RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And some bars in Minnesota have come up with a way to weather a downturn caused by that state's anti-smoking laws. They say there's a loophole that allows people to light up legally for theatrical productions.

Minnesota Public Radio's Jess Mador reports.

JESS MADOR: The hottest new production in the Twin Cities suburbs is a reality show, a very smoky one. Dozens of customers are packing The Rock nightclub in Maplewood, Minnesota for their turn to be actors for the night. Bar owner Brian Bauman says this show has a simple plot.

Mr. BRIAN BAUMAN (Owner, The Rock Nightclub): It's about a bar before the smoking ban. It's an improv production with new actors every night.

MADOR: Calling the bar a theater and customers actors is a way they think they can get around the ban. The actors have no lines and no costumes, but they do have props: cigarettes. But Bauman says it's no joke. Like other bars around the state, this one has seen a double-digit drop in sales since the smoking ban went into effect last October. He says theater night was a chance to get smokers back into the bar.

Mr. BAUMAN: I've never seen so many people with grins on their faces sitting at a bar, ever. People are like high-fiving you, and they're like, it's unbelievable.

MADOR: Greg Williams is one of those happy customers. He loves to smoke while drinking and says he's relieved to be able to sit at the bar and light up.

Mr. GREG WILLIAMS: It's back to normal, but I can do it. I've got the choice now to do it and stay, rather than be inconvenienced. Well, we pretty much know what's going to happen, so we'll enjoy it while we can.

MADOR: And that prediction may soon come true. Last week, the Minnesota Department of Health announced it sees things differently and will begin fining bars that hold so-called theater nights just to benefit smokers.

For NPR News, I'm Jess Mador in St. Paul.

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