There are bars smokers speak about in hushed tones, gin joints and dives and dumps they hold in reverence for when they want a puff with their sip. For the nicotine-addled, the smell of cigarette smoke lingering around a bar brings back fond memories when you could light up over your Coors Light. For the rest of the public, the vast majority of which welcomed Ohio's smoking ban with applause, the whiff of cigarettes brings back much different memories.
But those bars — the ones where you notice half cups of water sitting in front of patrons, the water dark and murky from cigarette ash — still exist. The owners have decided to give a big middle finger to the state. Take the fines, avoid the fines, try to scam the fines... they're just not playing along.
Of course, the state has inspectors out, and more often than not they catch the smoking violators. And when they do there's money to be paid. Maybe after enough dough is taken from the bar's coffers, the owners decide it's not worth it to pony up the fines. Maybe they get more careful. Or, maybe they keep doing what they're doing and refuse to be coy about their pro-smoking stance.
The Suburban Inn in Middleburgh Heights falls into the latter category.
Since 2007, the Suburban Inn has amassed $49,000 in fines, including interest, and the owners have refused to pay. It is Cuyahoga County's worst smoking ban violator.
The state attorney general's office has filed suit to collect the cash.
The Bagley Road establishment accumulated at least 35 complaints and 16 separate violations of the statewide ban since public health officials began enforcing the voter-approved measure in May 2007, the suit says. The Suburban Inn has racked up the most smoking-ban violations of any Cuyahoga County business.
The owners, Rose Summa and Richard Amarosa, did pay $100 of the fines. However, they did not appear at hearings or appeal the health department-issued violations, the suit says.
Summa and Amarosa could not be reached Monday. An employee who answered the phone at the bar declined to comment.
At the Suburban Inn, health department inspectors say they repeatedly found customers puffing away and smoke-filled air and ashtrays — once counted at 22 — scattered atop the bar and on tables.
John McLeod, the county's environmental health services director, said the bar employees shrugged off inspectors on their repeated visits.
"Even the barmaid and bartenders were smoking," he said. "They hadn't been doing anything about stopping their customers or finding other venues for them to smoke. Basically they were blowing smoke in our face."
It is the fourth establishment the office has filed suit against in Ohio since enforcement of the ban began in May 2007.