Can the smoking ban help you meet women?

'SMIRTING' | Ban makes it easy to mix smoking, flirting -- guys, you have 3 minutes until she heads back inside


January 18, 2008
Shot-and-a-beer joints always have been part of neighborhood culture. It's where guys go to loosen their belt, socialize and pick up women.


This is especially true in certain North Side enclaves where the success of small business -- and you could argue entire neighborhood economies -- relies on whether a retail strip is considered a good place to find love, liquor and a good burrito.
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Heather Fuller of Lakeview has a smoke outside of Flounders on Clybourn Wednesday night.
(Chris Sweda/Sun-Times)

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Every year there are fewer corner taverns in Chicago. A contingent of smokers, clinging to the tired argument that smoking and drinking go together like pork chops and applesauce, say the state smoking ban will force even more bars out of business.


But after just a few weeks, it appears that drinkers are adjusting to sipping their whiskey without a Marlboro pretty well. No one has been fined -- yet -- for smoking at a bar. And only 118 people have called 311 to report illegal smoking in Chicago since the ban was enacted on Jan. 1.


In fact, some guys who frequent the bars say there's an upside to the smoking ban: It improves your chances with the ladies, especially cute ones traveling in packs. That's because the ban often forces smokers to stray from the herd for a smoke break, giving guys a better shot at one-on-one time with a gal who catches his eye.


You could argue the smoking ban has also made it easier for gals to pick up single guys, but that's not saying much. Single guys are pretty easy to pick up.
Regardless, "Got a light?" has become the new "Come here often?" at city taps. It's smoking and flirting. It's ... smirting -- and probably happening next to a Dumpster near you.


Part-time smoker Corey Osterander, a 20-something suburban transplant downing cold ones at Rose's in Lincoln Park, says he's already tried to use the ban to his advantage a few times.


"If I see a hot chick go outside for a smoke, you know, maybe I go out for a smoke, too," he says. "Out there, she's isolated and there's an opportunity to talk to her without her friends around."


Same goes for chatting up nonsmokers left saving stools inside. "It's just easier to talk to a girl when she's by herself," Osterander says.


Already, ladies say they're hip to these post-ban pickup moves.


"I've had so many guys hit on me since the smoking ban," Wicker Park hipster Maria Lambropoulls says. "Do you have a light? I don't know how many times I've heard that. You know, I'm thinking of using it, too. If I see a cute boy going outside for a smoke, I might follow him."


'Already got something in common'
Outside Waterhouse in Lake View, Megan Schultz, a college student and occasional smoker, says she's not surprised the ban has created an intense singles pickup culture 15 feet beyond a bar's front door.


"Well, you know you've already got something in common. Smoking isn't a big deal for me, but it is part of a lifestyle," she says. "If you're a smoker you probably want to date people who smoke. If you date a nonsmoker they're going to tell you not to smoke and who wants that? Right?"


Besides, smirting is more efficient than old-fashioned barroom flirting and the lingering awkwardness of drunken rejection. Smirters have a three-minute window -- about how long it takes to smoke a square -- and a built in brush-off with your last puff. If your potential smirter is a chump, just stomp on your smoke and walk back inside. It's that easy.


The Chicago debut of smirting -- popular in London and Dublin for a while now -- isn't the only cultural change the smoking ban has brought to the city. Folks are now struggling with determining proper smoking etiquette at bars, which until now amounted to not blowing smoke in the face of a guy who might slug you.


Karen Hooker of Lake View says drinkers need to come to an agreement on how to mark unfinished drinks and stools left behind during smoke breaks.


"Let's start with, if there's a napkin on top of a drink, that means I'm out smoking. How about that?" she says. "And if there's a coat on a chair, that probably means I'm out smoking. So, don't go jonesing for my seat, you know. That really pisses me off."



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