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Smoking in the U.S.A.

Our man in Havana finds out how tough it can be to find a place to smoke in America
From the Print Edition:
Phil Ivey, March/April 2010

Do you mind if we smoke?" my friend Bob Golbahar asked the driver, as we started to get into the Cadillac Escalade. The SUV was pimped out with tiny lights, a bar and a mega-sound system. My friend said that it usually ferried key clients to a strip club near his wine shop. It still smelled of cheap perfume.

We had been to dinner in the valley at a new restaurant called Marché in Sherman Oaks and the drive was too far to make from West Los Angeles, especially after a night of fine wine given the hardcore rules on drinking and driving in California. Bob is willing to adventure to unknown parts of the greater metropolitan area of Los Angeles in search of good food and wine. And the chef at Marché had worked with the legendary Thomas Keller of Napa's French Laundry and New York's Per Se.

"No," said the driver. "You can't smoke in the car."

Bob was already pretty lit up from a number of bottles of high-grade California and Italian wines, so he wasn't going to take no for an answer. Sure, we were in the People's Republic of California where smoking is banned just about everywhere-even outside in some cities.

Our driver finally agreed to let us smoke our Cohiba Esplendidos in the SUV as long as we kept the windows down. The weather in LA had been terrible for a number of days, and it had just finished raining. It was in the high 40s as we motored down the 405 Freeway.

The humid wind was blowing through the cabin. I could barely hear Bob speak. Luckily, I had lit my Cohiba (No. It was not fake.) before we got into the vehicle. I felt like I was smoking a cigar on the deck of a ship in a gale. But the cigar delivered lots of richness and flavor, despite the less than optimum smoking conditions.

The more I smoke in the United States, the more I realize that we are really enjoying an "outdoor" pleasure. And it's becoming like that in most other parts of the world. When was the last time, you smoked inside? Smoking in your car does not count. Some may be lucky enough to belong to or frequent a smoking lounge, or they might go to a cigar shop to smoke. But it's hard to think of places in the United States where you can smoke with a roof over your head and four walls around you. Most guys I know can't even smoke in their houses.

I spent Christmas Eve smoking out on the porch of my father's house in North County San Diego. I was wearing my thick pea coat. I was thankful my father lived on the West Coast instead of the East Coast, but it was still cold enough to blow most of my chance of really enjoying my Padrón 1964 Anniversary. I would have smoked a longer cigar, but it was just too chilly to spend a long time outside in the cold.

I remember when I was married and used to spend my Christmas in England with my ex-wife's family. They had a big house in Bath, and it was cold, but each room had a roaring fire going each day. My father-in-law was a pipe smoker, and he enjoyed the occasional cigar. I always smoked large cigars there. They were the right smokes after a big meal. I also enjoyed a Punch Double Corona following a brisk afternoon walk in the English countryside. There's nothing like a nice cup of tea and a good Havana to warm your soul.

It's hard to think that just a decade ago you could smoke in most bars and many restaurants in the United States. One of the pleasures I miss the most is smoking after a good meal in a restaurant. What happened to all those humidors restaurants had? They are probably collecting dust or being used to hold spare paper or something. I was recently in a hotel's bar in England-smoking in eating establishments is banned, except for outside-that had a sign next to a large humidor full of smokes that read "Havanas and Other Fine Cigars to Take Out." It was snowing outside and I knew my ex-wife wasn't going to let me smoke a nice Havana in my ex-house. So I just looked longingly at the nice selection of cigars. Life is unfair sometimes.

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