03 June 2012

This is Not the Free Word: Smokefree Comes to Indianapolis

On Friday, June 1st, 2012, a door was opened. Those who worked to open the door will soon be forgotten, but deserve our thanks. Kudos to Smoke Free Indy - you'll never have to drink your beer under a cloud of cigarette smoke in an Indianapolis bar again.

Some 12 or so years ago, I came to Indianapolis for a job interview. Waiting in the car in the parking lot, I quickly smoked a cigarette, gave myself a few minutes to shake the smell off, and headed into the building where I would spend the next 12 years of my life.

Because the company I went to work for was family-owned, I found myself in the position of having one of the last office jobs in America where smoking was still permitted. I've been on both sides - the guy smoking in an office with non-smokers, and the non-smoker in an office with smokers. When smoking was banned from our building about five or so years ago - by which time I had given up my pack-a-day habit - I was quite happy to see the cigarette smokers pushed out onto the front porch. I had become the militant ex-smoker. It wasn't until I quit that I realized just how bad those around me had it.

Whatever the argument was, or however it passed, I'm sure that those non-smokers who worked in a smoking-allowed environment work in a better environment today, and I congratulate them. Of course an added bonus is that bars my friends and I have stayed away from before suddenly became places we'll be happy to visit. You can argue for or against the ban all you want - we've got a comments section for that - but we see this smoking ban as a win. We like to drink in bars. More bar options are a good thing.

In order to celebrate, we took in six formerly smoke-friendly Indianapolis bars on Friday evening. Here's how it went.

Our first stop was at the venerable Red Key Tavern. The Red Key's Story is the story of Russ Settle, a World War II pilot and prisoner of war. After the war, Russ bought the Red Key and made it his own, decorating the place with model airplanes, and creating a set of rules that became as well known as the bar itself. Although Russ passed away in 2010, the Red Key is still family owned, and the staff is happy to tell Russ' story.

This being the first day of a smoke-free Red Key, we decided that a beer and a Red Key hamburger would serve as a great base. The Red Key has character in spades, and despite years of patronage by smokers, there wasn't the lingering odor you might expect. Instead we found a cooler full of good enough choices to keep anyone happy - Two Hearted, Sun King, Sierra Pale, Negra Modelo, and even Bud Light Platinum, which we ordered.

Why? Because we like to know what we shouldn't like, and buying one bottle sure beats buying a six pack.

Bud light platinum tastes like chlorinated water, if you're wondering. Or bleach. It's dry and salty, especially if you add salt, which we did. Perhaps the best part of Bud Light Platinum is that it does hide a tiny hint of grape-like flavor. And it comes in a blue bottle, which you don't see everyday. There's probably a pretty good reason for that - if you're proud of your beer you might not want to hide it.

A few in our party tried the mixed drinks, which were reasonably priced and agreeable. "Martinis are like women's breasts - three is too many, two is just right, one is not enough," was apparently something Russ was fond of saying.

Our second stop was The Sinking Ship, a bar that may have captured our attention at opening in 2011, with eight taps, a nice bottle list, a rock club sort of vibe, and... smoking.

I've been to the Sinking Ship before, and while I appreciate that they've stuck to a punk rock vibe, I'm also aware that their goal might not be to attract a guy-in-khakis like myself. But before I sold out, I might have loved the Sinking Ship. If your vibe is punk rock, hockey, black t-shirts, and craft beer, the Sinking Ship is for you. I tried out Flat12's 10 Penny and found that it was made to attract guys like me, in that it was tasty and immediately made me more comfortable. No smoke smell here.

Third on our list was the Lockerbie Pub, which despite being between Sun King and Mass Avenue, has never been visited by the HGB crew. Lockerbie Pub isn't the sort of place that has anything that's immediately striking, only an instantly comfortable vibe, and Sun King's Sky Cake on tap. In addition to a positive vibe, Lockerbie Pub has a pool table and Golden Tee machine, providing entertainment along with the tasty beer. And - again - no lingering smoke smell.

After our drinks we took a short hike over to the Mass Ave Pub, where the folks behind Smoke Free Indy were celebrating a job well done. The Mass Ave Pub has been visited by HBG before; the beer list was just too good to pass up, despite the old pro-smoking vibe. Mass Ave Pub was overflowing with customers - this being Indianapolis, we poured our beers into plastic cups and hit the sidewalk. It's legal! Don't forget!

Next up was Fletcher Place's Dugout Bar. Despite driving by the Dugout hundreds of times, we had never stopped in before. The first and most striking aspect of the bar was how huge it is, and despite arriving late in the evening, our party having now grown to ten-or-so, we were able to fill the space with noise. A pizza was ordered (three toppings max after 9 or 10pm), and we took in the character of this southsided low key establishment. The pizza was filling, the beer was cold, and they don't like credit cards. Heads up. (No smoke smell here, either.)

Our last stop of the crawl was Fountain Square's Brass Ring. The place was bustling, the cocktails weren't quite as good as we had hoped, and a posse of misplaced smokers huddled against an outside wall. Our visit was short - we had an old friend to visit a few blocks away in a bar that never had smoking to begin with.


  1. Great write up. I look forward to not catching a wiff of smoke the next morning after I wake up. Even though I don't smoke I would still go to places such as the Sinking Ship as it is so close to me it would not be right letting something like that keep me from supporting them. I will probably go to more places more often now that we have a smoke free environment.

  2. I went to the Dugout last summer and ordered a Sierra Nevada (best stuff they had). It had been in the fridge for about two years, was clearly past its fresh date, and had a solid layer of sediment on the bottom. I thoroughly enjoyed it regardless.

  3. The ship is switching to soccer after hockey is over. Best of both worlds.

  4. ...and now, no one will ever be able to enjoy a cigarette and a beer in Indianapolis ever again. Freedom!

    The same people limiting access to tobacco, sugar, salt, foie gras, etc, will turn their attention to limiting beer as well. Thanks for enabling them.

    1. For the record, I had nothing to do with the smoking ban.

    2. You, sir, are hilarious. I would like to subscribe to your newsletter of extremist ideals.

  5. I may be the only non-smoker that hates this law. Leave it to the business owner to decide if smoking is allowed or not. As consumers, you can choose to only go to bars that suit your needs. It really was that easy, and everybody got by.

  6. Here's the thing -- one's consumption of sugar, salt, alcohol, etc., when not consumed in moderation, physically harms only you, not the people around you. Second-hand smoke, however, can harm others, particularly if the exposure is long term. That's why I'm okay with this sort of smoking ban and why the slippery slope argument doesn't work for me. Cigarette smoke poses an environmental hazard, not merely a hazard to the person smoking the cigarettes. I certainly don't see anyone arguing that the government shouldn't prohibit bar owners from using asbestos as insulation in their establishments because patrons and prospective employees could always go drink or work somewhere else if they don't want to get mesothelioma.

    1. ...and now, no one will ever be able to enjoy mesothelioma and a beer in Indianapolis ever again. Freedom!

      The same people limiting access to asbestos, lead paint, chromated copper arsenate, polychlorinated biphenyl, etc, will turn their attention to limiting beer as well. Thanks for enabling them.