Ah, the unintended -- if not unforeseeable -- consequences of prohibition. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Sunday that in the wake of a crackdown on strip joints and smoking in bars, a new, if shadowy, presence has made itself known on the back streets of the city: the smokehouse. These unlicensed premises offer what legal clubs and bars cannot: a place for tipplers to smoke while they drink and watch strippers after midnight. Vice cops say they also provide a haven for prostitution.
The smokehouses are a response to laws that took effect last year banning smoking in public places and nude dancing after midnight.
One Cleveland vice detective, Tom Shoulders, compared the smokehouses to the gin houses of the Prohibition era. "You put too many restrictions on people, they're going to find someplace else to go for their entertainment," he said.
According to what snitches are telling the cops, the smokehouse patrons, mainly suburban white guys, bring their own liquor, cigarettes, and cigars, while doormen at the clubs collect entry fees of up to $25 for a "buffet."
"They have succeeded in creating this underground, sleazy, cash-only business that cannot be regulated, taxed or secured by police," said Skip Lazzaro, an attorney who represents legal nightclubs in court -- although it isn't clear if he should be referring to the proprietors and clients or to the legislature.
While the combination of after-hours strippers and underground smoking is a new twist, the smokeasy isn't. In fact, smokeasies, or clubs that covertly allow smoking despite laws prohibiting it, seem to pop up just about everywhere smoking bans do. From New York to San Francisco, and many places in between, you can find them... if you only know whom to ask.