The Shakespeare Festival's food vendors rough it in the park.

Kids or Cigs? 

The Shakespeare Festival's food vendors rough it in the park.

Last week, I went back to my hometown of Indianapolis and immediately got an earful from my sister, who had also flown in for a visit — from Los Angeles, where almost all restaurants and saloons are nonsmoking. That first night, she and her husband and their 6-year-old child had tried to eat at three different restaurants in the Westport-like Broad Ripple entertainment district and were turned away. "They've passed a new law here that allows restaurants to choose smokers over children," she said, fuming.

Now there's an interesting option, I thought. And practically Solomonic: children or cigarettes? Sis was simplifying the reality, which goes like this: Last autumn, Indiana's Marion County (which encompasses most of the Indianapolis metro) passed a general ordinance that restricts smoking in almost all public places. But the law exempts bars, taverns, bowling alleys, and private and semi-private rooms in nursing homes where the residents have requested permission to light up.

Also exempt: restaurants that hold a liquor license but serve only customers 18 and older.

In other words, restaurants can choose to be smoker-friendly or family-friendly but not both. As various communities in the Kansas City metro battle over their own smoking bans, I think they ought to consider Marion County's compromise. But Debra Scott, executive vice president of the Restaurant and Hospitality Association of Indiana, thinks the ordinance is a bit too stringent. At least 100 restaurants in the area have reported that their business has been hurt by the smoking ban, she estimates, and the few restaurants that decided to favor smokers over families have earned negative press.

Scott doesn't think the nonsmoking contingent will settle for the current ordinance; instead, she predicts an eventual push for all restaurants and bars to be smoke-free. "A compromise ordinance is not what the nonsmokers want," she says.

I told my sister that I recently wrote a column ("Child-Free Zone," May 25, 2006) about an online petition urging child-free sections in North Carolina restaurants. "Some people would rather endure cigarette fumes than noisy children when they go out to dinner," I said. In fact, I received half a dozen e-mails from readers who loved the idea that someday they could request to be seated in a no-kid section of a restaurant.

In Indianapolis, that's already reality — but only if you're willing to dine in a tobacco-scented haze.

Me? I'd vote for most restaurants to be kid-free and cigarette-free. But I'd never admit that to my sister.

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