Postscripts: Nothing says social distancing quite like a hand-rolled cigar
Quinn Colson, the former U.S. Army Ranger come home to clean up his corruption-giddy rural Mississippi county, is the hero in a series of richly regional mysteries by Ace Atkins, and displays the usual honorable qualities as well as one endearingly human habit: He smokes cigars.
Not just any cigar, however. None of the Swisher Sweets, White Owl or Dutch Master hokum, or Macanudo or Nat Sherman or Rocky Patel, for that matter, though, indeed, in this realm of indulgence, to each his or her own. Quinn Colson likes genuine hand-rolled sticks of tasteful vintage, and, in particular — and I am ever grateful to Atkins for leading me there — the Drew Estate’s classy line called Liga Privada.
For the record, in the earlier Colson novels, our hero also liked La Gloria Cubana, another serious smoke, but for my money not as uniformly smooth as a Liga Privada T 52 corona. (How unfortunate to see the name of a popular cigar size and shape — corona — co-opted by COVID-19.)
Now those who indulge understand that Swisher International, top purveyor of the machine-mades, acquired Drew Estate, with its Nicaragua production operations, several years ago, but did not mess with the prized Liga Privada.
I bring this up because nothing says social distancing quite like smoking a cigar.
Nevertheless, like oases in a desert of banished pleasures, cigar lounges, with their comfy chairs, propeller-scale circulation and filter systems, top-shelf spirits and worthy walk-in humidors have been emerging in these parts, and we only hope they weather the ongoing privations.
Yes, I am a smoker, though lately a dilettante, maybe a cigar a day. Since the ban, decades ago, on smoking in newsrooms took hold, I abandoned the most pleasing by far of American cigarettes, Lucky Strike, and eventually settled down to a daily meditation with cigars.
And, oh, I’ve been around. I have invested (other verbs may be more applicable, but I’m defending the faith) thousands, literally, pursuing those hand-made stogies (Connecticut wrapper, Cuban seed, Central American filler, etc. etc.) that burn honestly to the nib, don’t befoul the experience with boring or indifferent rolling and stale mechanical taste, and in fact, don’t cost a paycheck in a privileged but willing society that generally abides by the rule you get what you pay for.
You do pay. But a good smoke is a good smoke, and the best will burn for close to an hour.
I also will fess up to being a reformed mail order shopper, usually favoring J & R Cigars, based in North Carolina, for my bundle or box purchases, until I came to understand that the benefits of buying retail outweigh the savings of online. To wit, these cigar bars and lounges are vital to the well-being of adults who desire spiritual camaraderie in a hostile world and the leisure of a fine smoke in friendly company.
In this region, we have the upstairs at Thames River Greenery in New London; Cigar Store & More in Center Groton; Vintage Cigar Lounge & Club in downtown Westerly and recently in Charlestown; Richmond Smoke; Mr. J’s Havana Shop in Coventry; Regency Cigar Emporium in East Greenwich and a few more in Providence, and, for those bound for New Hampshire, as I am from time to grandfatherly time, Federal Cigar in downtown Portsmouth.
Generally, they invite memberships and offer personal lockers and discounts for members. Greg Williams, co-owner of the Westerly and Charlestown lounges, told me the other day that close to a third of the memberships at Vintage in Westerly belong to women.
This is the fifth year that Vintage Cigar Lounge will be the vendor at the annual Holy Smoke Cigar Dinner at Enders Island, the Edmundite retreat off the coast of Masons Island in Mystic, though the hugely popular event usually staged in the summer has been pushed back to September because of the coronavirus.
Since the quarantines and lockdowns set in, these cigar refuges have done their best to remain open for retail while prohibiting staying around to smoke or drink.
One note of pragmatic caution for the uninitiated: Though the air circulation, filtering and suction systems do what they are designed to do to keep the smoke drifting upwards, it is best not to wear sweaters, which tend to absorb and carry the redolence of this most pleasurable experience home with the patron and to, perhaps, a still less than appreciative spouse.