NORMAN — The smoking show that night was Kierston White and Alan Orebaugh. Their show was winding down as the tequila they’d been shooting between songs started to kick in. They called it white wine.
“Happy Monday, everybody,” Orebaugh said, as a lit cigarette smoked in the ash tray on a stool near his chair. “We’re going to fumble through one more song.”
At 9 p.m., less than 25 people were arranged sparsely throughout The Deli, a dimly lit dive bar that glowed red from the Christmas lights lining the walls and stage.
Only a handful of people were smoking before the bar switched to non-smoking at 10 p.m. when The Handsome Devils took stage. After 40 years of almost exclusively hosting smoky shows, The Deli switched to a band’s-choice smoking policy in late April, and manager Bob McIntosh said it’s going to stay that way indefinitely.
Since the switch, about two-thirds of the bands playing The Deli have opted for no smoking at their shows, and so far most bands and patrons seem happy with the change, McIntosh said.
“The people that do smoke don’t seem to mind going outside,” McIntosh said. “On the smoking shows, everybody knows what the deal is.”
Christopher Allen, a patron of The Deli for 18 years, was sitting with a group of people at a large table near a window. Although he’d been smoking cigarettes that night, he said he doesn’t mind going outside to smoke when he must.
Because bands at The Deli get paid based on the customers they bring in, Allen said it makes sense to give bands the choice to have smoking or non-smoking shows because they know if their audience would tolerate a smoking show or not.
“I personally would like to smoke in The Deli every night, but I’m not going to offend somebody,” Allen said.
After playing a smoking show at The Deli every Monday for about a decade, musician Travis Linville opted for a non-smoking show when he returned to The Deli on April 22 for his album release show.
Linville has been playing music in venues across the country for about 20 years, and although he doesn’t have a smoke-o-meter, he said he hasn’t been to many venues smokier than The Deli.
However, as Linville has gotten older his fan base has too, and those who once enjoyed smoking and watching him play have become less tolerant of smoking. Given the option, Linville would choose a smoke-free show.
“A lot of my crowd’s 50 years old. They don’t want to go into a smoky dive bar,” Linville said. “They want to hear me play.”
Rebecca Bean, co-owner of lifestyle store Stash, has been in Norman for 10 years, and went on one of her first dates with her husband at The Deli. Once a smoker, Bean now gets headaches if she’s around too much smoke, something her grandpa always warned her about if she started smoking.
Because of the headaches, Bean hadn’t been to a show at The Deli in about five years. Since The Deli started the new policy, she’s attended three shows. Although smoking has been part of The Deli’s atmosphere for decades, Bean said the smoke-free shows don’t change the feel of the bar. She sees the same people. She hears music. The bar looks the same. The only difference is the lack of smoke.
“It’s not, you know, a polished penny, but it feels like home,” Bean said.
The Deli isn’t moving toward a blanket no-smoking policy, but McIntosh said in a few years their policy won’t matter because many smokers will be using e-cigarettes.
“I mean, everybody I know that smokes has doctors telling them, ‘Why are you still doing that?’” McIntosh said. “So, I don’t think it’s going to be that big of an issue.”
This isn’t the first time The Deli has dabbled with smoke-free shows, though. The Tulsa-based Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey has been playing non-smoking shows at The Deli for a decade.
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To find which shows are smoke-free, go online to The Deli’s Facebook page.