As of Tuesday, May 31, the restaurateur who first brought beer to a dry town 30 years ago, will be taking the ashtrays off the bar-top and declaring an end to smoking at one of Oak Park's most beloved neighborhood bar and grills, Poor Phil's.
Restaurant proprietor Dennis Murphy?#34;who waged the first high-profile battle for a liquor license in Oak Park in the 1970s, and has been in more recent months among scores of business owners protesting a proposal to outlaw smoking at indoor workplaces?#34;said the decision to make his South Marion Street mainstay smoke-free even surprises himself.
"A couple years ago, I wouldn't even think about it. Now it's a different attitude. This issue is on people's minds. They're thinking they don't want to be next to the guy smoking a cigarette, even outside," he said.
Murphy said some signs that pointed him toward the change included a grown number of patrons, especially families with children, who were willing to wait in a long line for a table in his existing non-smoking area, just across the hall from the bar room. Over the past weeks, he's tested the waters by making one side of his outdoor seating non-smoking.
"The first night, I filled up the entire Marion Street side with non-smokers. I couldn't believe it. I ran out of tables," he said. "I was absolutely amazed. I made the switch, and I thought, why don't you go all the way Dennis?"
Though Murphy will keep a smoking section outdoors, a ban will be instituted throughout the interior of the restaurant. He said he expects the move to be successful, but will be monitoring the effects closely. "We'll know what we've done by New Year's when the outside operation is no longer there," he said. "Late at night may be an issue. If there's a major impact, that's when we'll see it."
Despite the change, Murphy said he remains opposed to the village passing an ordinance that would restrict the ability of businesses to allow smoking indoors. The village board overturned such an ordinance in March.
"The restaurant guy knows his business and while he doesn't always make the correct decision, it should be left up to him," he said.
Though Murphy may remain opposed to a law, David Ansell of Campaign for a Smoke Free Oak Park sees Poor Phil's ban as a step in the right direction.
"This is a brave thing for [Murphy] to do. This was a public education campaign about educating the business community on where people stand on the issue," he said. "This is really about what people want. In our community, and across the country, this is what people want."
However, even if other restaurants follow Murphy's lead, Ansell said he still believes the village needs to pass legislation banning indoor smoking.
"The ordinance remains necessary because it's a health issue. It's deadly. We can't allow this to be a choice issue," he said. "The literature said there's no negative [economic] impact. I think at the end of the year, we'll be saying, what were we worried about?"
Whether other restaurants will eventually head down the same path as Poor Phil's remains to be seen. But, Michael Pace, owner of La Bella?#34;just down the street from Poor Phil's?#34;and the Ale House, said he'll be keeping a close watch.
"I want to see what happens," said Pace. "What I like is that they've gone smoke-free voluntarily. It's not crammed down their throat. Our customers will tell us what they want."
? Stephanie Thies contributed to this report.