Oak Park restaurateurs, like anyone following the issue, expect the village board will pass an indoor smoking ban as early as February.

“I just think it’s inevitable,” said Nick Gambino, co-owner of Cucina Paradiso. “If it passed in the city (of Chicago), it will pass everywhere else.”

The restaurant’s owners fought the first incarnation of a smoking ban, voted down by the village board last spring. Gambino said they will not continue to fight.

On Jan. 2, Cucina Paradiso, 814 South Blvd., went smoke-free.

“More people are interested in a smoke-free environment, so we felt that was the best decision for us,” Gambino said. He said regular bar customers did not leave when they were asked not to smoke, but went outside to light up.

“Now, whether they’ll continue to do that, we’ll have to wait and see,” Gambino said.

But Michael Pace, owner of La Bella, 1103 South Blvd., and the Avenue Ale House (now just “The Avenue”), 825 S. Oak Park Ave., said he’ll continue to fight for the right to choose though he has decided to make LaBella smoke-free.

“I’m in business for myself because I don’t like being told what to do,” Pace said. “And that’s exactly what they’re doing here.”

Pace said that in expectation of a smoke-free law, the Avenue has shifted its focus away from its bar business. Cigar smoking has been banned there, too, to respect diners.

“It’s inevitable it’s gonna happen,” he said. “But even Dennis Murphy [owner of Poor Phil’s], who went smoke-free, doesn’t like it being rammed down our throats.”

Pace said La Bella went smoke-free, like Poor Phil’s, in response to customers’ concerns.

Both restaurateurs said they’d prefer to see county- or state-wide indoor smoking bans so that Oak Park smokers wouldn’t be lost to bars and restaurants in Forest Park.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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