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Members Only: Cigar Clubs

The Privileges of Membership
Michael Frank
From the Print Edition:
Fidel Castro, Summer 94

(continued from page 1)

Not all cigar clubs have an offbeat organizing principle behind them. Some, like the Cigar Club at Town Point, in Norfolk, Virginia, are subgroups within larger clubs. The Town Point Club is part of a national network of clubs, some of them health-oriented, some city clubs, and some are country clubs. John Milleson, 41, general manager of the Town Point Club (and unofficial cigar cheerleader for the 220 clubs in the Club Corporation of America network) put on a very successful cigar dinner at Town Point in November 1992. Afterward, men like Yale Nesson, 65 (president of the Town Point Cigar Club), and Lamont Maddox, 24, became some of the first people to join the Cigar Club. Twenty-five more people joined Town Point just so they could smoke cigars. Now the Cigar Club tops out at about 60 members.

Milleson helped establish the smoking section of the Grill Room and the Bar Game Room as cigar-friendly areas. Along with regular cigar dinners, there are free weekday breakfasts (a Town Point tradition) at which Cigar Club members often outnumber other attendees, turning the proceedings into informal Cigar Club functions.

However, Milleson stresses the decorum of Cigar Club members, saying that there is an overt aim to educate nonsmokers, but not to interfere with the enjoyment of nonsmoking Town Point Club members.

Some members, especially younger ones like Maddox, joined because they missed the fraternal feeling of college. As an added benefit, Maddox, a computer consultant, says that the Town Point Cigar Club dinners are far superior to anything he did at the University of Virginia: "Now I get to drink Port, smoke Ashtons and eat excellent food."

Soon, in addition to the dinners, there will be a cabinet humidor at Town Point and a Cigar Club bar. The Cigar Club at Town Point is very successful, and Milleson registers a qualified note of joy when he talks about the club, but he's not ready to pat himself on the back and smoke a cigar just yet. He has another idea, one which many cigar club members voiced as their greatest hope--a national organization of cigar clubs.

Milleson is pushing for many of the Club Corporation member organizations to offer cigar amenities similar to those found at Town Point. But more than cigar dinners, humidors and pool tables, Milleson hopes that a national chain of cigar clubs would create friendships among travelers who visit out-of-town clubs. "We say a cigar just isn't a cigar unless you have someone to enjoy it with. I believe that. For 15 years I was a cigar smoker, but I was never comfortable with it. Now I have a place to go."

Bart Bryerton, president of the 300-member Cigar Connoisseur Club of Chicago, also wants a place where he can go and smoke--no matter where he is in the United States. "I've always hoped that this phenomenon would get a bunch of us in touch with each other around the country."

As it is, the club is humming along fine. It should be. With $25, one-time membership dues, it's not hard to see why Bryerton is working hard. "At one of these cigar dinners I'm gonna call in sick and then just show up so I can finally enjoy myself!"

Bryerton has also threatened to cut off membership or start an annual dues structure. One way to smoke even more cigars (though you will still have to buy them) is to become a Cigar Connoisseurs board member. "We meet twice a month, and we love people who serve on the board. It means we're getting someone without paying for them."

The Connoisseurs have regular dinners, but they also plan trips to the Dominican Republic (to study cigar making), and, someday, the club will go to Cuba. There are the less formal events as well, such as cruising around on Bryerton's boat or just shooting golf together. The lack of tightness has to do with Chicago--the most cigar-friendly town in America. The necessity to circle the wagons is less apparent here, and club members feel more comfortable smoking a cigar at the corner bar.

* * *

If anything threatens to stem the tide of the cigar-club craze, it's a lack of public disapproval and antismoking restrictions. If history is any guide, besides cigarettes, public acceptance of cigars killed off the great cigar clubs of the last century (see "The Cigar Divan," ). Cigar smokers are a fiercely independent bunch (and if the gang at Florida State are an indication, new, young and vocal cigar smokers are a growing segment of the cigar-smoking public), who will not be bullied into submission.

Aspen and Santa Monica are extreme scenarios--they represent the worst possible eventuality to cigar smokers. But even under the most draconian legislative thumb, cigar mavens have found a way to beat the laws and maintain dignity and style. Although Groucho Marx would have declined membership, had he lived today he might have had no other choice but to join a cigar club.

The Cigar Divan

Chase, a London-based cigar importer and expert on all things cigar-related, it was the perceived crassness of cigar smoking that led to the creation of the first London cigar divans, around Although cigar clubs are a relatively new phenomenon in the United States, they were a big part of aristocratic leisure activity in nineteenth-century England. According to Simon 1830. During the Peninsular War (1808-14), British officers (who all smoked their tobacco in pipes), fighting to liberate French-occupied Spain, were given cigars by the newly freed Spaniards. The Brits were hooked. However, when they took their new tobacco companions home to England, London society was shocked.

To avoid the scornful eye of pipe smokers, cigar divans were invented. (British soldiers somehow combined Turkish coffee and smoke houses with Chinese opium dens to create both the smoking jacket and the Asian motif of the rooms.) Soon, private cigar clubs were the favorite preoccupation of British gentry.

Ironically, it was not the unpopularity of cigars that caused the eventual demise of cigar divans, but the social acceptance of the stogie. According to Julio Finn, an amateur cigar buff and author of Poet of the Cigar (Sancho Panza Press, London, 1982) cigar smoking became ubiquitous by the late 1880s, and by the turn of the century there was little need to seek refuge while smoking. The last cigar divans withered and died by the early 1910s.

--M.F.

Independent Cigar Clubs

Washington, D.C.
Baccarat Club
Phone: (301) 464-7255
Cigar Club Room: pending
Smokers, weekly meetings, tastings, community involvement

Chicago, Ill.
Cigar Connoisseurs of Chicago
Phone: (312) 337-8025
Smokers, meetings, tours, dinners

Tallahassee, Fla.
Cigar Society at Florida State University
Phone: (904) 224-2324
Smokers, meetings, tours, cigar education

Omaha, Nebr.
Great Plains Cigar Club
Phone: (402) 333-6022
Smokers, meetings

Cincinnatti, Ohio
Private Smoking Club
Phone: (513) 827-3792/321-5070
Humidor, Member Storage and Cigar Club Room
Meetings, tastings, private parties, dinners

Colma, Calif.
Volunteer Fire Dept. of Colma Cigar Club
Phone: (415) 755-4510
Cigar dinners, poker, firefighting

Port Moody, B.C., Canada
Soccer and Cigar Club
Phone: (604) 469-6799
Dinners, soccer, cigars

Cigar Clubs at Restaurants

Fort Worth, Tex.
F.O.G./Fraternal Order of Gar
at Michael's Restaurant
Phone: (817) 877-3413
Humidor, Member Storage, dinners, tastings, events, trips, education

South Bend, Ind.
Lasalle Grill Club
Phone: (219) 288-1155
Humidor, Member Storage, dinners, trips, events, seminars

Santa Monica, Calif.
Les Amis du Cigar/George Sand Cigar Society at Remi
Phone: (310) 394-8667
Humidor, Private Smoking Room, dinners, social events

New York, N.Y.
Cigar Connoisseur Club at San Domenico
Phone: (212) 265-5959
Humidor, Member Storage and Clubhouse
Monday Connoisseur Club dinners, VIP status, discounts, tours

Cigar Clubs at Tobacconists

Pittsburgh, Pa.
Blooms Cigar Camp
Phone: (412) 431-4277
Member Storage and Clubhouse, Cigar Camp meets weekly, monthly Dinners, education

Milwaukee, Wis.
Milwaukee Cigar Society
at Edward's Tobacconists
Phone: (414) 783-7473
Separate Clubhouse, smokers, weekly meetings, trips

Tokyo, Japan
Cigar Club Ltd.
Phone: 03 3583 7130
Humidor (Havanas available), Member Storage and Bar,
Monthly meetings, tastings, dinners, trips to Cuba, Golf contests


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