Sunday, Jun 26, 2016
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Distillery's patrons light up again

Smoking resumed at The Distillery in South Toledo yesterday, but the establishment admitted only those who said they agree with a local group seeking to change the city's year-old Clean Indoor Air Ordinance.

The event was billed as a "private social function" in signs on the door announcing that the bar was closed to the public - so long as Gordon Shinn, the sponsor listed on the posted "private social function agreement," remained on site.

For entry, visitors had to show a card indicating that they are Distillery regulars or had to sign their name on a legal pad in support of Citizens for Common Sense, the group collecting signatures to change the ban. By 6:30 p.m., the pad held 29 names.

A Blade reporter was not admitted. Mr. Shinn did not come to the door, and could not be reached at home later last night for comment.

The Distillery's owner, Jim Avolt, also could not be reached for comment.

Toledo Law Director Barb Herring said The Distillery likely will be cited for violating the law.

"This will be another situation for the court to sort out," she said. "Every time a court has looked at it, they've been able to tell what's going on. The issue is, is this truly a private event or is it open to the public?"

The event occurred two days after Mr. Avolt and Jeff Bollin, owner of the Bier Stube, 5333 Monroe St., were convicted of violating the smoking ban. Toledo Municipal Court Judge C. Allen McConnell ruled that the city has not violated the constitutional rights of bar owners.

In his decision, Judge McConnell said The Distillery, 4311 Heatherdowns Blvd., and the Bier Stube held social functions billed as private events, but which were not legitimate and not exempt from the law. The judge said he might consider an event as private if a name and phone number of the sponsoring organization were posted and if a sponsor were on scene.

Defense attorney Joseph Loeffler said later that his clients intended to hold such functions under the judge's guidelines. He could not be reached for comment last night.

Signs on The Distillery's doors said Citizens for Common Sense propose to make private clubs and "adult destinations [bars, pool halls, bingo halls, bowling centers, and small diners] exempt from Toledo's smoking ban" and to modify the restrictions on smoking in restaurants. The law allows establishments to build enclosed smoking lounges according to city standards.

But those rooms "are a joke,"

The Distillery signs said. "Too small and too smoky. A real common-sense approach must be used to undo all the harm that has already been done and try to regain the jobs and the tax dollars that have left Toledo."

Stu Kerr, Tobacco Free Ohio regional coordinator, last night called bar owners fighting the ban an "extreme minority." He said more than 95 percent of public establishments follow the law. If the minority "all go out of business, I don't think anybody will care. We have enough restaurants and bars that have complied with this."

Mr. Kerr said he supports private clubs that allow smoking. "I cite [those fighting the law] for lack of courage to really become private clubs," he said.

Toledo last July was one of the first Ohio jurisdictions to ban smoking in virtually all public places. Columbus' recently enacted ban has no exemptions.

Contact Mark Zaborney at:

mzaborney@theblade.com

or 419-724-6182.

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