Posted: Jun 9, 2009 4:43pm ETI appreciate fine watches as much as the next guy (as long as the next guy isn't James Suckling), but this item from Antiquorum, the premium auction house for timepieces, caught my eye for other reasons. Antiquorum is having a huge auction Thursday that includes—get this—“Rat Pack” memorabilia.
Included is Sammy Davis Jr.'s watch with a money clip featuring a Star of David over a menorah, set with a total of eight small diamonds, mounted over a pair of scrolls representing the Torah. The scrolls open on hinges to reveal the Ten Commandments underneath. But the interesting thing is the engraving on the back: “To—Sammy Davis Jr. Good Luck Always/Jack Entratter/1957."
Seems Entratter was a notorious Vegas mafia figure in charge of the Sands. The story goes that he was an integral part of the "persuasion" of Columbia Studio boss Harry Cohn to give Frank Sinatra the role of Maggio in From Here to Eternity, for which Sinatra won an Oscar.
Sound familiar Godfather fans?
I wonder if there were any horses' heads in the story.
The auction also includes Davis's personal hardbound presentation book of the 1960’s heist film, Ocean’s Eleven, presented to him by the director, including photos of Davis and the rest of the cast taken during the movie’s production. There's also Sinatra’s “HH” cufflinks given to him by Hubert Humphrey to acknowledge the Chairman of the Board's efforts for Humphrey’s presidential campaign in 1968.
If you think you might have an offer they can't refuse visit www.antiquorum.com
Posted: Jun 3, 2009 4:09pm ETAs the world looks to France to see the French Open tennis tournament played out on the clay courts of Roland Garros, the good news seems to be that the country has loosened its strict rules regarding the depiction of smoking in movie posters on public transportation.
The bizarre news is that any such add campaign must have a cultural or artistic goal, picture only people who are dead or fictitious and not subjects linked to the tobacco business.
This news comes to us from frogsmoke.com, a Web site subtitled "The beauty and madness behind the Gallic fumes." Created by a Dutchman, who, married to an English woman, lives in France and carries on a love/hate relationship with the country, the site is determined to expose "what makes France such an endearing and infuriating country at the same time." (It also offers a gallery of dozens pictures of famous French smokers.)
The movie-poster controversy exploded in April, when an ad for a film about the rise of fashion designer Coco Chanel (who famously smoked 50 cigarettes a day until her death at age 87) showed the actress who portrays her holding a cigarette. France's new strict antismoking policy had already resulted in the alteration of a movie poster showing Jacques Tati riding a bicycle. While the comic filmmaker's signature character was invariably clad in a raincoat, carrying an umbrella and smoking a pipe, the public-transportation poster was retouched to put a pinwheel in his mouth in place of his pipe.
Now, because Tati, like Chanel, is dead, the pinwheel can apparently removed and the pipe set back in place. Also, according to the site, other famous French smokers, such as André Malrauxand Jean-Paul Sartre, can be pictured smoking as they are now safely dead. But you won't see Gérard Depardieu or Catherine Deneuve smoking on the side of a bus until they do us the courtesy of escaping this veil of tears. And someone like Zino Davidoff, despite being dead, will never have his photo with cigar on the Paris Metro because he is linked to the tobacco business.
Posted: May 29, 2009 1:50pm ETRemember protest songs?
They have a fine tradition that stretches back for centuries of using music as a means of dissent whenever and wherever freedom was threatened. The music of the '60s was in many ways defined by such voices as Dylan and Lennon railing against inequality, lost liberty and infringements on our rights to pursue happiness.
Well, a month ago, I met a man at the Big Smoke at the MGM Grand at Foxwoods, in Connecticut, who is still writing protest songs. He is putting words to music that decry incursions on a pursuit that is dear to all of us: cigar smoking. I chatted up Christopher Gansky, a vocal talent from New Jersey and learned that he is also dabbles in a rock'n'roll group, and last week he sent me a CD of an album he did with a band called The Cuddly Curmudgeons: "The Bound and the Jury." Not surprisingly, the cut that I keep playing from it is called "Stogies and Stout," a rant against the Health Police.
Check out the song.
The tune, written by Gansky and guitarist/keyboard player Steve Watson, is a driving screamer reminiscent of The Ramones. The words have an unmistakable message: get the Nanny State off our backs. The lyrics hit on a number of tasty pleasures that we are so often warned away from ("I'll eat steak and eggs 'til the day that I croak, Fine cigars relieve stress that could cause a stroke") and the refrain repeats the singer's determination to resist prohibition ("I won't go without my stogies and stout").
Gansky, whose day job is doing commercial voice-overs and narrations, presciently wrote the song in 1997, before the Health Police invaded our lives in earnest. Since then the group has disbanded and he is reforming it as The Castaway Castros, a tongue in cheek reference to the Cuban dictator. "I thought it would fun to make some capitalist money off a communist," he said.
"Stogies and Stout" isn't the only cigar-referencing song by Gansky, who has smoked cigars for more than a decade and a half. He also wrote a couple of parodies: "Sweet Home Havana" (sung to the tune of "Sweet Home Alabama") and "Smokin' on the Sidewalk" (Smokin' in the Boys Room"). But "Stogies and Stout" has that protest edge to it that makes me nostalgic for my days as a student demonstrator. Plus, like most rock'n'roll, it's a lotta fun.
Posted: May 25, 2009 11:08am ET
Before the legislatures of New York (where I work) and Connecticut (where I live) decided without consulting me that it was a good idea to limit the public venues in which I could smoke to almost none, I brought cigars everywhere. I would no sooner have left the house for a get-together without a handful of smokes than I would watch “Deal or No Deal” on TV without being strapped to a chair with my head propped up and my eyes pinned open.
In the pre-prohibition, good-old days of the cigar boom, I worked under the assumption that if there were a gathering of two or more people at least one of them might want a smoke. Furthermore, I saw it as my duty to provide said smokes as far as I could and to keep the world safe from lousy cigars. I thought of myself as a cigar knight, if you will.
Then, about six years ago, the city and state of New York as well as my home state (where ironically some of the most expensive wrapper tobacco in the world in grown) began to strip me of my purpose. I could no longer play the savior by showing up at a bar stuffed to the gills with burners.
Which is why what happened to me yesterday happened.
My buddy Dave Palombo was having his annual pre-Memorial-Day Trader Vic’s party in the garden of his home. I remembered to pack some bottles of white rum I had left over from a tasting I just did for a Drinks item in the Good Life Guide of the July/August Cigar Aficionado (check it out!). I also brought some Grand Marnier because the bartender that Palombo had hired to run the Tiki bar (part of the party’s theme) was making Suffering Bastards as the signature drink and didn’t have any triple sec or orange Curaçao. I even remembered to stash a selection of bitters (as the drink also calls for that) in the pockets of my safari jacket (also in keeping with the party’s theme).
If wasn’t, however, until I pulled up to Palombo’s house 20 minutes later that it dawned on me that I’d forgotten cigars. Now Palombo is an avid cigar smoker and the party was going to be outdoors so no one except for the most insensitive lout imaginable (and Palombo wouldn’t have invited that sociopath to his house anyway) was likely to complain. But here I was with cavernous pockets but nary a smoke. I simply hadn’t put two and two together that this was one of the few times when cigars would have been welcomed. In short, my brain had gone limp from too much prohibition.
Posted: May 18, 2009 1:20pm ETI don’t know what it’s like where you are, but this month hasn’t been very May like in the New York area. Rain, cloudy skies and temps that haven’t quite hit that ideal point where you don’t worry about whether you have a jacket or not. Perhaps that’s why I’ve allowed a six-pack of Summer Ale from Samuel Adams to linger in my beer fridge.
It just hasn’t felt like summer.
Finally, after another weekend of clouds and rain, I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and I broke down last night and dove into this seasonal beer that is available from April to August.
I’m glad I did. Sam Adams founder Jim Koch’s intention was that the tangy Summer Ale be a perfect companion for a hot summer day, but I found that it also had the effect of summoning the spirit of summer even though it hadn’t actually arrived.
The beer is brewed with wheat malt, lemon zest and Grains of Paradise, a peppery, citrusy West African spice that is supposed to have aphrodisiac qualities (don’t worry, I didn’t go all Viagra on the stuff). The point is the ale’s obvious tangy profile is an interesting take on summer brew, when the typical strategy is to go light, clear and cold. Having recently written a piece on craft brewing in Cigar Aficionado (June 2009) and taped a video on the subject for this website, it set me to thinking about how one of the best things about the beer revolution has been the choices it has wrought. Years ago American brewers didn’t put out seasonal beers. They had one or two choices in styles that you got all year long. Because Koch’s smaller operation can turn on a dime, he puts out dozens of different tastes from his Sam Adams (not really so) Light to his extreme beers, such as Triple Bock.
And certainly Koch isn’t the only one to do this. Nor is this meant to be an indictment against Big Beer. Those large-capacity brewers are operating in a different realm, and they do what they do very well. In fact, I think in the case of Michelob, they’ve done a pretty fair job of coming up with some interesting and (for them) off-beat beers. Michelob even came up with a pumpkin-flavored brew as a seasonal last autumn. It wasn’t really my cup of tea, but they were out there doing it.
Posted: May 1, 2009 4:39pm ETI always get a lot of calls during Derby Week asking for my picks, and this year among my top contenders is a controversial choice: Colorado.
No, Colorado is not a thoroughbred raised in the Rocky Mountains, nor the British Ascot champion of the same name—after all, he raced in the 1920s. In fact, I'm not talking about a horse at all. (Face it. No one in his right mind has any faith in my handicapping ability, anyway.)
This two-year-old is a whiskey named Colorado that's made in the state of the same name. I just got a taste of it and have to say it's impressed me more than any of the recent small American craft distilling efforts I've tried. So when people ask me what I'll be drinking this weekend as I watch the Run for the Roses, I throw this in as a contender.
Properly, it's Stranahan's Colorado Straight Rocky Mountain Whiskey and it only relates to Bourbon on the levels of being straight (aged in new charred oak for a minimum of two years—some of the mix is as old as five) and being an American original. This whiskey is made from pure barley (four strains, all from Colorado) and is distilled in what master stillman Jake Norris calls a pot-column still, a fusion of the two basic types.
We did a preliminary tasting and were impressed by what fine flavors Stranahan's has gotten out of such little time in the craft (the company started distilling in 2004). The nose is full of maple and vanilla, and smacks almost of Cognac. That brandy thing continues on the palate, but with a large dose of licorice and hard candy. It finishes with orange peel and banana.
I wouldn't, however, peg this for making the classic Mint Julep—partially because it's too expensive ($50 to $60, visit stranahans.com), but also because it's too sweet for such a sugary drink (see recipe) And, of course, I'm not going to forsake my classic Kentucky Bourbon friends as I watch the telecast from Churchill Downs. If you read me often you can probably guess I'll be joined by some of the following this weekend: Woodford Reserve, Russell's Reserve from Wild Turkey, Jim Beam's Knob Creek, Old Rip Van Winkle, Maker's Mark, Evan Williams Vintage and one of my new favorites Eagle Rare. Giddyup, horsey.
Posted: Apr 9, 2009 2:17pm ETIf in a vacation one is looking for the chance to reconnect with family, this one at Beaches resort in Turks and Caicos showed high promise. Beaches is a version of the couples resort Sandals with the little ones in mind: plenty of kid-friendly activities, pools, eight water slides, X-Box gaming rooms, classes in how to become a scratch deejay and, of course, the beaches.
Since I, however, usually take my holiday with a view toward smoking and drinking, I wasn’t holding out much hope for this excursion that my wife, Ellen, had planned in favor of my daughters, Grace and Abigail, and their friend Arianne. With the kids in tow, I assumed a general health program would be the better course. In fact, I had so despaired of pursuing my usual high jinks that I left the States having packed no cigars.
On arrival, my instincts seemed spot on. Guests roamed the grounds in tidy little family units, earnestly on their way to avail themselves of cones from the cotton candy machine or to catch the next performance by the characters from Sesame Street who moved about en masque. When we returned to our suite each night we were greeted by a little dog fashioned from towels to amuse the kids. This was going to be a trying week.
But once again I had foolishly underestimated Ellen. First, of all, the all-inclusive policy of Beaches extended to the many bars (even the swim-up type) and to the well-thought-out wine program. But furthermore, my lovely wife had arranged for butler service in our suite. Our man Dwayne, it develops, might have been Jeeves himself in his constant anticipation of my needs. Not only did coolers of beer mysteriously arrive at our poolside cabana, but he somehow divined that a bottle of bourbon and plenty of soda water would be necessary provisions for our room.
Yet I still had one problem. I was jonesing for a smoke and I’d left those burners at home.
Posted: Feb 23, 2009 2:56pm ETThe drink bone is connected to the smoke bone is a sentiment that I am fond of saying, but sadly in the age of the nanny state getting the two key skeletal elements of this adage together is becoming harder and harder. Either you find one of the few remaining bars with a license that allows smoking or you walk your drink outside while you smoke.
Stefanie Marco, a mixologist who designs drinks for Moet Hennessey, took an interesting swipe at the problem when creating cocktails for the company's new vodka brand extension Belvedere IX. Her new invention is IX Vice, which, while not involving any smoke, does confer the look, the nicotine and something of the taste of a cigar in a cocktail.
The key ingredients are Belvedere IX, which is a complex flavored vodka made sort of like a gin, chocolate, hard snuff nicotine candy and a marshmallow, which gives the impression of the smoldering end of a cigar.
Here's how to make the IX Vice, according to Stephanie:
- 4 oz. Belvedere IX
- 4 tablets Stonewall Hard Snuff, Java Flavor (crushed)
- 1/4 cup (or 1 bar) dark chocolate or unsweetened chips
- 3/4 cup hot water
- 4 large marshmallows
Crush hard snuff nicotine candy with a muddler. Add chocolate and hot water and allow the ingredients to melt. Chill to room temperature, or colder. Combine with vodka and shake with ice. Pour into a long shot glass and top with a large marshmallow. Using a kitchen torch, flame the marshmallow, shoot and enjoy.
I would say don't shoot, just sip and enjoy, but to each his own.
A word on the Belvedere: The Roman numeral is for its nine ingredients, which include ginseng, guarana, acai, ginger, sweet almond, jasmine, eucalyptus, three cinnamon, and black cherry. The ingredients are individually distilled in microbatches and then blend with 100 proof Belvedere. The taste is hard to pin down with wisps of ginger, menthol, sweet spice and citrus.
Posted: Dec 5, 2008 5:02pm ETLet’s all raise our glasses to the end of Prohibition and a return to good cheer.
Seventy-five years ago today, Prohibition, the so-called Noble Experiment, was ushered out with the 21st Amendment of the Constitution, which repealed the 18th Amendment. The original change, also called the Volstead Act, had ruled the land for almost 14 years, making alcoholic beverages illegal and generally creating national calamity. On December 5, 1933, came the culmination of the country's return to its senses. A state convention in Utah ratified the 21st Amendment, making it the 36th state to do so and clearing the bar of the needed 75 percent of states.
As much as it now seems quaint that the United States would have been dry for so long, we should all take a sober moment of reflection so that it may never happen again, for there remain elements among us who would rob us of other civil liberties. Given the woes that beset the nation on account of Prohibition, we must be ever vigilant against such acts.
In retrospect, the attendant problems of Prohibition were many and obvious, the benefits few. But clearly for there to have been an original amendment supporting an end to drinking, there must have been a mindset that thought it would help. Does that remind you of some more recent examples of groupthink run amok, cigar smokers?
While Prohibition was the law, the country became lawless. Mobsters and murderers ran the liquor trade and otherwise law-abiding citizens who just wanted to have a drink became scofflaws. Clearly, the organized gangland structure that exists now arose from Prohibition as so much was to be made in the trade and the public proved it was willing to overlook their transgressions.
Prohibition was not only damaging during its reign, but it has wreaked long-term havoc on our national alcohol industry. American producers were effectively set back decades. With no whiskey produced for a decade and a half, outside spirits makers were able to make inroads into our market. Canadian producers particularly benefited as they could easily smuggle their spirits across the border. When it was all over, American whiskey makers had no liquor with which to battle back as new spirits had to age for at least two years to sell and more like four to be any good. Whiskey rushed to market gave rise to the epithet "rot-gut Bourbon." Straight rye, once the market leader, almost disappeared altogether and is only now making a resurgence.
Posted: Dec 1, 2008 4:10pm ETJust returned from a Caribbean cruise refreshed, but slightly disappointed. The Solstice, newest addition to the Celebrity cruise ship fleet on which I sailed, was magnificent in all respects but one: it was almost bereft of smoking venues.
One of the great pleasures to cruise ships for me has always been the opportunity to smoke on board. Most have a cigar bar or some reasonable facsimile thereof located on the highest deck so the smoke wafts harmlessly up. And if you are lucky enough to have a room with a balcony, you can sit out there and puff away as well. Most ships sell cigars at duty free and their ports of call typically have Havanas available, so smoking is doubly attractive.
However, upon boarding the Solstice I was informed via memo that no inside smoking venue existed and that smoking was limited to the outdoors on certain decks, which did not include balconies in private staterooms.
"That's a bitter pill," I thought, but swallowed it anyway, chalking it up to another encroachment of the vice police. I did all right for a few days, but then encountered a bar on the third day that offered a flight of the Jim Beam Small Batch Bourbon collection (Basil Hayden, Knob Creek, Baker's and Booker's). Now, tasting that selection without a cigar to go with it is kind of like visiting a hat store that has no mirrors. But I bit at the bullet and determined on the fourth day to have a smoke ashore.
That smoke came on St. Kitts, which at 68 square miles is one of the smaller and more peaceful islands you are likely to dock at on a cruise ship. Stepping off at the little port of Basseterre and into the Pelican Mall, I spied a shop named Smoke N' Booze and immediately intuited it as a sign from above. Inside, the store had plenty of the latter and a medium-sized walk-in humidor with a fair selection of the former (in the Cuban variety). Knowing I wouldn't have good smoking opportunities back on board, I chose only one cigar—a Montecristo Edmundo—and went in search of a friendly place to smoke.