Thursday, August 17, 2023
The best things in life are more than the sum of their parts. Take whiskey for example. It’s delicious, but it’s more than that. It’s a history and a social movement, it’s a culture, it’s an art and science. It’s politics and law and folklore and mystery. It’s terroir and it’s zeitgeist.
If you merely sip a glass of whiskey you miss the point.
The same is true of cigars. I don’t know nearly as much about cigars as I do about whiskey, except that the two go exceptionally well together. But cigars are more than their appearance in a box.
Ralph and I have been to a number of cigar lounges. There is one in New York that is the only surviving one since smoking was banned. There are several of them near us in Franklin and Nashville, some of which can only serve beer, others cocktails, none of them food. It fascinates me what is allowed and disallowed. Smoking, ok. Smoking with a burger, not ok.
You can, by the way, go buy your own burger and bring it in. They just can’t sell it to you. Gotta love government.
The one we visit most often does not serve liquor but they do let you bring your own. We have a locker there where we keep a few bottles of whatever we want to drink so when we stop by we can pour some for ourselves and anyone else who happens to be nearby.
We often show up with mason jars full of cocktails that we’ve just mixed at home and brought to share with the class. We’re kind of popular like that.
Most of the cigar lounges we’ve been to share a similar ambiance. They’re dim and smoky, big cozy chairs everywhere, football or soccer or baseball on TV.
But in New Orleans we visited a cigar lounge with an entirely different vibe. I mean, it’s New Orleans. You don’t come here for anything like anything you’ve seen anywhere else.
It’s big and airy, the double doors thrown wide open in spite of the 100 degree weather, nary a television in sight, Caribbean and Latin music keeping time. Considering most cigar tobacco comes from Nicaragua and Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Honduras, it makes a lot more sense than a Yankee game.
There are no sofas or comfy chairs but there are plenty of wooden tables and chairs for everyone to gather and talk and laugh and have a good time. They have a whole shelf full of table games that you can borrow.
It’s more like a party than a lounge. I adore it.
They serve neither food nor liquor but did I mention it’s New Orleans? You can trip over your shoelaces and into a vat of margaritas.
What is particularly cool about this place is that it is owned by a father and daughter. And the only cigars they sell are the ones they hand roll right there in front of you.
These guys sit there all day and roll and roll and roll. They say they make over 50,000 cigars a month. I don’t know how fast these guys roll but that’s a lot of cigars.
I love the artistry that comes with cigars. Some of the labels and the boxes are pretty spectacular. Along with my collection of [everything else] I also keep the particularly awesome cigar boxes that I find. I don’t know what I’m going to do with any of this stuff, but they look really great on a closet shelf.
This place, though, there is no real art. The boxes are plain. It’s all about the cigars, and the guys sitting at the table rolling. I can appreciate that, too.
A long time ago, Ralph and I used to go to an event called Big Smoke. They held it in New York every year at the Marriott Marquis where you could only ever afford to stay for one night per year. And not even really then, but you sucked it up because for four hours you got to sample whiskey and Scotch from around the world, and you got to eat food catered by Del Frisco’s, some of the best steak you ever had. And you got to go home with a collection of cigars to try.
My very first time there, they had a cigar rolling contest. The winner would get a box of cigars.
Of course I entered. I knew exactly nothing about rolling cigars, had never seen it done, don’t even think I knew what “rolling” had to do with anything, but when you’re blowing a month’s salary on the Marriott Marquis, you do all the things.
I sat down at one of the long tables they had set up across the convention hall for the contest. There were hundreds of people. If I had to guess, I’d say it was 98% men.
The host explained how to flatten out the tobacco leaf, how to fold it so it wouldn’t be too tight or too loose. The clock ticked down our allotted time. I tried as hard as I could, concentrated with all my might on moistening, rolling, smoothing.
When the competition was over the host examined each cigar and announced the winner.
It was not me.
I did, however, come in second place.
Not bad for a girl. That and ten bucks can get me a halfway decent cigar.
Photo: cigars bundled and aging. And if there is one thing you can be guaranteed, they will be well humidified!