The Phoenix rises from the ashtrays to banish its smoking customers to a life out in the cold

By Danielle Demetriou
Saturday 13 December 2003 01:00

A stream of thirsty City workers pour into a pub nestling in the shadow of the London Stock Exchange. From the corporate decor to the obligatory potato wedges, the scene appears set for a typical Friday lunchtime in the Square Mile.

Except this pub is anything but standard. A series of tell-tale signs, including the notable absence of ashtrays and the unexpected aroma of food, tell punters that this is London's first non-smoking pub.

A message on an outdoor blackboard shouts the fact that it is "COMPLETELY" non-smoking, while its new logo - "A pub with atmosphere, not smoke" - is emblazoned across every available surface.

In a dramatic reincarnation, The Phoenix this week became the only pub in the capital to refuse to tolerate smokers. And while its arrival in the heart of the City may have incurred the wrath of numerous tobacco-lovers, its first week of trading as a non-smoking venue has proved a success.

Supping on his pint, John Morton, 37, an IT worker from Weybridge, Surrey, said: "I was very curious. I've always hated coming out of the pub and going back to the office smelling of smoke."

His drinking companion, 36-year-old Jon Wale, an IT manager from Tonbridge, Kent, added: "As a social smoker, I'm a guilty smoker. It's good because it's stopping me from having a cigarette I don't need. I'd come back here."

And Bikita Mahdi, a 28-year-old business analyst from Vauxhall, was so enamoured with the new regime that she decided to hold her leaving drinks at The Phoenix.

"I used to really hate coming here," she said. "But the fact it's now non-smoking has changed my opinion. That's why we're here."

Although the no-smoking rule was welcomed by many customers, there was scepticism at plans unveiled by Laurel, which owns The Phoenix, to roll the concept out to more than 100 of its 635 pubs across the country.

Aitken Little, 40, an account director from Fife, Scotland, said: "In a city, when you have a larger clientele, it's a very good idea. But in a smaller town it wouldn't go down so well. You just don't have the same catchment."

The most scathing criticism, however, came from The Phoenix's old smoking customers who found themselves huddled in the cold just yards from their former haunt.

For Richard Woolmer, a 30-year-old solicitor from Loughton, Essex, who works a stone's throw from the pub, its dramatic transformation has not gone down well.

Shivering in the drizzle as he drew deeply on his cigarette, he said: "We used to go there all the time. At lunchtime, in the evening, loads.

"Three out of seven at the firm I work for are smokers. They are going to lose a lot of customers. We're not going any more."

His colleague Tricia Scanlon, a 39-year-old office manager from Chingford, Essex, added: "It's hilarious they think they can get away with something like this - in the City of all places. Loads of people here still smoke."

But, despite the voices of dissent, the scene inside the pub told a different story. Loud-talking City traders continued to sup pints of ale while flush-faced secretaries swapped office secrets over Chardonnay and crisps.

As Debbie Curran, the manager of The Phoenix, said: "There may be some people who don't like the idea but we've found the positive reactions have outweighed the negative."

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