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Speakeasies for Cigar Smokers

As Almost Everyone Knows, Smokers of Fine Cigars Are Renowned for Their Creativity, Their Generosity and Their Perseverance
Gay Talese
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Winter 95/96

(continued from page 1)

Whenever I try to analyze the contemporary American trends that have induced our present-day government to become our governess--a meddlesome nanny that not only scolds us for smoking, but for making passes at girls who wear glasses and for various other transgressions against myriad special interest groups' Stormtroopers of Virtue--I am reminded of a Joyce Carol Oates comment that I read a few years ago and that I quote often: "When America is not fighting a war, the puritanical desire to punish people has to be let out at home." This is a most perceptive observation in my view, for the propensity for punishment remains constant in our tradition despite whatever influences are infused through immigration and diversity.

Indeed, when America is not preoccupied with prolonged bloody confrontations overseas, as it has not been since Vietnam, we evidently experience more hostility on the home front: commando raids by federal agents against a white male separatist in rural Idaho that culminated in the fatal shooting of his wife; a federal attack against a religious fanatic in Texas that exterminated him along with several score of his followers, including women and children; and, of course, the Gender Wars that provoke endless litigation over issues that used to be settled in private--misunderstandings between dating couples, a slip of the tongue at the office water cooler, a lingering look at the receptionist's plunging neckline, the pasting of a pinup on the wall of a firehouse.

I think it not coincidental that the rise of feminist influence, the American military defeat in Vietnam, and the ill-defined and disputed definition of manhood are all part of the same time period, beginning in the 1970s and continuing unabated. I must add, however, that in recent months there are indications that a small group of resolute males are banning together to take back the night. They are, of course, cigar smokers.

Angry at being ostracized from most restaurants and public places and having the money and the will to counterattack, cigar advocates are now investing in speakeasies for smokers. Designed like private men's club libraries, and replete with shelves of books that nobody reads, these are lush leather-appointed salons with liquor licenses and coffee-and-dessert counters and swirls of expensive smoke emitted by a one-time minority that is now, in cigar bars, a majority.

Cigar bars are becoming a growth industry in New York City and across the nation. A members-only one opened in October on the second floor of Dunhill's on Park Avenue, under the direction of Peter John Katz, former manager of the Boston Dunhill's, who was recently appointed humidor manager of the New York shop. Within two months, in Manhattan's East Sixties, General Cigar's parent corporation, Culbro, will open Club Macanudo; it will have a full bar and a gaming room. Early this spring, Ken Aretsky, the onetime chairman of '21,' will open his renovated version of what was Chris Cella's restaurant with a policy that he says will be "aggressively cigar friendly."

Meanwhile, the cigar bars that are already prospering in New York--three of them owned by the partnership of Mark C. Grossich and Delhi-born Raju S. Mirchandani--are attracting into their hazy midst each night bevies of convivial cigar smoking young women. On the surface at least, these young women give impressions of being very male-friendly. A new trend perhaps in the offing? Maybe so. A peace pipe is being passed around between the sexes, the Gender Wars are fading, the cigar is the calumet. Among the recent patrons at Lexington Bar and Books was feminist poet Jessica Cohen, who, after a few puffs on a Macanudo Hampton Court, and being escorted home by a young surgeon from Mt. Sinai hospital, was inspired to write:

Those dark leaves, rolled, wrapped and burning

furnish men with lingering cindering protruding banners

that puff smoke signals of satiety

wafting power to pacify, provide

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