New Orleans bars and casinos are scheduled to go smoke-free next month, but that could change in parts of the French Quarter. The New Orleans City Council agreed Feb. 26 to ask the City Planning Commission (CPC) to consider allowing cigar bars to operate in the Vieux Carre.
New Orleans District C Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, who represents the French Quarter, wants to create a new designation, "tobacco retail business," where "the sales of tobacco products and accessories (for on-premises consumption)" accounts for 70 percent of its revenue, and where "alcoholic beverages and/or food products are sold or served for consumption on premises." Ramsey's measure could allow bars to switch to a smoking lounge, where both smoking and drinking would be allowed.
In December, on her second try, Ramsey got the City Council to request the CPC to consider an amendment to zoning rules to make cigar bars a "conditional use" in parts of the French Quarter. That change, however, seems to affect only one business: La Habana Hemingway on Toulouse Street, which sells alcohol through its designation as a restaurant. The hitch? Restaurants can't allow smoking.
District A Councilwoman Susan Guidry slammed Ramsey and the motion for what she said makes an exception for an illegal business. Guidry said La Habana "hung out a cigar bar sign" and has since been cited more than 10 times by the CPC, the Department of Safety and Permits and state agencies. If La Habana isn't properly licensed by March 6, she said, the state will close it.
Many people who turned out for the council meeting at City Hall supported Ramsey's measure — or more specifically, La Habana — including state Sen. Ed Murray (who also appears in a promotional video for La Habana). The vote on Ramsey's motion was 6-1, including a yes vote from the sponsor of the original smoke-free ordinance, District B Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell. Guidry was the holdout.
"If the council passes this motion, what we're doing is making an exception to existing law," Guidry said. "It's just another runaround to help this one, illegally operating business."
Council President Stacy Head called the situation "a procedural mess" but agreed to move the measure forward. The CPC will discuss the measure at an upcoming public meeting.