Walking through the Reno-Tahoe airport, big-lighted signs entice you to go big-game hunting and other signs tell you that the likes of David Spade will be performing at one of the big casinos. Now, if instead of a bighorn sheep, you could go after David Spade….
I'm in Reno to give a talk at the cattlemen's convention. There is no cow hunting being offered, unless you count searching for the biggest steak in "the biggest little city in the world." Of course, beef is on the menu at every meal during this gathering, so what I really want to find is a place to smoke a cigar in peace. I call my "advisers" at a certain magazine and Web site in New York City and am guided to Fumare, a tobacco shop owned by Dion Giolito, rock drummer and the creator of Illusione, whose cg:4 is No. 7 among Cigar Aficionado's Top 25 cigars of 2007.
I had not met Giolito before this trip. His store is in one of the many interchangeable strip malls you see in the western United States. But Giolito's shop is special. First, Giolito has a great supply not only of Illusiones, but probably one of the biggest offerings of Tatuaje cigars outside of Beverly Hills. The rest of the selection in Fumare's humidor, which Giolito built himself, is superb. Every price range is represented and, more importantly, every taste is easily satisfied by something in the room.
Figuring that I've got to get to my hotel and actually write my speech, I picked out an Illusione that I had not tried before, the 68, a four-inch, 44-ring gauge, short smoke also known as the "Bombones." I started talking with Giolito and, when he got called away by customers, I joined the small group of regulars in the store's back room. I ended up spending two hours at the shop. The cigar, which I figured would last about 30 minutes, took me nearly an hour to smoke. It was one of the most enjoyable little cigars I've ever had. And it packs a very smooth punch.
I left Fumare with a number of recommendations for where to go to dinner and where to smoke after dinner not only within walking distance of my hotel, but within the hotel complex where I was staying. I had a room at the Silver Legacy, a perfectly nice hotel downtown. The Legacy, as locals know it, is connected to the Circus Circus and El Dorado hotels. You don't have to go outside (it's 30 degrees during my visit) to get from one to the other. Excellent. Two of the three recommended cigar-friendly destinations are in the El Dorado. The third, the Polo Lounge, is in another of those strip malls a few minutes' cab ride away.
I figured I'd get out of the hotel and check out the Polo Lounge. I called first just to confirm that it was indeed receptive to my enjoying another of the Top 25 cigars on the list, the San Cristobal Monumento (No. 12). The guy who answered the phone said that, indeed, I could smoke a cigar at the Polo Lounge, as long as none of the "players" objected. The bar has video gambling machines and if any of the suckers—er, patrons—didn't like the smoke, I would have to put out my cigar. The lesson here: with all the changing laws and sensitivities, call ahead.
I did the same in checking out the Roxy Bistro and Brew Brothers at the El Dorado, even though both were a short walk from my room. Both allowed smoking, but Brew Brothers only after it stopped serving food at 10 p.m. I headed for the bar at the Roxy.
This was not my usual perch for a happy hour cigar. The Roxy is both a restaurant and, in a separate room, a piano bar. You're free to smoke at the bar or in the piano lounge just upstairs. There, you'll hear a chanteuse more than capably handling standards and an occasional Norah Jones song and even Jobim in the original Portuguese. The pianist is very good. The martini list is too big. The ashtrays are too small.
Still, the Roxy is a relaxed lounge in which to sit and enjoy a smoke and catch up with some of the best beef producers in the world. We blast through happy hour and decide not to have steak for dinner. We make our way to La Strada, a very worthy Italian restaurant in the El Dorado, and persuade the bartender to put on the Duke-North Carolina basketball game. I have a too-large plate of fettuccine Bolognese, still somewhat in the beef family, and a glass of Aglianico, a very generous pour.
After dinner, it's still too early to hit Brew Brothers and sit down with the Coronado by La Flor Double Corona (Cigar Aficionado's best free-world cigar of 2006, technically second behind a Cuban) I have in my pocket, so I take a walk around the casino, where smoking is permitted. Reno attracts a different player, it seems, than Vegas. There are a lot of military guys. There are also a lot of guys who look as if they're just killing time until they get up the next morning to go hunt some of those bighorn sheep, but I discover that the season ended at least a couple of months earlier. Maybe they are going after David Spade.
Alejandro Benes is a partner in a group of restaurants in Southern California that sold 1.8 million pounds of beef in 2007. They cooked it first.
907 West Moana Lane
Roxy Bistro & Brew Brothers
El Dorado Hotel Casino
1559 South Virginia St.