The coldest I've ever been -- with apologies to Mark Twain -- was in San Francisco on a clear summer night while watching the baseball Giants play in Candlestick Park in 1981. That indelibly marked me so that when I would visit Northern California and need to rent a car to drive to Napa or Sonoma, for example, I would never ask for a convertible or try to get an upgrade. This past fall, that all changed.
I was "on assignment," as they say, and I had to visit Silicon Valley to check out a little cigar store I'd heard about in Los Gatos, just south of San Jose. In my rented ragtop, my wife and I cruised down the interstate from Oakland International with the top down. We stopped in Pleasanton for breakfast and a marching band competition, then boogied south, wind in our hair.
Los Gatos is a precious little town, made so by all the usual high-end, expensive stores you'll find in the better malls in America. In Los Gatos, though, they line the streets along with the Lamborghini, Bentley, Ferrari and Rolls dealerships and maybe the best thrift store I've ever been dragged into. When the clock struck noon, I bolted and made my way just up the hill to Fumare.
Fumare, which has been there 13 years, is housed in what the fading paint in front of the building indicates used to be the Los Gatos Soda Works, where the local Archies and Jugheads would go after school in the 1950s to hang out and have a malted beverage. Now there's a patio with a couple of tables outside. I opened the door and was greeted by a gentleman in his 70s who told me his name is "Joe, Crazy Joe." After some pleasantries and Joe's spot-on impression of Jimmy Durante, I perused the wall-and-a-half of cigars inside the front room. There was an excellent selection, all the usual, highly-rated labels, including an Arturo Fuente Don Carlos II, the stick I chose. I was planning to walk around Los Gatos and enjoy the cigar, but if I wanted to stay, I would have been very comfortable in Fumare's lounge.
The reason you can smoke at Fumare, in California, is that it's a tobacco store and a private lounge. You need to be a member to smoke here, but memberships are very reasonable, including daily memberships for $10. It's all very aficionado-friendly.
The lounge is basically a place where you can sit and watch one of two TVs and enjoy a drink, but you're not going to get table service. Joe told me that you can bring your own booze (Fumare does have some glasses) or skip down to the local liquor store and buy a bottle of wine. If you're hungry, there's the Tapestry Bistro next door that'll send someone over to take your order and then deliver your food to Fumare. You also need to check out the bathroom, the walls of which are covered with pennies.
Fumare has a second location, in San Jose near the sports arena where the Sharks play hockey. You can smoke on the patio there. I was not going to hang out at either on this beautiful, warm autumn day when I had a convertible, a great cigar and an hour-long drive to a party in Berkeley.
I lit up and put the top down. We were cruising through Los Gatos and were not tempted to stop. The cigar was very nice and remained so until I hit about 60 mph. Then the wind kicked up and I was not controlling the ash very well. It was getting on my shirt, but I didn't care. Dude, the top was down and I was going fast. Of course, I'm not going to recommend that this is the best way to enjoy a great cigar. But it's not all that bad either.
Fumare was bought nearly two years ago by Adam Whitmyer, his brother and a friend. They're looking into getting a liquor license. Adam's day job is selling luxury cars in Silicon Valley. If a customer buys a Bentley, he says, he'll treat them to a box of cigars from Fumare.
"Usually it's a box of something we have a lot of, but if they spend $400,000 with me and they ask for a specific cigar, I'll try to make that happen," Adam said. Then he asked if I was interested in a Bentley.
Alejandro Benes lives in Southern California where he drives at an average speed of 9 mph on the 101.
Fumare Cigar Lounge
21 College Avenue
Los Gatos, CA
157 West Santa Clara Street
San Jose, CA
Hours for both locations: Mon. to Thurs., Noon to10 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., Noon to 11 p.m.