Sandra McCaffrey works as a daytime bartender in O’Reilly’s on 35th, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. The 30-year-old Donegal native has been there for four years and has seen a dramatic decrease in business since the smoking ban was enforced.
“The smell of smoke never really bothered me,” she said. “I chose to work in a bar.”
McCaffrey is nostalgic for the days when they had regulars and the tips flowed.
“Business is down and lots of our regular customers are smokers who haven’t come back,” she said.
Aisling Doohan has worked in the Playwright on 35th, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, for five weeks. The 22-year-old Monaghan native will be returning home to Carrickmacross at the end of the summer. The waitress said she is indecisive about the smoking ban.
“I don’t think people should smoke in restaurants,” she said. “But smoking is a social thing and I can understand someone wanting to have a cigarette with their drink.”
Frances Meegan has worked in Patrick Kavanagh’s on 33rd and Third Avenue for a year and a half. The 23-year-old is from Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan.
“We used to have smoking tables with lots of regulars,” she said. “Now they just stay at home, smoking in their apartments.”
Meegan also said it has become increasing difficult controlling tables with people coming and going to smoke cigarettes and others using it as a ruse to beat the check.
“Smoke never bothered me,” she said. “I am a person who likes to have a cigarette when out drinking. I don’t know if the business will come back in the winter months.”
A barman in McCormack’s, who preferred not to give his name, was wondering what happened to the “land of the free.” He said the bar, on 26th and Third Avenue, has suffered as a result of the ban. “People should have the choice,” said the 35-year-old. “I am a smoker myself.”
He said he feels especially sorry for the older customers, who will have to brave the harsh winter weather to satisfy the cravings. “There are no good aspects to the ban when you’re on this end of the bar,” he said, adding that business is down and tips are far fewer.
Kevin Fitzgerald, 34, is a part-owner of Fitzgerald’s, on 25th and Third. He has worked in the venue for 12 years. The Killarney native called the ban unfair. “The democratic way would have been to give bars a choice,” he said. “Some would choose to be a non-smoking bar, some would not.” He added that all the non-smokers who were supposed to feel more comfortable in bars never started drinking and that business is suffering. “I don’t smoke,” he said, “However, I chose this profession, knowing the pitfalls.”
Fitzgerald said that the benefits of smelling fragrant did not outweigh the loss of business. “I can always buy a bar of soap,” he said.