November 8, 2005

Study labels air at Jimmy’s “hazardous”

Inhaling the air at Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap could be as bad for your health as breathing in the aftermath of a volcanic eruption, according to an October 25 article in the Chicago Sun-Times. If occurring outdoors, such levels of pollution would be considered “hazardous” by the Environmental Protection Agency, a label usually reserved for forest fires or volcanic eruptions.

The study, prompted by the City Council Health Committee’s controversial proposal to ban smoking in all indoor public venues, was comprised of surveys of air quality in 25 Chicago businesses. The study found Jimmy’s to have the smokiest air of all these places, with 195 times more pollutants than the average non-smoking setting.

Patrons at the bar on a Tuesday night seemed well aware of the health hazard. “I’m not surprised,” Jason Wyman, a graduate student, said. “I don’t wear nice clothes here. I know they’re going to stink afterwards, and I’m going to have to do laundry. I watched one of the World Series games here, and I went home feeling sick.”

According to Somy Thottathil, a third-year in the College, the smoky odor stays on clothing for a long time. “It’s uncomfortable to a certain level, but it’s never been so bad I’ve had to leave.”

Jimmy’s has a reputation for being smoky, according to, a Chicago Tribune subsidiary. Lori Rackl, the Sun-Times reporter who conducted the study by visiting each of the venues with an air monitor sticking out of her purse, decided to go to Jimmy’s after reading a review of the tavern on

The site describes it as a “really smoky room” adding, “The Marlboro Man couldn’t hold a cigarette to this crowd.”

Bill Callahan, the owner of Jimmy’s, said he did not think the Sun-Times’ findings were representative of the air quality in the bar.

“The stars were all wrong that night,” he said. “Lori, the Sun-Times girl, was in the back room, people were all crowded around her because it was known she was a writer. The ventilation wasn’t working, the door wasn’t cracked open, everybody in there was smoking. It was sort of a freaky thing.”

Rackl said she disagreed. “People weren’t smoking because they knew we were reporters,” she said. According to Rackl, the air was visibly smoky when she walked into the bar.

“We interviewed the bartender who was working that night—he said he’d tried to quit smoking six months earlier, but what was the point?” Rackl said. “There was so much secondhand smoke there anyways. That told me it wasn’t a freak occurrence.”

The Health Committee’s proposal, which prompted the Sun-Times to conduct the study, is awaiting a City Council vote, which should happen at the end of November at the earliest.

If passed without compromise, the ordinance would mean the end of smoking in all indoor public areas in Chicago and would take effect in April 2006.

Similar smoking bans have already been passed in 10 U.S. states. Opponents to the ban, such as the Illinois Restaurant Association, argue that it would be especially bad for small businesses, according to the Chicago Tribune and other media sources.

Callahan, who quit smoking two years ago, has installed a new exhaust fan since the publication of the Sun-Times study. He said he thinks that if the ban is passed it will be initially bad for business because smokers will be resentful.

“It’s healthier in the long run,” he said. “I’ve had friends of mine say to me, if you could clean that air up a bit it would really improve. People don’t want to leave here smelling like they’ve just put out a forest fire. As long as people smoke there’s going to be smoke in the air, that’s the problem.”