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Young Aficionados

Cigar Smoking Is Hot with the Twentysomething Crowd, Which Agrees: It Is More Than a Fad
Paul Chutkow
From the Print Edition:
Tom Selleck, Winter 95/96

(continued from page 2)

The Dunhill smoker attracted several twentysomething women, and they were warmly welcomed by more experienced smokers like Tanya Neiman, a San Francisco attorney. "Face it: there are certain things women have traditionally been excluded from, and cigars is one of them. This," Neiman says, waving her Macanudo, "is very liberating for women."

Jennifer Hernandez, a local attorney who helped organize the smoker, agrees, and she is delighted that young women today can smoke a cigar without arousing shock or facing social stigma. It was hardly that way when she began smoking cigars a few years ago. "I began smoking cigars when I was working for a firm that represented Playboy and Penthouse," she recalls. "One day I walked into a big meeting with a cigar in my mouth. The men were shocked. It was a good career move."

Jeanette Etheredge applauds the current cigar vogue among young people and women--but for a very different reason. Etheredge owns and runs a celebrated San Francisco institution called Tosca's, an adamantly antichic watering hole that, over the years, has been a second home to Francis Ford Coppola, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and many other artists, poets and musicians who hang out in the city's North Beach section. Etheredge, who is as colorful and iconoclastic an institution as Tosca's, has never catered to the antismoking crowd. And she is not about to start.

"Since the restaurants stopped allowing smoking, my business has gone up 20 percent," Etheredge says. "Instead of staying out at a restaurant for an extra coffee, people come here. And older people who want to smoke come here before dinner so they can smoke and then they come by again after dinner." Over the past year, young people smoking cigars have become an important part of her business. So now, Etheredge keeps a well-stocked humidor right on the bar. Throughout the week, young people also crowd into her back room to smoke cigars and play pool under a formidable array of old movie posters.

On one recent night, Cheré Burnett, a twentysomething interior designer, was one of the women joining the men at the pool table, cigar in hand. "In the beginning, I thought cigars were a man's thing and I felt so intimidated," Burnett says. "I also thought it was gross to kiss a guy who's smoked a cigar." Soon, though, she developed a taste for cigars--and for men who smoke them. She now attends the many cigar dinners being sponsored by San Francisco's premier hotels, restaurants and cigar shops. In recent months, these smokers have become quite the rage in San Francisco; in one week in August, there were at least four high-profile smokers around town.

Cigar smoking, in fact, has become a prominent part of the young social scene in many parts of San Francisco society. Rich Peterson, 27, president of an informal group called The Bachelor's Club, says that he and many of his friends in the club have become avid cigar smokers, either at parties or on the golf course. "I think cigars, by their nature, stimulate conversation and camaraderie," he says. "It's a way to bring people together. It relaxes people and I think adds a touch of style."

Like many young men around the country, Peterson says that smoking cigars, at least in his case, is not a way of making any political or social statement; it is just a pleasure he enjoys, especially among friends. "Some people think cigar smoking projects snootiness or your class," he says. "I think if you want to read that into it, that's unfortunate. [It] is just a way to have fun."

The Bachelor's Club has become so serious about its cigar fun that it maintains a locker at Dunhill's. Cigars were also prominent at the club's annual black-tie ball. Were young women at the ball put off by cigars? Quite the contrary, says Peterson, who develops new business for Dryer's and Edy's Grand Ice Cream. "One very lovely young woman actually came up to me and asked for a puff of my cigar," he says. "It broke the ice--and very quickly!"

San Francisco now offers a wide array of places catering to young cigar smokers. Stars, long a popular Bay Area restaurant, organizes cigar dinners and other events through a private club it founded, the Stellar Cigar Society. The Cypress Club was another favorite meeting place for aficionados--before smoking was banned in the city's restaurants. Since then, the club has closed its humidor, but it remains cigar friendly (you can still smoke at Cypress' bar). "We've had cigar dinners ever since we opened," says John Lancaster, the club's sommelier and bar manager, "but they were never as popular as they have become in recent months. In a time when some rights are being taken away, cigars have become immensely fashionable."

The Occidental Grill is another San Francisco gathering place that has made cigars a prime attraction. After a long day at the nearby Pacific Stock Exchange, young stock and bond traders gather at The Occidental to smoke, eat and unwind. To keep up with demand, co-owners Curtis Post and Don Helton keep a large supply of cigars on hand, and every so often they organize a fabulous gourmet dinner, specially conceived for aficionados. One recent dinner opened with the house special, an Absolut Blue Martini, followed by seared wild salmon, warm rabbit loin salad, smoked quail with black currant sauce, a veal chop grilled over mesquite, and ci-gars between courses--all for $105.


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