On New Year's Eve Boise will say goodbye, in whiskey, smoke and song, to 2011's good times and bad. And it will also say goodbye to a significant part of its history.
Like it or loathe it, smoking has been a part of Boise's nightlife longer than most bars have been pouring. But come Monday, Jan. 2, smoking will be banned in bars, private clubs and sidewalk cafes as well as bus stops and transit centers. Entire sections of Boise, including much of the Grove Plaza and Eighth Street between Main and Bannock streets will also be off limits to smokers.
More than 30 bars in Boise currently allow patrons to light up, but with only a few days left before the ashtrays are cleaned out for the final time, BW visited some of downtown's more popular smoke-filled rooms.
10th Street Station
In 1907, someone fired up a cigarette in a saloon tucked in the basement of the still-new Idanha Hotel at the corner of 10th and Main streets. Sometime around midnight on Jan. 1, 2012, someone is supposed to fire up the last.
For more than a century, the location has been the site of a tavern (or saloon, or bar) and since 1982, it has been known as 10th Street Station. The subterranean haunt is known for affordable drinks and lively political conversations (presidents Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and Benjamin Harrison spent time in the Idanha). But the saloon may be best known for its smoky aura.
"My customers have probably already been somewhere else for dinner, and now they want to come down here for a cigarette or cigar and a drink," said Lynn Howell from behind the bar. "People don't come in here to be entertained. They come here to relax, have a drink and smoke."
Howell has been behind the bar for 29 years and owned the bar with wife, Carol, for 14. He's worried less about losing his customers due to the anti-smoking ordinance and more about them coming less often.
"I'll probably lose 25 percent of my business," said Howell. "My folks come in three, maybe four times a week. Now, they'll probably sit at home one of those nights, have a beer and smoke a cigarette."
Don Bennett, who could double for Santa with a half-face of white curls, piped up while ordering another Diet Coke and rum.
"I've been coming in here since 1965," said Bennett. "I remember when this place used to be a go-go joint. It was called The Weeds. There used to be a girl dancing in a cage over in the corner.
"Everybody here knows your name," said Bennett. "But honestly, the reason people come in here is to relax and have a cigarette."
Bennett gave up cigarettes six years ago but has never minded being around smokers.
"I probably couldn't smell a skunk if he was standing on my foot," he said. "I don't care about that. This is the place I want to come."
The Howells both testified against the anti-smoking ordinances but to no avail.
"I believe they already had their minds made up," said Howell.
Neurolux has next to nothing in common with 10th Street Station, with one big exception: a fairly constant smoky haze.
"I get a smoke hangover from working here," said Mat Thompson a seven-year Neurolux bartender and nonsmoker. "I'll wake up the next day and my eyes will be all puffed up, so I guess I'm all for it."
Thompson puts in 20-plus hours a week, so the smoking has done a number on his lungs and his wardrobe.
"I definitely have a closet where my work clothes go when I get home. They're all stinky, smoky clothes," said Thompson. "It will be nice to wear some nice clothes and not have to worry about stinking so bad."
Thompson even finds solidarity with Neurolux's many smokers.
"I'm a smoker. Don't get me wrong, I love it. Love smoking cigarettes," said Tyler Bowling, a Neurolux regular who works at another downtown bar. "But what it comes down to is the fact that I will now go out and walk into any bar and know that I will be smoke free."
But how Boise Police are expected to manage the ban, said Bowling, is another story.
"If you can't smoke in here and you can't smoke on the sidewalk, then where are you going to smoke? The streets," said Bowling. "If the cops have a problem with me walking in the middle of the street to smoke, then they might want to reconsider [this]."
Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Joni Mitchell, Keith Richards, Frank Sinatra, Eddie Vedder, Amy Winehouse, Frank Zappa: Got the picture? They usually didn't have a cigarette too far from their microphone. It only goes to prove that those who see themselves as wannabe Dylans or Sinatras would light up as well.
Liquid's Tuesday night karaoke usually packs in the patrons and plenty of warblers.
Jared Maylin, who belted out a ballad, recognized that Dec. 6 would be one of his last opportunities to sing karaoke with a cigarette in hand.
"It's infringing on my rights," said Maylin. "It's like french fries and ketchup. Smoking and drinking go hand in hand."
Maylin said that if lawmakers were so bent on banning smoking in public places, they may as well eliminate it all together.
"They should just make it illegal if they're going to do this," he said. "It's definitely a healthy decision."
Jade Welch, a fellow smoker and singer, said the anti-smoking ordinance was too much like her native state.
"In California, you can't even walk down the street while smoking," said Welch. "We're not a Los Angeles community. We're a rural community."
The following night, Liquid turned the same stage it uses for karaoke over to comedians as part of its new Wednesday night endeavor. The comics smoked, most of the audience smoked, the people in the sound booth smoked, the comedy organizers smoked, and a good many of the jokes were smoking-related (you can listen to some of them in our video report at boiseweekly.com.
"Why don't you get the sand out of your vagina and let us smoke inside?" asked comedienne Stephanie Anne Mason.
Owners and operators of The Balcony are pretty certain that they'll cruise right along, allowing their smoking patrons to use their...well ... balcony.
"You'll still be able to smoke. It's not going to affect our business at all," said bartender Cameron Smith. "Obviously smoke doesn't go down [to the street], so it's not going to affect anyone walking along Eighth Street."
The Balcony isn't known as a smokers' "hot spot." Smith guessed that about 25 to 30 percent of his patrons light up.
"I think people who come downtown come here for a reason," said Smith. "They're not going to switch up bars."
But Smith was pretty sure that there will be some push-back come Jan. 2.
"I think smokers in general are going to be pissed off about it," he said. "But it's good, though, it gets people to quit."
Josh Flatman steps out to The Balcony's balcony when he wants a puff.
"The ban is no big deal. It's not that hard to go outside," said Flatman, who has been smoking for 15 years.
Mulligans is for smokers. No bones about it. Management told BW that approximately 90 percent of its patrons are smokers. Additionally, most of the staff smokes. A significant culture shift is definitely in store.
"We're all consenting adults," said Boise State student Remmington Brooks. "If you don't like it, why come here?"
Brooks likes to hang out in the back of Mulligans with his buddies Darrin Slack and Jeremy Lowman. Slack, a nonsmoker, sympathized with his smoking friends.
"Why do smokers need to walk 20-feet down the street and feel ostracized like second-class citizens because they smoke?" asked Slack, who works at St. Luke's Hospital. "It should be up to the bar owners."
Lowman, an occasional smoker, didn't see the harm in having a cigarette in a cocktail-slinging establishment.
"It's not like we're sitting at a playground blowing smoke in children's faces," said Lowman.
Brooks agreed, taking issue with what he called the prejudice he perceived against smokers.
"It's a personal choice, and I don't think people should be so judgmental about it," said Brooks.
Behind the bar, Kelly Frederick, one of the only bartenders who doesn't smoke, said he was definitely worried about losing business.
"People are already saying they're going to go to bars in Garden City and Meridian," said Frederick. "Everybody better have the same New Year's resolution, that's for sure."
Bartender Kaci Furniss, who prefers Marlboro Lights, said Mulligans is planning to rip up the carpets and give the place a good scrubbing come the New Year.
"It's going to suck, because it costs a lot of money," said Furniss, who rated her customers' frustration a "nine or 10" on a scale of one-to-10.
"I think it has to be up to the bar owner to decide," she said. "You already have the option to go to a non-smoking bar."
Meanwhile customer Jimmy Atkins was doing fine when BW spoke to him on a cold December night, and he expects to be doing fine when he nurses a drink on a cold January night.
"I don't come to a bar to smoke. I come to drink," said Atkins.