Holy smokes, indeed. Business good at Poor Phil's

? It's still early, but first response to smoke-free bar and grill is enthusiastic says owner.

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So far, so good. That's the early line from Dennis Murphy as his landmark Poor Phil's bar and grill at 139 S. Marion St. wraps up a first smoke-free week. Murphy, his staff and even his customers say there has been no drop-off in business and that enthusiasm for the move is intense.

"The comments from the customers have been all positive," said Murphy. "People even stop their cars to come in and congratulate me on this. I am certain it'll have a positive impact on the business," said Murphy.

The decision, said Murphy, reflects the changing dynamics of the customers. "As I believe, this is what my customers want," he said. "My clients are getting younger. Some come with their kids and they want a smoke-free atmosphere."

"I personally wouldn't have made this decision if I thought it wouldn't be beneficial for my business," he said. "I don't know about short-term effects, but in the long term, there will be positive results."

Frederic Birt, a long-time patron at Poor Phil's, said he did not notice any change in the number of the customers. "I think the big question is how this is going to affect the business," he said. "But if you think about it the other way, you could also be losing customers because the place allowed smoking."

Jake Parsch, a waiter at the bar and a smoker himself, said he did not notice any decline in patronage and, he said, the general tone has been absolutely positive.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm among the customers," he said. "Non-smoking customers are excited about the move and the smoking customers are very understanding about it."

Pat Sullivan, a regular patron and a non-smoker, said the move also cuts down on the waiting times for non-smoking sections. "When you come into a restaurant, the smoking sections are available but you usually have to wait for a non-smoking seat," she said. "But after this, the waiting time for non-smoking sections are much shorter."

The outdoor patio along Pleasant Street is still open for smokers but Murphy said he is planning to go completely smoke-free in October.

He added he believes other restaurants in Oak Park should be allowed to do whatever they want.

"I am still adamantly opposed to strict government regulations," he said. "I think they [other restaurants] should do whatever they want based on what they think their customers want."

Murphy said he is eager to see the reactions of the customers but he is determined that going smoke-free is the right decision for Poor Phil's.

"I think smoke-free is the future and we are ahead of the pack like we were in many things," he said. "Poor Phil's was the first sports bar in Oak Park. The first wine bar. First to have free Internet access. First to have a pretzel bar. And now we are the first smoke-free stand-up bar."

Pat Sullivan, non-smoker, regular patron: "It's fantastic ? when you're inside, it's much more
comfortable now because you don't have to sit and eat your meal surrounded by someone else's smoke."

Brian Denhan, occasional smoker, regular patron: "I personally have no problem with it. The smokers can still smoke outside and it's also being considerate of other people's spaces."

Ellen Winter, smoker, regular patron: "I can't believe I won't be able to smoke outside during the summer ? I would choose a different place if I can't smoke."

Frederic Birt, non-smoker, regular patron: "I don't have a problem with it, I think it's about being considerate of other people in the bar. Smokers can still go outside and have a cigarette."

Jake Parsch, smoker, waiter: "I think this is beneficial for everybody. We have the freedom to choose whether to smoke or not ? but if we choose to smoke, I don't think that decision should influence other people's well-being."

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