of the Triple Crown. A LONE STAR LIFE

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