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Gary Younge
The Oak bar is the hottest venue in town - because it lets you light up

The bar can allow smoking while it applies for a permanent exemption from the ban because it is a cigar bar. Only a few places in the city boast such an exemption (rumours that Grand Central Station would be one of them burned brightly and briefly before being stubbed out by City Hall), and this one wears its heritage with pride. "The Oak bar has a long tradition as a haven for cigar smokers," says the message on the cocktail menu. "The Oak bar not only allows cigar smoking, we downright encourage it."

And so a bar that has always prided itself on its exclusivity now finds itself one of a kind in the city for reasons other than the bank balances of those who might drink there. "I wouldn't come here unless I had to," said Tanya Marti, casting her eyes over an older, staid gaggle of men who just might be her uncles but are definitely not her friends.

"You don't really have to," suggested the Guardian.

"I have to smoke so I have to come to a place like this. It makes me sick," she said.

"What, the smoking?"

"No, the ban."

Even though the NYPD has vowed not to enforce the ban until the beginning of next month, it has already had a serious impact. Last week Dana Blake, a 32-year-old bouncer in the East Village, was stabbed to death after he asked two brothers to put out their cigarette. And bar owners say takings have dropped 20% since the ban was introduced.

Moreover, it has altered the social landscape of the city in quite odd ways. For while the small huddles of chuffers outside office blocks during the day are already familiar, the ones now forming outside bars in the evening are new. Now that the city's smokers have been forced to identify themselves, you can see that there are many of them.

There are the twitchers - those who are using the ban to try to give up, or who are not so hooked that they want to interrupt their night for it. They say they are fine, but the conversation soon wanders to issues of civil rights, police states and what amendment of the constitution smoking should come under.

Then there are the desperate, who leave their dates and drinks (it is illegal to drink on the street) to form an impromptu community. When the sun is out, they look positively Mediterranean; when a chill sets in, they could be lining up for methadone.

There are the rebels - those who scope out bars where the bartender is "too busy" to enforce the rules like a 20s hustler in search of a speakeasy. When they get there, they puff with a mixture of discretion and defiance. Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter has already been caught at it in the pages of the New York Post.

And finally there are the ingenious, like the chefs at the Serafina Sandro Italian restaurant who are feeding New Yorkers' addiction by putting tobacco on the menu. Not to chew, but to eat. On offer is tobacco panna cotta, gnocchi with English tobacco and filet mignon sauteed in barolo with Golden Virginia. For smokers it may no longer feel like the land of the free, but for the truly devoted it is still the home of the brave.

·: For the sake of prudence, we will call him simply the Chairman: a United Nations employee in charge of the Telex room which, thanks to modern technology, few now use. His relatively spacious domain sits next to the much smaller area occupied by the journalists without an office in the UN who send their stories by internet.

On busy days, the internet space is cramped and available chairs are few. The Telex room, meanwhile, is an oasis of swivelling, cushioned, empty thrones. With the eyes of neither a hawk nor a dove but a swooping eagle, he comes down hard on anyone who dares borrow a seat without his permission and rails against the few who have been allowed to take one and have not brought back. When the UN is relevant, then so is he. While world leaders talk peace in the Security Council chamber, the Chairman keeps order among the scribblers. He alone is prepared to take on the French, Americans and Russians alike. He is a man of considerable principle - and many, many chairs.

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