The Sweet Smell of Success

The cigar is back and hipper than ever. And Dallas aficionados tell us just how sweet it is.

ON A RECENT CRISP FALL EVENING, THE BANQUET ROOM of Morton’s of Chicago steak house at 501 Elm vibrates with the laughter and throaty voices of a cadre of well-heeled rebels. The dense blue smoke of 50 odd fine cigars swirls through the air. It’s a sight for sore and perhaps old-fashioned eyes, You sense that somewhere in a cloudy heaven Sigmund Freud and Orson Welles must be happy. This group of elite Dallasites is united by a common and smoky cause. With a sampling of three different snifters of Rémy Martin cognac each after a dinner of salmon canapes, New York strip, Lyonnaise potatoes, and cheesecake dessert, these bankers, doctors, lawyers, and tycoons are settling down not to debate another nonsmoking ordinance, but quite the opposite-to indulge in a passion for premium cigars. Welcome to the ’90s version of the traditional “smoker,” complete with a multicultural cast and-with a next-on-“Donahue” lilt-women who smoke cigars!

It’s an event that recalls the tradition of gentlemen’s clubs, where women were strictly verboten and the affairs of businesses, corporations, and governments were conducted by men like Winston Churchill who clutched cigars as enormous and powerful as themselves. And to those of you who feared Teddy Roosevelt’s choice of smoke was fading into oblivion, take note: cigars are hip. While cigarette smokers increasingly seem to need a scarlet letter (or patch), cigar smokers are enjoying a renaissance, a resurgence of appeal tor this pastime that suffers disapproval in elevators but acceptance in boardrooms.

Perhaps Brad Sham, Cowboys play-by-play announcer for KVIL, sums up the phenomenon best: “After a truly good meal, an outstanding cigar is still the most satisfying after-dinner activity that doesn’t involve two human beings.” Yet Sham admits a basic conflict in that desire to mix dining with cigars: “I haven’t really found a cigar-friendly restaurant, but I have an incredibly understanding wife, and she doesn’t have any problem with me smoking cigars at home. Because of that I rarely smoke cigars out anymore. In fact I have friends whose wives won’t let them smoke cigars so they come over to our house.”

Mike Boswell, a prominent Dallas investor, puts it this way: “I’ve gotten to the point where I kind of feel like I could go to the Cotton Bowl on a Wednesday afternoon, sit in the end zone, light up a cigar, and some little old lady in tennis shoes and an umbrella would immediately appear and bash me on the head. So I just don’t try to smoke cigars in public.”

Ironically, this element of politically correct disapproval may be fueling the return of the cigar to its place of prominence. In 1993s thriller Demolition Man, Denis Leary leads a diehard faction of politically incorrect rebels who do their best to thwart the sinister do-good plans of futuristic California, and he proclaims his defiance by saying, “I want to smoke big fat smelly Cuban cigars and like it!”

Pete Fennell, manager of the Galleria’s Up In Smoke shop, says that business has probably never been better. “It’s a basic fact that if you tell some-one not to do something, that’s going to make them want to do it,” Fennell explains. He tells of one woman who changed her anti-smoking stance after hearing horror stories of intolerance. “People have been spat on, stabbed, and one woman was even hog-tied in a restaurant and they called the police to come get her, while she was in the smoking section. She sued and won two million dollars out of that incident.”

The trend might also be an expression of a fin de siècle need for indulgence. As a recent New York Times article, “Hints of Arrogant Greed Suggest an ’80s Revival,” proclaimed: “Ostentation [is] making a comeback.” Media figures in particular serve as supremely visible advertisers of the trend. Rush Limbaugh, Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg, and “Seinfeld’s” Kramer all smoke cigars. In terminally hip L.A., cigar fever is burning. The Dallas Morning News recently reported how wildly popular cigar night is at Arnold Schwarzenegger’s restaurant, Schatzi, in Santa Monica: usually the affair is booked two months in advance. In less-trendy Dallas, perhaps this feeling of a return to the high-rolling ’80s simply feels too good to pass by.

John Barton, Up In Smoke’s area manager, sees other reasons for the increase in popularity: “We now have the highest caliber product that we’ve ever seen, at least in the free world. There’s fierce competition for a quality product, and this is the best we’ve seen for years. And the camaraderie that’s evolved with it is important. You can talk about sports, you can talk about your golf game, and now people-men in particular-are chatting about cigars.”

While their explanations for the trend diverge, cigar aficionados are united by their passion for the cigar. The cigar, they say, is pure pleasure. “A cigar is totally different than a cigarette,” says Jack. Vaughn, a native Dallasite and oil executive. “I don’t know any cigar smoker who inhales the smoke. They’re in it for the taste and the aroma. I put fine cigars on the same pedestal as I put a fine bottle of Bordeaux or any other fine hottle of wine. I don’t smoke every day. I probably smoke a half dozen cigars a month, I would guess, usually in conjunction with a night out, afine meal, some fine wine or cognac. I also smoke them at sporting events, in open air arenas. I had one at the Texas-OU game. At the Cotton Bowl you get a few snickers here and there but I’ve never had anyone really ask me not to smoke at a football game, which is interesting. And I don’t like cigarette smoking. Cigars, on the other hand, are a luxury.”

Mike Boswell agrees with that distinction between cigarettes as addiction and cigars as passion: “I’ve been smoking cigars all of my adult life,” he says. “Two or three times I’ve quit because it was inconvenient or I couldn’t get them or I had a bad sinus condition. And I have not the slightest problem quitting. 1 can go three weeks without smoking acigar and not feel anything other than a little tingle that ’Gosh, a cigar sure would taste good right now.’ But usually I’ll smoke three to five a day.”

Drew Pearson, former star receiver of the Dallas Cowboys, attests to the pleasure of a good cigar. “I’ve been smoking cigars since way back in my playing days. After an away game I couldn’t wait to get back on the plane and light up a cigar. It gave me a feeling of relaxation, a feeling of being in control of my senses after playing a tough game. And it started to catch on with the rest of the team. Even Roger Staubach smoked one a couple times. Imagine that small space of a plane filled with cigar smoke. It made Coach Landry’s hair stand up,” he says, laughing.

Pearson’s own Sports 88 Grill is a cigar-friendly establishment. “When the owner smokes cigars, it has to be,” he says. From his perspective in the restaurant business, Pearson has witnessed the trend gain ground locally. “In our restaurant 1 know it’s increasing. As these expensive cigars let off a nice aroma, we’re finding less people complaining and more and more cigar smokers coming out of the closet. It’s always been a status symbol in a way, but it’s becoming more so. And you know it’s becoming popular when you see some ladies even smoking cigars.”

The role of women and cigars is complex and evolving. In Holy Smoke, a witty history of cigare published in 1986, G. Cabrera Infante quotes film director Samuel Fuller as saying, “A woman is just a script, but a cigar is a motion picture.” While the cigar world certainly remains male-dominated, the increasing number of women who smoke cigars might reverse that quote and reduce man to the role of camera. Cigars, say women, are not exclusively masculine,

Glory Cato, a twentysomething technical writer, explains what she sees as the allure of the cigar for women. “There’s a certain mystique to women cigar smokers. I know what drew me to it was the George Sand image–the rebel, the daredevil kind of woman. When you’re a woman smoking a cigar in public you get the most incredible reactions. It’s like the circus coming to town. Men will come over and say, ’I can’t believe you’re smoking a cigar. It’s incredible. 1 love to see a woman who smokes a cigar.’ That’; a lot of fun. My boyfriend and I went to Sipangoone night, and we were both smoking our cigars at the bar, and this lady made a comment on how great it was to see me smoking a cigar. And she said, ’I just love the smell of cigars.1 It reminded her of her grandfather! That’s kind of a differen angle,” she laughs.

But Cato notes the sexual undertones of cigars and will hardly accept the grandfather image as anything but a joke. “To me it’s a very sensuous, a very sexually symbolic-laden activity. I mean what could be more feminine than clasping this beautiful phallic-shaped instrument in your hand? Men just watch in awe when a woman licks the end of it, gets it prepared lovingly. If you’re going to do it you have to do it with gusto.”

Pam Roberts, presicent and CEO of The Roberts Group, a strategic marketing firm, thinks that worren control their own image as cigar smokers. “It’s like anything-it’s the woman herself and how she carries herself, The cigar smoking women whom I ’ve met a re extremely confident. They’re doing this because they enjoy it, and it’s something they might share with their spouse or mate or whoever. 1 don’t think it either detracts or adds to your femininity.”

ShannaCashman,asales representative for The Julius Schepps Company, admits that women have not been universally embraced in the cigar smoking world. “The cliché is it’s a woman trying to be a man. That’s the first im bression of many people. You get comments like ’You’re not holding it right’ or ’You’re not supposed to inhale.’ Men just automatically assume you don’t know what you’re doing. And there’s nothing feminine about holding a cigar. It goes back to what people see, how women try to play off or be what’s expected of them. I’ve seen women smoke small thin cigars, and I think that doesn’t put off other people as much as :he fat cigars.”

When asked if there’s a particular size or style of cigar that’s most appropriate for women, Glory Cato ref jses any limitations. “1 like a wide variety, with Cubans being my favorite. I tried the panatelas, the little dainty ones. But they just didn’t do it forme. If I’m going to smoke a cigar, 1 want Co smoke a real cigar.” Her favorite is the Cuban Romeo y Julietta. “There’s nothing like going to a restaurant and lighting up a Cuban. But each cigar has its own flavor and smell. You can get into a coffee taste, a nutty taste, or a kind of chocolatey taste.”

As much as the flavor, cigar smokers enjoy the image and physicality of the act. Drew Pearson confesses, “I like the way it sits in my hand, the feel of it.” John Barton adds, “Some people like it as a prop, something to have in their hand as they are talking on the phone, waving their hand around while they’re puffing on a cigar. It goes along with what type of deal they’re trying to work. In the course of a business decision some cigar smokers can really get to puffing.”

And aficionados are often known for these smoking idiosyncrasies. Some light only with wooden matches; some use a butane lighter, holding it away from themselves; others “puff and roll.” Some smokers take a lighter and warm up their cigars before lighting them. Perhaps the most controversial smoking idiosyncrasy concerns the band that most cigars have: some leave on the band to proclaim their cigar’s quality, while others find the band ostentatious.

J. Owens, co-owner of Servi-Cigar, a retail shop in Dallas, thinks hand-showing is irritating and argues that cigars are not meant to be a status symbol. “If I go to a restaurant and see a man smoking a cigar, I can tell at one glance whether he’s enjoying it or whether he’s just trying to impress people.”

Most aficionados agree that while image-making may be important to trend-followers, what has brought the cigar back and will keep it back are the good taste of cigars and the relaxation that comes from smoking. “A good cigar is really something to be treasured and cherished,” asserts Brad Sham. “That’s probably why I don’t smoke more of them. You hate to rush it. If you smoke good cigars you need to devote a little time. If I’m going to smoke a cigar 1 like to have an hour to sit down and contemplate, look out at the sunset or whatever.”

Perhaps they all feel so relaxed because of the rich tobacco buzz. “To be quite honest,” says Glory Cato, “when I first started smoking cigars I was amazed at the high I got. I asked my boyfriend, ’Wow, is this legal?’ Drew Pearson notes, “There’s quite a few that are powerful not only in their aroma, but also in the kick you feel.”

Pam Roberts emphasizes how smoking relaxes the tensions between men and women. “I love it because it is bringing back the art of conversation. From a woman’s point of view it’s nice because it gives you an opportunity to talk to men in a nonsexual way. Because of the time involved, you can’t just sit there and have a soundbite conversation. There’s also a certain level of comfort because you’re sharing a similar taste. You’re sharing a good liquor or scotch and a good cigar. It’s great.”

Of course, not everyone is ready to embrace cigars and their smokers. In the smoking room at Servi-Cigar, AI Ramirez asked just where those women who like cig-ars are. But as far as complaints about their smoking are concerned, aficionados downplay the issue. Most respond that they still don’t smoke in public unless they feel certain no one will be offended. Yes, this means many restaurants, bars, and sports arenas (TexasStadium, for one) remain off-limits. But for what’s been called “the world’s last great indulgence,” it seems some minor sacrifices are worth it.

“After years of suffering in exile, cigars are back.

-MARVIN R. SHANKEN, EDITOR AND PUBLISHER, ClGAR AFICIONADO MAGAZINE



Evelyn Waugh declared that he would consider himself happy if only he could have, in that order, a decent meal a day with a bottle of wine and a Havana cigar.

-FROM HOLY SMOKE, BY G. CABRERA INFANTE

Orson Welles once said that he made movies to be able to smoke cigars for free.

-FROM HOLY SMOKE, BY G. CABRERA INFANTE

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