The late Puerto Rican actor Raul Julia is quoted as saying, “maybe it’s like becoming one with the cigar. You lose yourself in it; everything fades away: your worries, your problems, your thoughts. They fade into the smoke, and the cigar, and you are at peace.”
The quote came to mind in a recent discussion with a non-cigar smoking friend about the spaces available for cigar enthusiasts in SA.
Cigars are still a relatively niche hobby here, something to partake in when celebrating events or milestones. The reality is that cigars continue to be perceived by many as a novelty, like that special bottle of Champagne waiting for the right moment or the Montblanc pen that only comes out when big deals are being signed.
As a result, even spaces that purport to be cigar friendly are either an after-thought or tacked onto a venue, such as live music, a fancy bar, hectic dress code and the like. That’s not to say that there aren’t occasions when one wants to be out and about (well, at least prior to the pandemic and the associated lockdowns) but the choice would be nice.
When you talk to any serious cigar enthusiast, most of the associated bells and whistles are overkill and not actually conducive to cigar smoking, but there are a few essentials.
Time and space
I have often likened smoking a cigar to meditation. You can’t rush a cigar. When you light one, you are committing yourself to sitting for an extended period to savour the flavours, taking time for yourself, whether alone or in the company of others. You, therefore, want to be in a place that allows for this, without commotion, without anyone pushing you to eat more, or drink more. You want to be able to have a meeting, or conversation, or sit with a laptop and work, in the same way that coffee shops, at some stage, became the go to work spot.
A lot of venues bundle cigar smokers into smoking rooms — which are rarely comfortable spaces to spend a relaxing hour or two — or you are forced to spend your time outside, which is fine, weather permitting and that’s what you want.
While most of us always ensure that we are carrying backup sticks when out and about, it is always nice to find a place with a well-stocked humidor from which you can sample. I have found that most places have a limited offering of what I consider the “usual suspects” — Partagás, Cohiba, Hoyo de Monterrey, Montecristo and Romeo y Julieta — usually at prohibitive prices.
In addition, it is important to have the appropriate lighters and cutters. The three main types of cutters, the straight/guillotine, the wedge/V-cutter and the hole punch, with the perfect cut being about preference and, at times, the type and size of cigar.
Familiarity and comfort
Most people have their preferred lounge, where there is a familiarity. Cue the theme song from Cheers, the 1980s/90s American sitcom:
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
And you want a place that is designed to be comfortable, with lounges and armchairs that welcome you at the start of the day, whether for breakfast, a meeting and a cigar, at the end of a long day, when you are looking to unwind, or in-between, when you just want a cigar and some time.
Where do you go?
I have found it hard to find lounges like those across the country. A random online search for cigar lounges serves up a limited number of spaces and, often, the places have since closed down. It would be nice to provide a list of cigar friendly spots but, to do so, it needs your input.
So, the question I leave you with is “Where do you go?” Let us know and we will shine a light on it where possible.