The Good Old Smoky Days

The Good Old Smoky Days
Photo/Michael Grimm
The French Laundry has an after-dinner, cigar-smoking program, albeit on its outdoor terrace.

It can be tiresome listening to people wax nostalgic about the good old days—you know when plumbing was outdoors and children worked in factories—but reading the Gourmet section of the Good Life Guide in the February 2019 issue of Cigar Aficionado I have to plead guilty to getting a little sentimental myself sometimes.

My colleague David Savona reviewed the restaurant 1000 North, in Jupiter, Florida. The thrust was that the newly opened establishment is a place where you can smoke cigars and eat at the same time. A couple decades ago, this would not have been news. Today, it’s an anomaly. These days, just finding a place to smoke indoors (and in some places outdoors) can be a chore—and that’s without the convenience of any food service.

I’m embarrassed to say that reading about 1000 North made me almost maudlin about the old days, when not only could you enjoy a cigar in most bars, but there was no shortage of places you could light up right at the dinner table. Places in New York City like Sparks Steak House, Angelo & Maxie’s, Del Frisco’s and Keens Chophouse (which we will feature in the April issue) were grandiose places where you could eat and smoke in style as long as you observed sensible smoking-area restrictions. 

Well, enough crying in my bonded Bourbon Manhattan. The point of this is that I recently discovered a cigar friendly haven in the most unlikely of places: the California wine country. This example doesn’t exactly parallel the establishments mentioned above in smoker friendliness, but I was surprised to find out that The French Laundry—a restaurant in Yountsville that ranks among the premier gourmet-dining spots in the world—has an after-dinner, cigar-smoking program, albeit on its outdoor courtyard. And while it doesn’t encourage smoking, it does recognize that for many diners it can be the perfect end to a perfect meal.

The reason I was even googling the Thomas Keller restaurant was that I’d heard that it had an outstanding spirits menu, mostly meant as digestifs. When I got to the site I found that beneath the 100 or so liquors were also listed another five-dozen cigars. This eatery was suggesting that the perfect addendum to a great nine-course tasting menu was a whiskey (or brandy, rum, Tequila or Chartreuse) and a fine cigar.

And there are many of them for offer. The menu comprises Nicaraguans (including Padróns and My Fathers), Dominicans (with Fuentes, Davidoffs and Nat Shermans) and Hondurans (Alec Bradleys and Rocky Patels) as well as pre-embargo Cubans. Keller has a close relationship with Davidoff, with whom he has participated in a special blend.

The sommelier, Erik Johnson, describes the spirits offering in a place so closely identified with wine as “an opportunity to expand the experience for our guests after dinner. So the idea was something to be enjoyed with desert or something to be had with a cigar outside, something to continue the experience that matches the same kind of quality and exceeding the expectation of your dinner or lunch.”

That kind of treatment would certainly exceed my expectations. Of course, what comes with it is an expensive addition to a tariff, which is already at nose-bleed elevations. (Entry level is $20 a stick and you can pay as much as $795 for a Cuban from the year 1893.)

It might be a while before I can break my piggybank for it, but still it’s a start at recapturing something heavenly from the good old days.