The CRA Freedom Tour—Day Three
Posted: Aug 22, 2008 2:33pm ET
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 www.cigarrights.org 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.
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