Bar owner opens 'private club' for smoking patrons

Bar owner opens 'private club' for smoking patrons
OLYMPIA, Wash. -- A local bar owner believes he's found the loophole to get around the state's smoking ban. But if he's wrong, he could end up in jail.

Bar owner Frank Schnarrs says he's willing to take up the fight for all bar owners.

There's a new sign in front of Frankie's Bar & Grill. It says "volunteers needed."

For now, Schnarrs is behind the bar. To comply with the judge's order, only volunteers can work in his special private smoking club.

"It has to be volunteers. I'm not going to violate the law," he said.

That's what put Schnarrs in court last Friday. Thurston County said he was breaking the state law which bars smoking in public places. But judge Richard Hicks surprised everyone by suggesting there was a way to get around the smoking ban.

"Maybe if you had a membership, private club, and charged something more than the cost of food and drink to be a member, you could get around it that way," Hicks said from the bench.

So Frankie's second floor bar turned private with a yearly membership fee.

"I think there are still hurdles to overcome. One thing is the employee issue. Because that's in the bill, as I recall," said Jim Vinson, bar patron.

The law says private clubs can only use volunteer workers in that smoke-filled room. The judge on Tuesday said that's the second test of a true "private club."

"(It has to be the case) that he doesn't have any employees in this private club," Hicks said on Tuesday.

Up until now the health department inspectors could walk into the bar any time they wanted to. But now that this is a private club, they actually have to get a search warrant to come in.

When they get one, what are they going to see? Schnarrs says they'll see smokers at the bar and volunteers behind the bar.

"I'm going to go by his ruling, so I'll have volunteers from now on," said Schnarrs.

Schnarrs will be back in court on June 9 to see if the judge agrees or holds him in contempt.

Bar owners across the state are watching this, believing if Frankie's can get around the smoking ban perhaps they can, too.

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Judge tosses contempt complaint over smoking ban