This spring, the Czech Republic became the latest EU member state to institute a country-wide smoking ban in bars. Pubs, restaurants and night clubs now have to send their customers outside if they want to indulge in the pleasure of a cigarette. This ban came as a reaction to a European Union Directive, which gave the member states until 2018 to ban smoking inside. Only Austria is expected to wait until the last minute to take the measure.
These laws are already creating controversies: as the smokers stand outside, people living in bar areas complain about noise pollution, just as much as the bars complain about decreasing revenue. Politicians have been hasty to show statistics that today's businesses are doing just fine, but these claims are distorted by the fact that many pubs have closed since the bans were enacted. In the UK, the number of pubs (which has been on a radical decline since the 1980s) fell to the lowest level in a decade, with 27 closures per week.
For writer and filmmaker Jakub Horak, the ban is going too far. "I understand that you make it illegal to smoke inside restaurants, but a bar is a sinful place by definition", he says.
The 45 year-old entrepreneur, who has shot movies before, asked himself how he'd be able to get around the legislation, and promptly got the idea of using his Prague-based 300 squaremeter film studio and the surrounding rooms as a "bar". The idea: filming a movie and making the people in the building sign an actors contract. That way, the cellar located in the old town of Prague won't be considered a bar, but a movie set, and smoking will be perfectly legal.
In post on Facebook, Horak asked his followers if they would be interested in becoming members if this new club, that he intends to call "Eccentric Café". The response was overwhelming: 2000 people showed interested in joining the club. "Of course we wouldn't have the capacity for that many people", says Jakub Horak, who points out that this is mostly a place for his friends to enjoy high-end alcohol and a cigarette.
The project is not entirely ready yet, and will only open its doors coming October. "I don't want people to sit in a smokey cellar, gasping for air", says the filmmaker, which is why he is investing 1,000,000 Czech Crowns (€38,000) into a high-quality ventilation system to evacuate the smoke. Access to the club will cost a membership fee, and Horak has indicated that he prefers to know the people personally before they would be allowed to enter the Eccentric Café. Customers would have to bring their own drinks, as the place will not have a license to sell alcohol.
As for the movie itself, Horak is not putting air quotes around the word: he will actually be recording what happens in the club and remains open to the idea of actually making a movie out of it.
Horak himself points out that he is not an activist with any particular ideology. Through his work in marketing he has got to know the political life in the Czech Republic very well, which he certainly doesn't seem very fond of: Horak is publishing his second novel about a cat which is seeking to defeat all the other politicians in the Czech Republic’s parliamentary election in October. In a very unafraid fashion, his book cover depicts his protagonist holding the head of incumbent Czech president Miloš Zeman.
Horak says: "I'm not interested in publicity by the local media, because that's not what I'm about. All I want is to find a way to have a good time with my friends. We're not hurting anyone else."