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Gasp! Manuel's Tavern is now smoke-free

Veteran patrons of the Atlanta watering hole react to the policy change

Throughout its storied 58-year history, three things have remained constant at Atlanta’s politico watering hole Manuel’s Tavern. The city’s scribblers can always score a scoop if you wait around long enough. The tavern’s telepathic bartenders know you want another drink before you do. And at the end of the evening, your clothes are a walking billboard for Lucky Strikes.

No more. As of opening today, the tavern Manuel Maloof built is now completely smoke-free. Owner Brian Maloof made the official announcement on the bar’s Facebook page this week.

Veteran Atlanta sportswriter, author and Manuel’s regular Jack Wilkinson was breathing a sigh of relief Tuesday. Wilkinson told me: “If Ireland can do it [Ireland became the first country to go smoke-free in all public and workplaces in 2004], anybody can do it. Seriously.”

Wilkinson’s wife, City of Atlanta fire department spokeswoman Janet Ward, an occasional smoker, is also fine with the new policy. “If I want to smoke, I’ll just go outside,” she said. “It’s not going to be a big deal. It’s not the smoking that makes it Manuel’s. I’m sure they’ll lose a few people but probably gain far more people who had issues with the smoke.”

Even political gadfly and Manuel’s mainstay Tom Houck is OK with the new policy. In a Facebook message to me Tuesday, the former Creative Loafing columnist wrote: “A year ago, I would have been pissed off but I’ve quit smoking. So I’m thankful for a smoke-free environment. I guess it’s the wave of the future.”

To make the taste of the Nicorette gum a bit sweeter for puffing patrons today, Manuel’s is serving up a New Year’s Day special, including ham, collards, black-eyed peas and cornbread.

Most of the tavern’s 7,485 Facebook fans were also in favor of the new policy. Dissenter Gregory Allen Teal Jr. posted: “Manuel’s has the perfect set up to cater to both smokers and nonsmokers. It’s too bad that a few squeaky wheels get to ruin it for everyone else.” Patron Shaun Whitlock posted in response: “No, Gregory, having a ‘smoking section’ in a bar or restaurant is like having a peeing section in a pool.”

Jack Wilkinson (who, incidentally, was carrying around a plastic orange Manuel’s ashtray given to him by Manuel’s barkeep Bill McCluskey Tuesday) says he’ll selflessly make himself available outside today in the 40-degree temps for his tobacco-toting pals. “I’ve never smoked in my life,” he says. “But I’ll probably be out there in the parking lot providing counsel for those who do. I’ve got some friends who will no doubt need the support!”