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Since it was founded in 1972, White Water Tavern has been, at various times and often all at once, a biker bar, a rendezvous for Arkansas politicos and the definitive Mecca for live, local music. Yet it seems throughout all of the bar's incarnations, the only constant has been the ever-present cloud of cigarette smoke, affixing itself indiscriminately to any piece of clothing that passes through the door.
So after hearing “I'd love to come out to the show, but I just can't handle the smoke” one too many times, the owners — all in their mid-20s and some smokers themselves — are kicking the butts out the door, to a small back deck and yard area to accommodate their patrons' nicotine fits.
“We're not trying to push our values on anyone, but the heavy smoke keeps a lot of people away,” said co-owner Matt White.
It's a move that's not without controversy. White was quick to point out that some of the older, daytime regulars “aren't feeling it.”
“But by and large, people have been overwhelmingly kind and enthusiastic,” White said. “Even folks that smoke have said they'd prefer to go outside if it means not taking the smoke smell home with them.”
White Water regular Amy Bowers is happy about the change. “As a non-smoker, it will be nice to enjoy seeing my favorite bands at one of my favorite bars and breathe at the same time. Hopefully other venues that still allow smoking will follow suit,” she said.
The move leaves the River Market's Sticky Fingerz as the only music venue in town that books national touring bands while allowing indoor smoking.
“We expect the change to be a step in the right direction of becoming a more professional music venue,” White said.
The bar's last night of smokiness will be this Saturday, April 10. Puffing will be soundtracked by jazz-jam band Weakness For Blondes. The 38-year-long reign of smoke ends Monday, April 12.
The young guns eager to have their White Water coming-of-age a bit earlier thanks to the smoke ban are out of luck. Despite the switch, it'll remain a venue open only to those 21 and up.