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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 2)

Though he's almost 20 years older than Barley, Sam Williams has had similar problems lighting up in public. In 1992, he and his brother Gill spent a great deal of time wandering around their hometown, of Washington, D.C., looking for a place to smoke. Neither of their wives would let them smoke at home, and both men were getting tired of the comments and taunts that fell upon them even before they lit their cigars.

Two years and 15 to 30 regular club members later, the Baccarat Club convenes for weekly meetings at the Henley Park Hotel in downtown Washington. There, members smoke cigars and plan for the future. "We want to make our group eccentric. It's not just going out and having a good time with a bunch of guys," Williams claims. "We came together to mentor some young adults in the Washington community. And maybe through our union, enjoying the good things in life, we can pass that along to young, disadvantaged people to get them to appreciate what life has to offer."

Williams, a psychologist and student counselor at Bowie State University in Bowie, Maryland, says that, while the Baccarat Club has more African-American members than Caucasians, conditions for membership are very simple: "We figure that anyone who enjoys a good cigar, fine wine and a good meal can get along with us."

At a recent smoker, Williams and his brother argued about horseback riding with a couple of new Baccarat Club members. "These guys happened to both be Jewish, and they joked about black guys riding, and we told them, 'Jewish guys can't ride.' After we finished kidding around, all four of us decided to go up to Montana this summer for a week of riding."

According to Williams, it is even possible that there will be more women smoking cigars at Baccarat Club. "Women are very much interested in the club, but they're reluctant to say anything. Their perception is that it's a men-sy kind of thing, even though it's not."

After conquering racism and sexism, Williams continues to look out for those who can't afford a good cigar. "We're hoping to get funds from the city. We want to set up some kind of nonprofit organization so we can give community grants to the kids we're trying to help."

It seems that, sometimes, a cigar club is much more than just a cigar club.

* * *

Then again, sometimes a cigar club is just a bit odd. In Port Moody, British Columbia, a suburb of Vancouver, Canada, there is the Port Moody Cigar and Soccer Club. Every Sunday, a group of men, who are all over 40, gather to kick a ball around. No standings are kept, but the soccer club is part of an official league. "It's just for fun, but the part we like is the end of the game," says Mal Harkness, the unofficial club spokesman. Harkness, a graphic artist, says that after the final whistle blows and the handshaking and "good game, good game" chants are complete, about half the team members gather outside the clubhouse and light Cuban cigars. "The team favorite is a Montecristo, but there is an unofficial rule. If you travel somewhere, even if you're a nonsmoking member, you have to bring back cigars," Harkness says.

The latest box came back from the Philippines--Harkness is quick to add that nonsmoking members don't always have good taste.

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