Sense of (Smoking) Place

A blog I wrote recently about having a cigar at New York's Explorer's Club got me thinking about smoking venues and the idea that where—and when—you smoke can be as important as what you smoke.

The aforementioned smoking experience was so good because it was a) virtually unplanned (cigar serendipity is always a delight), b) enjoyed with friends and a whisky (don't get me started on the latter) and c) partaken in a classic smoking atmosphere (the clubby ambience of a venerable old institution).

Was that the perfect smoking situation? I would say, “Yes,” except that I’ve enjoyed cigars in many contexts that were far different from that and which I also might regard as perfect. (At least I’m not ready to assess the relative merits each and declare one better than the other.) Does the Explorer’s Club experience beat smoking a cigar alone on my deck? It did that night, but many’s the time I want that solitude and am unwilling to share it.

In the early days of Cigar Aficionado, we ran a column called “Great Moments” in which readers would write about their prize cigar experiences. So many of them described idyllic scenes like climbing to the top of mountain and breaking out a long-saved Cuban or one-on-one bonding (especially of the father-and-son variety) over Corona Gordas, that I wondered if I were completely insensitive because I also treasured situations that were more clamorous. As well as the philosophical smoking moment, I also enjoy nothing better than playing cards or pool with a bunch of guys who are just shooting the shit while smoking up the joint to their hearts content. Could the two truths coexist?

Years ago, I wrote a Cigar Aficionado article about what were essentially the cigar rooms of the rich and famous. I discovered that the smoke-atoriums installed at some of the great Gilded Age estates were all different. Some were little dens meant for a maximum two people to smoke in peace while dressed in smoking jacket and fez. Others were great halls where the male contingent of a large banquet would take their postprandial cigar and Cognac, dressed in white tie and tails. Obviously, both worked or they wouldn’t have built a mansion around each idea. Different strokes—or should I say stokes—for different folks.

But what really convinced me that great smoking can be done in a huge range of venues was when I arrived at my first Big Smoke. It was the polar opposite of a cigar enjoyed in pensive isolation. This was two thousand of my soon-to-be best friends proudly brandishing lit cigars, bonding over them and celebrating their right to smoke them together. You couldn’t get a serious thought in edgewise. And I loved it. I marched in knowing two things: a) I was going to have a great time regardless of the particular cigar I smoked and b) my suit would need dry cleaning at the end of the night.

Since that day, some 15 years ago, I’ve gone to dozens of Big Smokes and they’ve never failed to elicit the same sense of excitement. I still felt it two weeks ago at the Big Smoke Las Vegas and I fully expect the same experience on November 30 when I go to another Big Smoke, this one in New York.

When all is done, I will still crave that cigar on my deck by myself—especially when I’m done being Santa Claus. But that’s part of the beauty of cigar smoking. Not only does it bring different people together, but it allows for enjoyment in a spectrum of contradictory conditions. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em—whatever the situation.

"And as a supporting example to your theory I would argue that Corona any where other than a beach in Mexico is barely beer...but it tastes pretty darn good in Playa del Carmen" —November 29, 2011 22:15 PM
"hats off to all involved in vegas 2011, smoke, including the people in attendance, the experience, was as rewarding as last years first. the davidoff store , champagne bash was the icing on the cake. greeting alec rubin , and the patels , over the top. yes a quiet smoke on the deck, works. but we are all social animals, with a common love." —November 27, 2011 23:37 PM
"Well put...sometimes you just want to be alone with your favorite stogie, and contemplate the meaning of life ( or what makes this smoke so good), and other times you want to be with others who appreciate the joy of a good just depends on days I guess...but in the end, it's all good, isn't it?" —November 15, 2011 19:37 PM