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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 4)

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.

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