On January 1, 2008, Jimmy’s, the beloved Woodlawn Tap, changed forever. The disappearance of that all too familiar cloud of smoke and the lack of musty ashtrays have made for a stark ambiance to this bare bones neighborhood haunt. It’s not that smoking defines the experience, but it’s definitely an arm that for now has been severed. Other locales, like the University of Chicago’s Pub, have banned smoking for quite some time, creating a crowd of social pariahs outside of Ida Noyes Hall. The basement Pub, which if filled with smoke would equate to an asphyxiation chamber, benefits from the tobacco prohibition without betraying its clandestine shadowy atmosphere.
With Jimmy’s the story is a little different. Though the crowd remained just as jovially inebriated as expected last Monday, the place seemed to have acquired another identity. The patrons are still ranged from university professors, liberated 21-year-olds, and the massive flock of grad students. Taps were still spilling out the same brews always found at the bar. Conversations did not lack any luster or pretension, but an eerie unfamiliarity was at play. When thinking of great bars, whether in Paris or anywhere else, it’s the smoke that cements their ineffable mystique and comfort. Smoker or not, you expect to have your clothing doused in the smell of bad beer and cheap cigarettes. Okay, so maybe not everyone wants their clothing to smell like where they were last night, but nonetheless, there’s a familiar and defining quality to this tradition.
The clean air at Jimmy’s is simultaneously a sign of the times, alongside trends of green initiatives, investments in alternative energy, and the battle of bikes versus cars. As a nation, we are becoming smarter in terms of realizing we probably shouldn’t continue destroying ourselves or our planet. Carbon monoxide falls under this category, since second-hand smoke results in lung cancer and other ailments for that hot waitress who served you a beer or the grump bartender at Jimmy’s who likes to card you just so you spend the next minute trying to find your ID. Jimmy’s clean bill of health is also part of an international tendency, as exemplified most recently and dramatically by the intensified smoking ban in France, which some say spells the end of Parisian cafÃ© culture. With a pitcher of Fat Tire and a basket of deliciously greasy fries, most things haven’t changed for the healthier at this Hyde Park haunt, but can you really imagine discussing Sartre without the delicate puffs of a cigarette?