Many cigar smokers have a “home base” – a club, bar, or lounge they frequent where “everybody knows your name.” When you travel you might be looking for this same kind of feeling, and in fact there are plenty of places that just feel like your home away from home when you travel. There’s one crucial point that makes or breaks a good cigar smoking spot, but let’s get to the less crucial points first.
A knowledgeable staff is pretty important to a good cigar bar or lounge, especially if you are looking for recommendations. Even if you know exactly what you want to smoke a knowledgeable staff can accommodate you with the right cutter (if you only packed a carry-on), the right lighter (since you can’t take a torch on a plane at all), or even just the latest industry knowledge about your favorite smoke. But more than anything else the staff are there to help you make a great selection, to listen to your preferences, and to ensure you have an enjoyable visit to their establishment.
The environment is also key to enjoying your visit to a cigar shop. If there are hard plastic chairs arranged in a way that would make conversation difficult, that shop is probably not inviting you to hang around after your purchase. There should be excellent ventilation wherever you go – no one wants to hang out in a stagnate cloud of smoke. The temperature should be reasonable – not too hot in the summer and not too cold in the winter. The televisions or music should be kept at a reasonable volume unless there is a special event or sporting event going on. Look for a place with comfortable chairs and couches, dining room setups, or even a well appointed outdoor lounge area. Patrons should not only be able to get comfortable, they should also feel welcome and have a chance to get to know some new folks.
Take a look at the selection. There should be something for everyone in every price range. Beware of “tourist trap” shops with sky-high prices. It helps to ask around before you hit your destination to find a reputable shop in the area. Also make note of the condition of the cigars – is there a lot of mold? Are the cigars being kept under careful humidification? Is there mold growing inside the humidor? These are red flags that the inventory is not being well cared for.
A bar is a nice thing to have as long as it has a good selection of bourbons, whiskeys, beers, wines, and cocktails. Most cigar smokers like to enjoy a wide variety of beverages with their cigars, though of course I recommend American Whiskey, particularly bourbon. This is more of a nicety than a necessity, though.
There’s one thing above all else that can make or break a cigar lounge experience, however. A few years back I was interviewing Jose Blanco for a story. We were talking about the popularity of large ring gauge cigars in the United States and he switched gears.
“Maggie, what’s the one thing that can ruin a good cigar?” he asked me.
I thought about it for a second and ultimately decided there was no guess I could make in talking to Jose Blanco that would sound remotely educated, so I responded that I didn’t know.
“Smoking it next to an asshole,” he replied.
And that’s really what the cigar lounge experience should be all about. You should get great customer service, have a comfy chair in which to enjoy your selection, the opportunity to talk to some new folks, and, more than anything, you should not have to contend with the assholes of the world if just for that brief moment.
Photos Courtesy of Maggie Kimberl