It was First Friday, and a young woman next to me in a pinkish tweed coat was puffing away on a cigarette outside J.P. Wine Bar and Coffee House. Her frosty breath mingled with the cigarette smoke puffed out by a small group of people huddled together. The woman, who insisted on going by the alias Coco Chanel, had a strong opinion about Kansas City's potential smoking ban.
"I'm all for it," she said. "I need to quit smoking. So if there's no smoking in bars, that'll help immensely. I don't like to smell like shit when I go home."
The real Coco Chanel, a smoker herself, probably rolled over in her grave at such blasphemy.
Just then, her friend, a tall brunette in a black-and-white herringbone coat, burst through J.P.'s front door and loudly exclaimed, "I can't handle the bitches in Kansas City. Bitches, you have no right to act like that ... you're in Kansas City."
Sadly, she declined to elaborate on the bitchcentric incident inside. She lit up instead. After taking a few drags from her cigarette, the lively brunette, who also refused to give her name, revealed her pro-ban stance. "I like New York and Boston," she continued. It's easy enough in cities with smoking bans, she explained, to simply go outside for a cigarette. "I can smoke my fucking brains out. Then, I wake up and it's like, Oh, my hair is so lovely."
Even when it's cold, the brunette said, it's not so bad as long as you're drinking. "I don't feel it anymore," she said. "I've got enough Grey Goose in me to increase my body temperature 20 degrees."
That vodka-fueled bravery is integral at J.P., a wine bar at 15th Street and Walnut that has been cigarette-free since it opened eight months ago. It's one of the few bars in town to self-impose its own ban on butts.
As I drank my second Spanish coffee, it occurred to me how blissful it was to be at a bar and not worry about any errant cigarette smoke sneaking into my coat, my purse, my clothes and, by extension, into my car and my pillowcase. As a confirmed lush who happily draws a living from exploring KC bars through my gig as the Pitch's Night Ranger, there's the matter of the occasional sore throat and stinging eyes, too.
In case you haven't caught the bias, I'm a nonsmoker. My past experiments with smoking usually took place while I was fairly lit. Thanks to an inability to draw the rich tobacco goodness into my lungs as well as the mocking laughter from friends who derided my technique I stopped a few years ago. Now, when I'm out, cigarette smoke always seems to drift into my face, as if the smoke knows that there's a nice set of pink lungs needing to be corrupted. It's insidious like that.
So, as I pondered the fantasticness of not smelling like a week-old ashtray when waking up from a night out, I came to the realization that the smoky bar may soon be obsolete almost everywhere except, perhaps, at rural old-guy bars. Kansas City, Missouri, is considering its own ban in bars and restaurants, like the ones in neighboring cities, including Independence and Lawrence.