Last smoke: Popular Iowa City smoking cafe closing

Space to undergo major renovation, reopen as pizzeria with arcade

Published: March 31 2014 | 2:57 pm - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 10:22 am in

One of the last hangouts for smokers in Eastern Iowa Tobacco Bowl in Iowa City is closing after more than two decades in business.

The popular tobacco cafe on Iowa City's pedestrian mall withstood the 2008 passage of a statewide smoking ban, tax hikes on nicotine and a public shift in attitudes about cigarettes.

"It's sad, but we've had a pretty good run, especially given what we do," said Luther Moss, Tobacco Bowl manager.

In the end, it was complaints from neighbors that led to the demise of the Tobacco Bowl, Moss said.

"Business is fine," he said. "We continue to make money. We haven't had that problem exactly, but we've had a number of complaints about smoke.

"We are in an old building. It leaks. We came to an agreement with the landlords and will start something new."

Tobacco Bowl, 111 S. Dubuque St., will close sometime in mid-April, although there isn't a firm date, Moss said. The space will undergo a major renovation, and reopen as a pizzeria with a classic arcade and pinball games and craft beer, he said.

No open date or name have been set for the new business, he said.

J.T. Connolly's Tobacco Bowl was opened in 1990 by Jolene and Tom Connolly. The Connollys also had locations in Cedar Rapids, Davenport and northeast Iowa, Moss said.

After Jolene Connolly died in 1996, the family consolidated, keeping just the Iowa City store, Moss said. Tom Connolly retired, and Tommy Connolly Jr. continued the family business, Moss said.

Early on, the family shifted the business model in Iowa City from a traditional tobacco shop that just focused on retail sales, to more of a hangout with coffee, seating and later Internet.

Cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco and accessories continued to be sold, but the Iowa City store became part of the routine for a loyal base of customers looking for a cigarette and coffee while reading the newspaper or conversing.

"The crowd is eclectic and it has always impressed me that all are made to feel welcome," said Jack Paige, a non-smoking customer who's come for coffee for the past eight years. "The loss of Tobacco Bowl is perhaps inevitable but I am sorry to lose this unique social venue."

Aside from casinos, the Tobacco Bowl was one of the last places left for smokers to light up indoors. They see the closing as the end of an era.

"It was not just students experimenting with smoking," Moss said. "It's people who don't have other places to go. It's been a real melting pot of people of all classes, social circumstances, races, creeds mixed together."

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