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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.

But I started to think what I would smoke if I had the chance that night outside in cold York-not New but old York. If I had to choose a cigar to smoke outside, it would be something rich and powerful enough to withstand all the extraneous stimulation outside. It's sort of like going to a striptease in the forest. It would be nice but not the same as the indoor version. I've never attended a forestial strip show, by the way.

What this is all leading to is that we all need to pay more attention to what we are smoking when we venture into the wild. It is not the time to be smoking delicate, elegant smokes. Nor is it time to smoke small or thin cigars that will lose their glow in the elements. Go for full-flavored smokes with enough girth to stay lit. Go for manly cigars!

The obvious smoke is the Romeo & Julieta Cazadores. This is close to a Churchill size with a traditionally dark wrapper. It's a buzz saw of a smoke that can look more like beef jerky than a cigar, but it delivers lots of flavor. My British friends have told me for years that the Cazadores were designed for the discerning hunter who would take his smoke for a morning shoot in the brisk English countryside.

After that, I would opt for the Partagas Serie D No. 4, which always packs loads of flavor and burns like a dream. In fact, I think that any large sized Partagas smoke would go well outside because of the funky, earthy character of the range.

Third, I would go for a Cohiba Siglo VI. I have smoked these in a tropical gale in Havana and the powerful, rich and racy smoke has always given me loads of pleasure. It's still my favorite Cuban.

The Edición Limitadas are also good choices. As you probably already know, they are the annual limited release Habanos that use slightly aged, upper priming wrappers that are stronger and darker colored than most normal releases. And the extra punch in the stomach of flavor keeps your taste buds perky in the great outdoors.

Finally, just to show that I am not Cuban centric, I would go for any of the La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero smokes. Cigar maker Litto Gomez of the Dominican Republic makes ass-kicker smokes under the Double Ligero moniker that really come into their own on a poach in the middle of his tobacco plantation, or just in your own backyard with your friends.

I asked my colleague, Senior Editor David Savona, to add a few of his favorites to my list of serious outdoor smokes and he came up with five. Great minds think alike considering he went for a La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero as well.

The Padrón Serie 1926 No. 35 was the top of his list and he noted that the little Nicaraguan smoke is only four inches long, but packs big flavor. It's the perfect cigar for a long walk with the dog, or a short trip in the car. Apparently, it was named 35 for the number of minutes it takes company president Jorge Padrón to smoke one.

He also likes the La Gloria Cubana Reserva Figurados Selectos de Lujos, which is a gorgeous Dominican perfecto with a rich, creamy and elegant style. Dave says that it is perfect for enjoying on the golf course between holes. He adds that it takes the sting off of bad shots. The latter is obviously less believable!

La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero Lancero is one of Dave's favorite lanceros, and the long, slim cigar has powerful notes of leather and wood. It's easy to light quickly, with only a 38 ring gauge. I have found lanceros don't smoke all that well outside because they go out all the time. But Dave likes them.

The larger Arturo Fuente Flor Fina 8-5-8 that Dave digs would be a better choice. It's one of his old favorites that's inexpensive and eminently dependable. He said that the woody, nutty and easygoing smoke is ideal to enjoy by the campfire with a little Bourbon after the kids are in their sleeping bags.

Finally , the C.A.O. La Traviata Divino is his good-luck charm. He lit the robusto up outside Yankee Stadium twice during the 2009 postseason. The Yankees won both games, and the World Series. It's rich, distinctive, lovely and a bargain-everything you want in a cigar, he says.

It's strange when you think about it, but cigars began as an open-air product. When Christopher Columbus came to the Caribbean, he found the Taino Indians smoking tobacco around their campfires. They called it Cohiba. I imagine they also smoked inside their huts, but their sacred weed was smoked primarily outside. Besides, I am sure their wives or girlfriends, or both, wouldn't let them smoke inside, like the rest of us.

It wasn't until Europeans started smoking that tobacco was taken inside in the form of pipes, cigarettes and cigars. I guess we have come back full circle with cigars. So remember the Tainos next time you fire up a cigar outside. And try some of our recommended smokes.

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