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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 3)

Occasionally, when Harkness and teammates are smoking cigars, a curious thing will happen. "Sometimes guys from the other team will come over, and they'll smoke with us." Asked whether rival-team members could come to the annual Port-and-cigar Christmas dinner or ride along on the yearly pilgrimage to the A.E. Morris Cigar Co. in Victoria (the only public space in B.C.'s capital city where smoking is allowed), Harkness hesitates not a second. "Of course. We're just doing this for the fun of it." The fun, at least the cigar part of it, has been going on for almost six years. The team has been around since 1960.

About 1,000 miles to the south of Port Moody, another group of men gather for an equally odd ritual. They're the members of the Volunteer Fire Department of Colma, California, a suburb of San Francisco. Every Saturday the firemendrill, putting out mock fires. Then they start real fires--lighting cigars and smoking them while playing poker. Mark Fontana, 42, owns a granite company and opens his basement three times a week to members. "Some of the guys are good winemakers, and we generally cook something for dinner. All the guys are married, but we sit around after work and talk about our businesses or the fire department."

All of the firefighters, including Colma Mayor Dennis Fisicaro, are in their mid-40s. "People think cigar smokers are all old guys," says Fontana, "but we're all pretty young, successful, small-businessmen." The club's favorite cigar brand is Macanudo, which Fontana buys through JR Tobacco. "I don't mind paying for the cigars. I keep a pretty good stock, and it's just nice to enjoy the end of the day this way with friends."

Fontana says that the club formed because there wasn't anywhere else to go and smoke, but also to do something for Colma. The fire department puts on community "feeds" for the public, sort of like a miniature soup kitchen.

* * *

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.

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