Santa Monica, California, is many wonderful things. A cigar lover’s paradise, however, is not one of them in this beach community with some of the most restrictive smoking laws in the state since the 1980s. Smoking a cigar here on Main Street—inside or outside—is not generally welcome and is, in fact, unlawful in many public places. Unless, of course, you happen to visit Hollywood Smoke, the only tobacco store in Santa Monica where you can still sit and enjoy a cigar, claims owner Greg Shahbazian.
“We are grandfathered in,” says Shabazian. “We also have a good landlord.”
Hollywood Smoke is in a complex of buildings that used to be owned by Arnold Schwarzenegger, one time governor of California. Schwarzenegger sold the building, but maintains an office in the complex.
The doors to Hollywood Smoke are both open on a typically gorgeous day, temperature 70 degrees, as people who were at the beach walk by. Visitors sit in one of a dozen seats, some the prototypical overstuffed leather club chairs found in cigar stores all over the world. The space is small, let’s say intimate. The humidor is visible from anywhere in the store and holds a selection of fine cigars.
“We’ve become a showcase for new cigars,” Shahbazian says, explaining the sales challenges of a store in hostile territory. “People come in and buy a couple of sticks to try, then they go online to buy if they like them. It’s hard to compete.” The selection of cigars is somewhat limited to what sells, but Shahbazian said he can get any brand upon request from a customer.
The humidor holds a good number of Liga Privada, Tatuaje, Joya de Nicaragua, and, on this day, an empty box of Chateau Fuente. Devin McGuire, the store’s manager, said they sell a lot of Avo, Undercrown and Balmoral. If you want to smoke your own, there’s officially a $10 cutting fee. McGuire jokes that he doubles it if he doesn’t like you.
A Partagas Legend Toro Leyenda and a leather chair capture my interest. McGuire graciously provides a bottle of water. No booze is sold here, just soft drinks. Visitors are free to bring in food.
Hollywood Smoke has its fans. As you might imagine, a few are in show business, so it wasn’t a surprise to overhear a phone conversation that included the question, “Well, do you have an American agent?” The crowd here might be among the most interesting and amusing of any you’ll find in a cigar lounge. So, it was a natural setting for part of Jerry Seinfeld’s Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee episode with fellow comedian Bill Burr.
The fun begins when the two funnymen sit and light up. Seinfeld is smoking a Cuban Cohiba, Burr a Cuban Partagás. Neither is a novice. (Seinfeld and Steve Harvey enjoy cigars at Biggs Cigar Emporium in Chicago in another episode of the show.)
“How often will you have a cigar?” Seinfeld asks Burr.
“Well, I’ve been smokin’ ‘em way too much lately.” Burr explains. “I kinda got to know some people out here and they had the cigars I liked and I made the mistake of filling up my humidors.”
“’I kinda got to know some people,’” Seinfeld repeats, rolling his neck. “That could be the beginning of all kinds of horrible eventualities. ‘I kinda got to know some people.’ Anything could come after that line. A lot of terrorists probably….’So, how’d you get into terrorism? Suicide bombers, right?’ ‘I kinda got to know some people.’”
The two crack up.
“You know how into cigars I am?” Burr asks. “I smoke it all the way down like a roach.”
“Smokin’ past the band! That’s the Bill Burr story,” Seinfeld concludes.
The walls of Hollywood Smoke are covered with faded Cigar Aficionado covers and other cigar-themed art. Most interesting is a painting of a photo of Spanky from the Our Gang comedies puffing on a stogie. Also present, though without a cigar, is a poster of a young Frank Sinatra’s 1938 mugshot from the Bergen County, New Jersey sheriff’s office. Just a few conversation starters.
Also on the walls are memorabilia from the local fire departments. McGuire says the shop participates in raising funds for causes supporting firefighters and, so, helmets, coats and other paraphernalia are on display at the shop.
Hollywood Smoke sells the usual cigar accessories, but the focus here is, understandably, that you can find this sanctuary in Santa Monica to sit comfortably and enjoy a cigar. Grab a double espresso across the street, saunter over to the shop and pick out a “new cigar.” There’s enough there to make a day of it.
3110 Main St #106
Santa Monica, CA 90405
Open Monday through Wednesday: 11 a.m to 10 p.m.
Thursday: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Saturday: Noon to midnight
Sunday: noon to 10 p.m.