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Great Moments

A Mayor and His Lonsdales
Brendan Vaughan
From the Print Edition:
Michael Richards, Sep/Oct 97

(continued from page 1)

The last cigar of the night, an H. Upmann lonsdale made in the Canary Islands in 1970, was older than I am. The cellophane was yellow from age, and the silky Cameroon wrapper crackled with the fragility of vellum paper. The Upmann, slightly dry but smokable, took easily to the flame and burned a little too quickly. But the smoke was a fountain of flavor, especially for its age. The conventional wisdom maintains that cigars this old--particularly non-Cuban cigars--aren't supposed to retain this much flavor. But the Upmanns rolled in the Canaries in the '70s and early '80s were considered at the time to be among the world's finest, and it's easy to see why there's a small cult following of collectors today. (A few days before the dinner, a member of that cult called me. "You're going to this dinner? Can you buy me some Upmanns and Montecruz from the Canaries? I'll take every box they've got." Unfortunately for him there was a one-box limit on the rarest boxes, and you had to be there to buy them.)

At about 9:30, Sam Driban, the owner of the Black Cat, announced the winning bids. The silent auction raised $3,690, an average of $369 per box, bringing the total proceeds from the Rizzo cigar sales to more than $25,000. I asked Driban why they didn't sell all 200 boxes by live auction. Surely these rare smokes would have fetched more in the heat of bidder competition. "Frank Rizzo was a common guy," he answered. "Yeah, we could have probably earned more if we auctioned them all, but we want many people to be able to enjoy these cigars, not just the highest bidders." (At press time, Driban still had a small reserve of Partagas lonsdales from the Dominican Republic for sale at the Black Cat.)

By 10, the event was winding down. Small groups lingered over Courvoisier VSOP Cognacs and their still-burning Upmanns. Rizzo strolled over to our table, exhausted but elated. "This event is really going to accelerate the completion of the statue. And by the way," he added, cutting me off at the pass, "he won't have a cigar in his hand." I guess even Frank Rizzo is subject to the social strictures of the '90s.

As I was leaving, Rizzo introduced me to Nicholas DeBenedictis, chairman and president of the Philadelphia Suburban Corp., the city's water company. "I don't smoke, but I bought two boxes," he told me, clutching a pair of boxes of Partagas 8-9-8s. Nodding at Rizzo, he added, "I'm going to open them when he becomes mayor."

For a celebration of that magnitude, the nonsmoking Rizzo just might make an exception and fire up one of the few remaining cigars from his father's collection. They're not from Jamaica, the Dominican Republic or the Canary Islands.

Brendan Vaughan is the assistant editor of Marvin Shanken's Cigar Insider newletter and the online manager of the Cigar Aficionado Website.

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