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Smoking in Peace

David Shaw
From the Print Edition:
Premier Issue, Autumn 92

(continued from page 3)

Not me, Herb.

I will never understand why anyone who smokes cigarettes throughout his, her or my dinner is then allowed to prevent me from smoking a cigar after we're all through with dinner. Sure, cheap cigars smell vile. And cigar smoke, even from a good cigar, can be dense and pungent. But surely one cigar, after everyone's through eating, is not as offensive as a half-dozen (or more) cigarettes while everyone is still eating. I think anyone who smokes cigarettes in a restaurant and then has the audacity to complain about a cigar should be punished by having to listen every night to a one-hour speech of George Bush trying to master English as a second language.

Fortunately, my experience at Dodgers Stadium notwithstanding, I haven't had as much trouble as most cigar smokers with such irrational complaints--or, for that matter, with complaints of any sort about my cigars. Unless my wife is sick or suffering from an allergy that clogs her sinuses, she doesn't object to my cigars in the house, for example, and I have only one close friend who has made clear that she doesn't want me to smoke in her house. (My sister won't let me smoke in her house either, but she lives more than 1,200 miles away so I don't see her often enough for that to be a serious problem--although I do vividly remember the first time I asked if I could light up, and she told me to smoke outside ... in Denver ... in winter ... when the temperature, as I recall, was about 16 degrees.)

Friendships and common sense have also helped make it easier for me than for many others to smoke in restaurants. Dining out is my hobby--some would say my obsession--so I've come to know a number of chefs and restaurateurs fairly well over the years; even the most brazen cigar haters often find it difficult to complain to you or to sic a waiter or maître d' on you when they've seen the chef or the owner stop by your table a half-dozen times to chat and ask what you think of dinner--or when the chef himself is sitting at your table, smoking a cigar with you, as chef Michel Richard often does with me at Citrus in Los Angeles. In fact, many restaurants that officially prohibit cigars will be flexible with good customers--or with any customer if it's late and the dining room is almost empty.

When I want to smoke a cigar in a restaurant, I try to be considerate. I don't smoke in small, crowded, poorly ventilated restaurants or in delis, pizza parlors, hamburger joints or other places not designed for lingering. I eat on the late side--8 or 8:30 p.m.--so that by the time I'm through eating and ready to smoke, virtually everyone else will also be through eating (and most will be on their way home). If anyone nearby looks as if he or she might object to my cigar--and such stern-faced, tight-lipped, beady-eyed folks are depressingly easy to spot--I ask if they mind. If anyone at an adjacent table is still eating when I'm through--or if the adjacent table is jammed up against mine, whether its occupants are still eating or not--I also ask if there's any objection to my cigar.

I've stopped smoking cigars at Dodgers Stadium because of all the complaints--complaints I just don't understand in an outdoor setting, where the smoke disperses so easily--but in restaurants and elsewhere, relatively few people have objected to my cigar. Even people who have objected have generally done so politely.

When a group of women sweetly asked a friend and me not to smoke after lunch in an Italian restaurant not long ago, we took our cigars into the bar--for which they graciously thanked us; on their way out, they thanked us again. On another occasion, a man responded to my cigar question by saying, "We'd appreciate it if you'd wait until we finish our dessert." Ten minutes later--seconds after wiping the last crumbs of chocolate cake from his lips--the man leaned over and said, "We're through now. Thank you for asking--and for waiting. You can smoke now."

As I said, judging by my conversations and interviews with other cigar smokers, I've been lucky. Many people who object to cigars do so as boorishly as that woman at Dodgers Stadium. Indeed, virtually every restaurateur I interviewed for this story told me that people who complain about cigars are almost invariably far more adamant--and far ruder--than cigar smokers themselves.

Carl Doumani, proprietor of Stag's Leap Winery, recalls a night a few years ago when he lit up on the terrace of a restaurant in Napa Valley only to have the waitress tell him another diner objected. Rather than putting out his cigar or arguing that smoking outdoors shouldn't bother anyone, Doumani left the restaurant; as he passed the complaining party's table, the man said, loudly, "Only assholes smoke cigars." When Doumani pointed out that he was leaving, the man repeated himself: "Only assholes smoke cigars."

On another occasion, in another Napa Valley restaurant, Doumani was startled to smell the potent perfume on a woman at a nearby table. It overpowered everything on his plate and everything on his guests' plates. But he didn't say anything until later, when both parties were through eating, and he took his cigar out and she complained to the waiter. Doumani then told the waiter, "Will you please tell the lady that when she gets rid of that perfume, I'll put my cigar out."

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