Cigars in Boston

Welcoming the Dems with a Few Good Smokes

In an effort to bring you the best and most timely information, in one evening I ventured into the heart of impending lunacy to bring you, the delegate, the journalist, the spin doctor and the curious, the skinny on where to smoke in Boston. I visited three of Boston's cigar bars just before the Democrats convene. A word of caution: do not try this at home.

Simply put, finding a comfortable place to have a cigar in Boston became difficult a year or so ago when the city fell under restrictive regulations and became more difficult on July 1, 2004, when a Massachusetts law took effect. For a cigar bar to operate, for example, it must derive 60 percent or more of its revenues from tobacco sales. This can be a delicate balance and a bit schizophrenic for the establishments that are in the business. They need to sell more from their humidor than from their bar. The result is that two of the three destinations I'm going to tell you about don't serve spirits and stay open for long hours to pump up tobacco sales. If you're in Boston the last week of July for convention business -- the program begins at 4 p.m. each of the four days -- you have plenty of daylight to enjoy Cigar Masters or Churchill's. Stanza dei Sigari is a strictly nocturnal adventure. Where you end up depends in large measure on where you're staying.

Cigar Masters
Cigar Masters is a classic cigar café that you would have found prevalent in the mid-1990s at the height of the cigar boom, which is around the time the establishment opened on Newbury Street, Boston's major shopping district. This Back Bay oasis, which for the past two years has been at its new location on Boylston Street, is full of plush leather couches and a comfortable bar between the front and back rooms. Brooke Leahy, the general manager, says the bar usually gets busy around 9 p.m., after diners from any of a number of steak houses or fine restaurants wander in. Before the smoking ban, they could have stayed at, say, Morton's (a block away) and enjoyed an after-dinner cigar.

"We had more regulars before the smoking ban," Leahy says. "Now we have more drop-ins." Leahy thinks Cigar Masters will attract a good number of Democrats during the convention. She pauses and remembers to be inclusive.

"We try to be nonpartisan," Leahy says, clearly implying that Boston is a Democrat stronghold. "We'll welcome Republicans as much as we usually do."

Cigar Masters has a fairly large humidor and a very wide selection of beers, wines and Ports. No hard liquor here. The biggest-selling cigar brand is Ashton, but you can opt for a Padrón Anniversario Torpedo for $22.50 or a $4 Macanudo Caviar Café. Take note: if you want to smoke a cigar you brought with you, there's a $10 "lighting fee." That's how Cigar Masters, open from 10 a.m. to midnight, helps keep the revenue split on the right side of the smoking laws.

Cigar Masters
745 Boylston Street
10 a.m. to midnight

Churchill's Lounge at David P. Ehrlich Co.
Churchill's Lounge is housed inside the second-oldest tobacco store in the United States. (Can you name the oldest?) Founded in 1868, Ehrlich has been owned by only two families, the Ehrlichs and, now, the Macdonalds.

"We're hoping the Democrats are thirsty," Barry Macdonald explains says. If they are, they'll Churchill's will have beer, wine and Port available. Macdonald says that not offering spirits was a conscious decision based on the cost of the liquor license and the management of the 60 percent sales threshold for tobacco. The single-malts would tilt the balance, don't you know.

The establishment, truly divided between tobacco store and bar, is open from 9 a.m. to midnight. Like almost any other bar in town, the conversation is less convention and more the sorry state of the Red Sox. Jim, the bartender, explains that a colleague is distressed by the previous evening's loss to the Orioles.

"Poor Chris, he comes in after me," Jim explains. "Thank God we're on the first floor. He can't hurt himself when he jumps out the window." This passes for big humor in Boston. Ya gotta laugh when there's a 30 percent tobacco excise tax.

The humidor has a decent selection, with some real gems. I enjoyed a $7 Joya de Nicaragua Consul Antaño. (No lighting fee here.) Curiously, the humidor is locked, but often the key is in the lock and you just let yourself in. The pipe tobacco, of which Ehrlich's sells a large amount, is in plastic bags on the floor and lends a sweetish smell to the humidor.

Churchill's is probably the cigar bar you'll run into if you're a tourist in Boston. It's right across the street from Faneuil Hall and Durgin Park, possibly the restaurant with the surliest servers on the East Coast (and proud of it!). The store/bar is in the Millenium Millennium Bostonian Hotel and borders the Financial District and the North End.

Churchill's Lounge
40 North Street
9 a.m. to midnight

Stanza dei Sigari
As you approach Boston's version of Little Italy, the North End, you'll see lots of old, historic stuff. Boston, as you might imagine, is really big on that sort of thing. Turning onto Hanover Street, the North End's main drag, you'll see signs for Paul Revere's House and the Freedom Trail. You'll also see numerous pastry shops, restaurants and Caffe Vittoria. Vittoria serves what is arguably the best coffee in town. And at 5 p.m., just next door and downstairs, is, since 1996, Stanza dei Sigari. Stanza advertises itself as "Boston's ultimate cigar bar, alive with all the mystery and glamour of its original 'underground' betting, including an immortal sense of forbidden pleasure and complete escape."

The real mystery is in trying to locate Stanza without the aid of this guide. Find Caffe Vittoria, go next door to 292 Hanover, and proceed down the stairs. There's no big sign, just a statue of some old butler dude in the foyer.

Stanza does have a full liquor license and serves three premium rums, three premium Tequilas, numerous small-batch Bourbons, a lot of Scotch and whisky, and cordials all at fairly reasonable prices. The cigars, premium and pricey, include an Avo No. 2 for $20, a Cohiba (non-Cuban, of course) Churchill for $24 and a Fuente Fuente OpusX robusto for $35. See what I'm talking about when I say "delicate balance"? The booze is cheap, the smokes are not.

You'll enjoy the crowd.
"It's a real mix," explains says Nicole, our excellent server and full-time legislative aid in the statehouse." This is a great place for a drink late at night," she advises. No question. Stanza is open till 1 a.m. and you get the feeling that's not a hard out time.

The place is bigger than it first appears when you enter. To the right of the bar are two other large rooms, so you politicos can caucus. Stanza is full of character and has a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere. And the espresso is just upstairs.

Stanza dei Sigari
292 Hanover Street
5 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Bennett J Alexander covers politics and other amusements.

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