Busted: The rumor and truth of one club's struggle against the smoking ban

Rumors were flying last week about the 418 Club, the downtown Minneapolis gentlemen's establishment that has been a sticky wicket in the city's efforts to outlaw smoking just about anywhere inside. As far as gossip goes, this tidbit was just too hard to ignore: Dick Wise, owner of what is legally called Jennifer's 418 Club, was supposedly handcuffed and hauled away during peak business hours last Friday night.

His crime? Allowing patrons to smoke, as the improbably named Wise has since the ban went into effect last spring.

"It was like they had a whole frickin' SWAT team in there," grumbled one prominent bar owner.

Predictably, alas, the tale was too good to be true.

"That's the word going around?" asks Wise, speaking over the phone on Tuesday, offering a raspy laugh. "I wasn't even there--I just got back from Florida this weekend."

Aside from denying the rumor, the free-speaking Wise maintains that he hasn't allowed smoking at the 418--well, at least not since "right around the first of the year."

As far as scofflaws go, though, Wise had a pretty good run. Last time we checked in with him, Wise and his attorney David Redburn were convinced they had found a loophole in the Minneapolis smoking ban ordinance that allowed the 418 to keep the ashtrays out. The ban specifically refers to bars, restaurants and bowling alleys being under the thumb of the new regulation. (see "Still Smokin', Despite the Ban," CP 06/22/05.)

All of that was well and fine to Wise, who only offers soda pop and flesh. The logic, according to Redburn and his client at the time, was that the absence of Miller Lite, Gordon's gin, Buffalo Wings and bowling pins exempted the 418.

It didn't take long for city inspectors to catch up to Wise's racket--he says the city finally issued him a $200 ticket in August for violating the ban. Wise and Redburn (who could not be reached for comment) took the matter before an administrative law judge. While they awaited a ruling, the 418 continued its smoke-'em-if-you-got-'em policy.

In late December, the judge ruled against the somewhat specious logic, and Wise had to pay a fine of "750 dollars and 8 cents," he says with certitude. "They made me pay for all their time coming and all that crap."

At any rate, Wise says he's adhered to the ruling, noting that "the city has come into the place a couple times since, but they really don't walk in more than 20 feet." Still, Wise notes, "I've been hearing they've been taggin' pretty good, and that some places have gotten a couple tickets." Ah, that service-industry rumor mill again. Who's to say in this era of thruthiness?

(A call to the Minneapolis inspections department to find how many tickets have been issued has not been returned.)

"If you've got the manpower and the money to fight the ban, more power to you," Wise declares. "I need customers first. Maybe when it's spring or summer and people can step outside to smoke. This winter, downtown has been a ghost town."

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