The covered entry at in Brookfield provided some protection from the drizzling rain as Jay Guequierre and two friends lit and smoked their cigarettes.
"It doesn't bother me. I'm used to it now," Guequierre said of the state law that requires bar and restaurant patrons to smoke outside.
This week marks the one-year anniversary of the smoking ban, and Brookfield bars and patrons interviewed said initial fears of business losses had not been borne out.
The Tavern League of Wisconsin, however, said the ban has forced some of its members to close and others to suffer business losses as great as 40 to 60 percent.
Gov. Scott Walker, who had been critical of the measure as an unnecessary infringement on business rights, said .
"Although I did not support the original smoking ban, after listening to people across the state, it is clear to me that it works," Walker said in a statement last week. "Therefore I will not support a repeal."
During a drizzling rain Tuesday night, Guequierre and two fellow smokers said the ban was a good idea.
"I like it," said Jason Schneider, 32, of Wauwatosa. "I can bring my daughter here now and it's not all smokey."
Another friend, who asked not to be identified, said being forced to smoke outside in frigid winter temperatures was "annoying."
"It does make you smoke less," she said, adding she planned this week to quit altogether.
Hasn't taken a toll on bar's business
The trio returned inside O'Sullivan's to join their families. Business was brisk, and bartender Brian Wysocki said receipts were "just as good as it was before" the ban.
"Our dining crowds are busier," Wysocki said. "But our late night crowd isn't as busy."
He said there was a slight dip in business last summer immediately after the ban took effect, and some regulars who used to come in three times a week started showing up just once a week.
"But now they're back to three times a week," he said.
O'Sullivan's owner was considering adding outdoor seating to accommodate smokers, and city aldermen recently loosened their ordinances to potentially allow outdoor dining at bars and restaurants located next to residential housing.
At in Brookfield, bartender Brittany Ellis said she smokes but is glad to see the smoking pushed outside the buildings.
"You can breathe," Ellis said. "You don't go home with your clothes just covered in smoke.
"I don't mind going out to smoke," she added.
She and another Sluggo's bartender said business actually has increased with more families and children coming in for a burger and drinks.
Tavern League says ban has taken a toll
On the other hand, Barbara Mercer, senior vice president of the Tavern League of Wisconsin, said she sold her Madison bar last month after 20 years because she was on the verge of having to close it because business was so bad.
"A good part of it was the economy, no question about that, but I had to lay off nine full-time employees in the last year," Mercer said, adding receipts were down 35 percent.
"I had six bars close in Madison in the last few weeks," Mercer added. "They just couldn’t make it because of the losses between the economy and the smoking ban. When you put one on top of the other it was just a double whammy to us."
Rob Swearingen, president of the Tavern League, said some members have seen losses as great as 60 percent, especially in winter months when patrons don't want to smoke in frigid temperatures.
"A lot of our members don’t have the resources to build a smoking enclosure," Swearingen said. "Coupled with the economy, the smoking ban is the last nail in the coffin for some of these people."
Restaurant group has no problem with law
But Peter Hanson, director of government relations for the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, says the ban has been good for eateries across the state.
"If you look at the statistics like employment in the hospitality industry, if you look at sales tax receipts from the state Department of Revenue for restaurants and taverns, you can see that the food and beverage business expanded last year. Sales went up," Hanson said.
One aspect of the law that can’t be disputed is its popularity among Wisconsinites.
A poll released last week by the American Cancer Society and SmokeFree Wisconsin found that 75 percent of those surveyed support or strongly support the law. That’s up from 69 percent in 2008, when state lawmakers were still debating the issue.
The poll of 500 voters, conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, also found that 64 percent say the law has made going out to bars and restaurants more enjoyable while 91 percent say they go out to eat and drink the same or more often now that the state is smoke free.
Bartenders also support the move, according to a survey by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers that found 72 percent backed the ban.
“They feel better," said Maureen Busalacchi, executive director of SmokeFree Wisconsin. "(Bartenders) don’t have runny noses, they’re not sneezing or coughing, or having the bloodshot eyes they used to. And they found that business has remained stable."
Allison Miller, a spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society, said the organization also continues to hear support for the smoking ban.
"The law was always intended to be about public health and it’s clearly working when it comes to protecting workers and everybody in Wisconsin from the dangers of secondhand smoke in work places, including bars and restaurants," Miller said.