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Published: Thursday, 5/20/2004

Clearing the air in Irish pubs

Try to grasp this vacation picture, which works anywhere in Ireland, any city, any county.

The setting is a typical Irish pub with rich, dark woodwork and an Irish name such as O Malley s or Sullivan s or Finnegan s. Business is good, with several small groups of people who have pulled bar

stools together to chat. Men in business suits have stopped by after a day at the offi ce, and women, too, have joined the late-afternoon conviviality.

The blackboard lists shepherd s pie and plowman s lunch. The drink of the day and every day is defi nitely Guinness. But wait. There is something missing. The air is clear. No one is coughing. No one is asking for an ashtray, because no one is smoking. And that s the way it is today in Ireland, any city, any county, and it s wonderful.

The countrywide no-smoking law went into effect March 30. Irish people who want to smoke in a pub or restaurant have to travel to Scotland or Wales or fl y to America.

Any regular pub customer will tell you that before the law went into effect, the average pub was full of smoke. Like it or not, it was an accepted atmosphere.

American bar owners contend that smoking is as much a part of drinking as a good head is on a draft beer, and without their cigarettes to drag on, regular customers prefer to stay at home. That argument is proven wrong in Ireland, or at least in the several cities I visited in April, shortly after the law went into effect.

On my evening walk in Dublin, I saw men smoking on the sidewalk outside of several bars.

When I asked their opinions on the new law, they had little to say. A couple of guys uttered they simply go with the fl ow.

A sweet, nicely dressed lady on the arm of her husband said,

Isn t it wonderful? I love it?

The few bartenders queried said they have not noticed a decline in business. In fact they gave me a blank look as if it was a dumb question.

The smoking ban is a federal law and to disobey it means a

3,000 pound fi ne. The two exceptions in Ireland where smoking

is permitted in buildings are prisons and mental institutions,

and no one we talked to was that interested in lighting up.

That smoking is banned in all of Ireland makes it easier for proprietors who don t have to compete with another business

a mile down the road in another jurisdiction where smoking is

allowed. The customer can continue to patronize his regular

haunts because it s the same ruling up and down the street and in every neighborhood.

I say good for Ireland for being the fi rst country to go all the way and ban smoking. The rumor is that Norway will be next for a countrywide ban.

As much as the clean pub air was appreciated, I can t say

the same for Guinness Stout . The beer that has been an Irish

tradition since Arthur Guinness opened the brewery in 1760 was a bitter swallow. The locals recommend sweetening it with black currant wine, but I decided not to waste the wine.

The history of the Guinness family and the business unfolds at the Guinness Storehouse, a stop on the Dublin city tour. A high-level visitor center, it won the Dublin Tourism Enterprise Award and the U.S. based Themed Entertainment Association award in 2003. That the founder was an optimist is shown in the 9,000-year lease

he signed and that is on display.

From Gravity, a bar above the roof line, guests have a panoramic

view of Dublin while drinking a complimentary pint.

No, not Budweiser.

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