The CRA Freedom Tour—Day Three

Chicago: It’s one of my favorite places in the entire world. Now that we no longer can do a Cigar Aficionado Big Smoke, I don’t travel here very often, so I was happy to get back to the Windy City.

After joining up with the rest of the team at the hotel lobby, those of us who weren’t too exhausted from the road headed out to Jack Schwartz and Iwan Reis, a pair of great Chicago retailers. We puffed away on cigars (naturally) and I joined Litto Gomez in a La Flor Dominicana 2000 Series No. 3, a great small smoke. Jack Schwartz is a small shop with a phenomenal selection, and a couple of smoking chairs plus a rail with chairs. Iwan Reis is a gargantuan shop, with a new smoking lounge that’s very spacious. Half the cigar industry was in there yesterday—Christian Eiroa, Nick Perdomo, Tim Ozgener, Litto Gomez, Jorge Padrón, Robert Levin, Peter Baenninger, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, Jose Oliva, Rocky Patel, Jonathan Drew, and the CRA organizer Keith Park.

Being in Chicago means I need to stop in the Italian Village, a homey, old school red-sauce Italian near the financial district. I ordered pasta arribirata with meatballs. The sauce was great, and the meatballs were absolutely perfect.

The last time I went to Italian Village I smoked right at my seat, but that’s all gone now. My brother called me in the middle of lunch. When I told him who I was with, he asked if I was smoking a cigar. I told him we couldn’t smoke in Chicago restaurants anymore. “That’s why you’re on the tour, right?” he said.

That’s precisely why we’re on the tour, and that late afternoon we rallied 500 cigar smokers to the CRA cause. Half the group went to Up Down Cigars, run by the wonderful Diana Silvius-Gits. I went with the other half to 8 to 8 Cigars.

The crowd was inspired at 8 to 8, and the store was packed with cigar smokers. (It was also packed with great cigars—8 to 8 has a wonderful selection of smokes.) Everyone was having a great time, mingling with the cigarmakers, getting autographs and having some food. I shot a little video of the crowd inside—take a look.

A cigar smoker talked to me about Cigar Aficionado, then asked “What can we do?” That’s a great question for every cigar smoker—what you can do is join the CRA. The cigar industry is small, but as a gathered force, cigar smokers are large. Combined, we can fight against smoking bans, higher cigar taxes and all the anti-smoking zealous who want to take your cigar away. They’re organized—we need to be organized as well.

After the events, our groups met up én masse at Gibson’s Steakhouse near the airport. We had quite the crowd. The room was full of great people who know each other just a little better after spending the time together on the road.

About 20 minutes in, Carlos Fuente Jr. arrived to a great reception—he hadn’t been feeling well and we didn’t expect to see him. We twisted his arm, got him to take a seat and soon we were all clinking wine glasses, drinking some hearty red and tucking into great steaks. After the meal, we dragged our chairs out to the patio, and fired up cigars. I lit a Fuente Fuente OpusX PerfecXion No. 2, and we all talked long into the night.

Today the group flew out to Orlando for a huge event organized by the city’s best cigar retailer, Jeff Borysiewicz, owner of Corona Cigar Co. I wished I could have joined them, but I had to get back to the office.

The CRA Tour has been a great first step toward creating a unified force of consumers who wish to stand up for their rights to smoke a cigar. For those of you who joined me on the trip, you have my heartfelt thanks. You’ve done a great thing to support a worthy cause. For those of you who are not yet members of the CRA, please, visit and join now. We need you.

And to all the cigar guys who I spent time with on the road, from New York to Milwaukee and then to Chicago: Robby, Ernie, Jorge, Litto, Charlie, Jon, Peter, Eric, Carlito, Tim, Rocky, Nick, Paolo, Christian, Jose, Glen, Pete, Manolo, and Keith, thanks for letting me take part in the tour. Job well done, everyone.
Ken Coleman August 23, 2008 6:03am ET
These events sounds great! If I were still living in NYC, I would have attended the one there.I have asked this question several places but have not received any real answer yet so let me ask you. What is the CRA going to DO? I understand that gathering membership is the first step. After the forces are gathered, specifically, how does CRA plan to "fight against smoking bans, higher cigar taxes and all the anti-smoking zealous who want to take your cigar away." Does CRA see itself as a lobbying organization? A PR group? A legal resources group? When I asked these same questions on another site, one poster pointed out all the info about anti-smoking legislation on the CRA web-site and said that, "knowledge is power." And I agree that is true to a point. But isn't it better if knowledge leads to concrete action? Is there a plan to move ahead after this series of membership events?
DAVE Savona New York August 26, 2008 11:09am ET
Ken, the CRA is going to use the funds raised to get lobbyists to stand up for the issues that are vital to cigar smokers: fighting tax increases, fighting against new smoking bans, etc.Also, the more people the CRA gets the more powerful it becomes. When there is a large base of members, politicians won't be able to ignore the CRA's requests.And yes, there are many more things being planned for the CRA. Stay tuned.
Andy Davies England August 26, 2008 3:50pm ET
As a fellow cigar enthusiast from across the pond (and a subscriber to your excellent magazine) I can only admire what you¿re trying to achieve with the CRA and can only wish you all the luck in the world. Here in the UK, we don¿t even have the luxury of being able to smoke in ¿Cigar Bars¿, we can only ¿sample¿ a cigar in specific tobacco retailers (and these are normally only open 09:00 to 17:30!). To compound this, there are no retailers within 100 miles of my home where this is accepted. However, we are allowed to smoke outside, but even the hardiest souls would baulk at spending 30, 45, 60 minutes or longer (depending on cigar) doing this with our weather ¿ even decent heated outdoor areas are a rarity!I, like many others, will have fond memories pre smoking ban of visiting a good restaurant, enjoying a good meal, and retiring to the bar/lounge to round it off with one¿s favourite digestif and a fine cigar.We have been robbed of this liberty.I will be following the progress of the CRA very closely indeed.Best wishes,Andy.
Nick Lisewych Lynnwood, WA August 27, 2008 3:49pm ET
Dave,You guys need to make a trip over to Washington some time. The smoking ban here is absolute insanity.- Nick
DAVE Savona August 28, 2008 12:03pm ET
Andy, thanks for the note. I feel for you--smoking outdoors in the cold, harsh weather is no picnic. Perhaps it's time for you to form a UK version of the CRA?
DAVE Savona August 28, 2008 12:07pm ET
Nick, no smoking within 25 feet of an entrance and no smoking even in retail stores, right? Horrible.
Nick Lisewych Lynnwood, WA August 28, 2008 2:15pm ET
Dave,You are correct. The 25 foot rule isn't always enforced, though. (The only exception is Indian casinos, they still allow smoking) My favorite smoke shop used to have events once a month, and now they can only have them during warmer months.
Andy Davies England August 30, 2008 1:15pm ET
Dave, we certainly need to setup some organisation to enable us UK cigar smokers to have a voice. Hopefully this can become a reality - and the sooner the better!

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