In 2008, Pennsylvania banned smoking in public places. But several smoking bars still exist in Philly, thanks to exceptions allowed under that law. City Cast Philly spoke to local food and drink reporter Ali Mohsen about why time is running out for these bars.
How are bars able to have smoking exemptions?
“They got waivers in 2008, at the time when the law was put into place. As an owner of an establishment, if you could prove that 90% of your revenue came from alcohol sales, then you were given 90 days to apply for an exemption against the ban. And a handful of bars did. But once current ownership changes for whatever reason, you can't transfer the exemptions, even if it's to a member of the same family.”
In Philly, people smoke hookah and cigars, and vaping is also popular. What makes smoking bars different from what's allowed now?
“In Philly's case, it’s unique both in that it's one of the last in U.S. cities [with cigarette smoking bars], but there's also so much history attached to them. And in the case of Friendly Lounge on Washington, that bar has been recreated for that Scorsese movie, ‘The Irishman’. Because there's a lot of history there.”
What’s the culture like within smoking bars?
“With smoking bars it is a subculture. It's a community. There's something special about that. There is a character that I think fits in with the Philly identity. This is a city that's proudly working-class and rough around the edges and we have a mascot like Gritty. How do you not have smoking bars in the city?”
Mohsen’s answers have been edited for length and clarity.