Sharing the Smoke: Modern Day Tribal Undercurrents of Cigar Smoking

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2013 by cigarshaman

When we walk into a cigar or tobacco shop, one of the most regular items we see is the Native American Indian in full headdress welcoming us as we walk in.  The most prevalent reason for that Indian being there is because American Indians introduced tobacco to Europeans, and the depiction of native people on smoke-shop signs was almost inevitable. As early as the 17th century, European tobacconists used figures of American Indians to advertise their shops.

The question here is: Are there other tribally based undercurrents of cigar smoking?

In a simple answer, I would say: several.

Native American Ceremonial Use

Recently I went to the deserts in California to participate in a Native American type ceremony.  Afterwards, the person facilitating the ceremony gave me a gift.  It was a braid of tobacco, a significant gift of respect and medicine. Being an avid cigar enthusiast, I got curious.

In real short terms, tobacco is central to Native American prayer ceremony. It is offered and smoked as a means of communicating with Spirit.

When prayers were made to the Great Spirit, pre-Columbian Indians made offerings with tobacco, the most valuable substance they possessed. The Cherokee consider these offerings to be contracts with the helper spirits that carry prayers to the creator.

Medicine-men were daily users of tobacco for healing rituals and for communicating with Spirit. Pipe-keepers were required to be of the highest character and moral standards. Tobacco was smoked during official functions such as tribal councils, and when guests visited the lodge. When hunting parties from neighboring tribes met each other in the field, the pipe was smoked among them to demonstrate peaceful intentions. A warrior seeking vision would pack his bowl with a special smoking mixture supplied by the medicine elder and then carry his pipe into the wilderness to pray for up to four days. During this time he would not drink or eat or smoke but concentrate his full attention on ‘crying-for-a-vision’. Only upon returning to the sweat lodge and relating his experiences to the medicine elder was the pipe smoked in contemplation.

Tobacco is a sacred plant in tribal ways, and is believed to carry the prayers of the people. These ceremonies bring comfort and a sense of one-ness with their Creator. Gifting tobacco is a way of showing respect and giving thanks. Above all, tobacco is medicine – not just for communing individually, but for social interaction, personal development, and maintaining a peace.

Modern Day Use and Commonalities

I can see some common themes when it comes to cigar smoking.  Usually we have our own lodges associated with cigars and smoking as well – the cigar lounge.  Think about it.  Where else can you go and comfortably sit with others, and share a smoke?

Most of the time, when we go to a lounge, we are respectful, honorable, and have “council” with people we have business with, or friends we have not seen in a while and discuss our work or lives.  Sometimes we meet there with new people, sharing the smoke and speaking of cigars and new things – displaying our peaceful intentions.

Or perhaps we gather out around the fire pit with a few friends, all light up cigars and discuss everything from the upcoming draft, to politics, to stupid things we did in our twenties.  I guess what I am saying here is that there is a strong draw to fellowship, all based around the practice of smoke.  This is a base tribal instinct of ours, and a healthy peaceful process.

All of this leads back to the tribal undercurrent that exists behind the ceremony that we keep alive, but in a modern way: sharing the smoke.

Cigar Palace and The Montecristo Lounge

Posted in Lounges with tags , , , , , , , on July 28, 2012 by cigarshaman

Located off the beaten path lies the Cigar Palace shop and warehouse, along with the members-only Montecristo Lounge above. Although it took me a while to find (Google Maps, thanks!) I was thrown at first since it was in an office park in an industrial section of VA. But as soon as I walked into the shop, I dug what I saw.

When you walk in, to the left is a huge humidor. But it’s not just that – there are racks of smokes to choose from along the wall to the left, and right as well. The members entrance is to the immediate right, with a staircase that leads to the lounge.  The humi itself has such an amazing selection and layout that I think I must have been in there scoping out the selection for about 20 minutes with my mouth watering with anticipation and my wallet dreading the possibilities.

After I checked out all the sticks in the humidor, I began speaking to the manager about the lounge as I went through all the displays in the main area. The shop itself is small, by comparison, to other storefronts that I have been in but their use of space for inventory was phenomenal. They had different smaller displays for rare cigars, as well as a display for their own label which was impressive.

During the conversation with the manager, we shared some common ground and I was invited to grab a stick and be his guest upstairs for a smoke. I was honored by this, and ended up accepting a San Lotano Habano. Touring the lounge, I experienced for the first time I lounge with a lot of diversity provided for the smoking and fellowship of cigar culture.

There are several rooms provided, along with lockers for all the members. The main entrance lounge area provides a group of chairs and smoking tables, along with a flat screen TV on the wall, a small built-in kitchen, and the head (Navy-speak for bathroom).  The lighting was natural via a large sun-roof and windows, which added to the relaxing nature.

The Main smoking room was the grand area. There are ample places for seating and meeting, with couches, big-cushioned chairs, and even a great card table for members to share some prolonged relaxing games.

The third room had a smaller 4-top style table for meetings and discussions, and there was even a half-wall built with a single lounge chair and foot rest, along with a small table and lamp to enjoy if you were looking for a little isolation.

Above it all, while I was there I met two members aside from the manager. These gentlemen were really welcoming and a pleasure to be around. We spoke all about the lounge experience, as well as what makes a great lounge.  What impressed me most was our elaborate discussions on how the smoking culture provides a solace and comfortable place for people to relax, let down their guards, and be themselves. The impact of reflection, fellowship, and a forum in which to safely enjoy the moment was evident in how they conveyed their experience of being a member.

The Cigar Castle offers online ordering from their wide selection as well as their storefront. The selection is a good one, and reflects their extensive knowledge and respect for cigars. The lounge was exactly what I needed too, and really look forward to the opportunity to visit again.

Georgetown Tobacco and John Crouch Tobacconists

Posted in Lounges with tags , , , , , , , , on July 18, 2012 by cigarshaman

In DC I was trying to find cigar shops and lounges that I could review. After hitting Cigar Connection, I thought I would have some good luck with some other places. I mapped out a place that was about 6 miles from my hotel, and took off to find it. First stop: John Crouch Tobacconists in Alexandria.

Located in Old Alexandria, John Crouch’s place sits in the middle of a very foot-heavy traffic area, surrounded by wonderful brick style houses. I was excited to see all the people and shops that it offered in the area, but it took forever to find a place to park and finally get to the shop. When I walked in, all I could really see was a whole lot of kilts and Irish gear, then noticed the humidor in the back. There were no seats for smoking, although one person had a fold out chair sitting across from the cashier.

Inside the humidor, I noticed a lot of the mainstay cigars – Cohiba, Ashton, Padron, La Gloria Cubana, Montecristo, etc. There was nothing boutique, however. I did see some AJ Fernandez stuff – San Lotano Oval to be exact. Problem for me here: THEY WERE IN A CUSANO BOX AND DISPLAY! Another drawback – instead of pricing the cigars individually on the wrapper, there was a small sign that read, “Write Price of Cigar down for cashier.” In front of the sign were a few golf pencils and torn pieced of cardboard. Uh, REALLY? Additionally, half the boxes were empty and there was a scattered display of emptied boxes on the floor.

Overall opinion: Didn’t even buy a stick, won’t go back. 5% chance of a revisit. Why they call themselves “tobacconists” is beyond me.

Georgetown Tobacco on the other hand was a little bit nicer. There was a REALLY small smoking section as you can see. The sticks were in a small humi by the front door, and additional displays behind the counter. A lot of Davidoff, Ashton, Rocky Patel, Padron, and other high-end high-priced sticks to be had. One personal triumph for me here was the fact that they had Room 101 O.S.O.K’s, and I have been looking in every shop from Denver to LA to DC to find one.

The HUGE drawback was access. Located on the infamous Georgetown “M” street, the traffic was obnoxious and sickening, not to mention the $20 parking with slots barely large enough for a Harley. The foot traffic was insane, no wonder where all the looky-loo’s go after they saw all the monuments. Holy Crap! I couldn’t get out of there quick enough.

Overall opinion: some good smokes, crappy seating, terrible parking, expensive undertaking. Yeah, not doing this one again.

Cigar Connection

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on July 18, 2012 by cigarshaman

Albeit driving through DC sucks, finding the Cigar Connection turned out to be a nice thing. The shop itself is in a fairly nice area, clean and some good street parking. I was meeting a good friend for a smoke, and arrived before him so I went in to scout the shop and their sticks. It was an interesting layout, with all the sticks in humidified cabinets lining the walls. They were large cabinets and made very good use of the space, with the center of the shop having an island cashier with a section for small smokes and hookahs behind it. Additionally,  there was a great selection – all of the top names and boutique rollers that I could find, along with flavorful smokes such as ACID and Java.

There was good lighting and a few chairs – 4 – for lounging and smoking. Actually there was a few other chairs as well, but not big leather cushion types. The ventilation was pretty good, not to mention that the push of smoke went outside and was calling me from down the street when I parked my car. The nose always knows!

I bought a Room 101 San Andres, then went next door to an awesome deli with my buddy and had a huge Pastrami on Rye. After eating, we went back for a smoke. We sat in a corner with 2 big leather chairs (that have seen a huge volume of traffic) and I smoked my Room 101 and my buddy had a JAVA. There was one TV over a cabinet, although it was not on. There were 3 other guys smoking, and it was a pleasant relaxed place to share a smoke. No drinks or other items were sold there, which was fine at the time. I got some good insight about other places to seek a smoke in town from the locals, which was helpful.

All in all, it was a good little place. More of a shop than a lounge, but it’s got it’s fair share of traffic and the assistance provided by the proprietor to other customers seemed somewhat helpful. If you’re ever in DC and looking for a place to buy a smoke, this is a pretty good place. Overall experience: 85% chance of revisiting.

El Cid’s Re-Opening

Posted in Lounges with tags , , , , , , , on July 13, 2012 by cigarshaman

Recently I got the chance to witness the continuation of a staple in the Cigar community of Denver.  El Cid’s has been part of the Denver cigar appreciating community for decades, and is now continuing it’s tradition about eight blocks west of it’s original location.

El Cid’s came to my attention when I decided to start my blog by reviewing cigar lounges and shops in my local area. On one site, there were multiple reviews of El Cid’s that rated them as a 4 star (out of 5) place to buy and smoke cigars. The thing that caught my attention is that the reviews spanned at least 5 years! Talk about a strong foundation.

When I arrived at the site – after going to the original location – I noticed that there was quite a crowd. I went inside, and saw a very diverse group celebrating the re-opening. I quickly was introduced to the owner, Nick, and we then went through the humidor and looked at the layout.

El Cid’s is not necessarily small, nor is it big. What I did notice was that the place was (seemingly) hastily opened. Nick explained to me that a last minute notice pushed him to do a quick turn around without adequate preparation. He talked to me about his plans and hopes and I quickly saw the potential for his shop.

The biggest seller for me was the comraderie. The conversation was free-flowing and an overwhelming sense of welcome and gratuity pervaded the shop. That night we had a rep from Villager present, and I smoked a nice 1888. The shop also has pipe tobacco and other tobacco products.

Although there is definite room for the improvements that Nick mentioned, I think that El Cid’s will successfully continue on for at least another decade.

Father’s Day: Cigars on Sixth

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 20, 2012 by cigarshaman

So Father’s Day came.  “What did I want to do” is what my wife asked. Visit a new Cigar Lounge – bay all means! So I got my camera and packed it into my saddle-bag and rode off on a beautiful hot day in Denver to a cigar lounge that I had been told about more than once.

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When I walked in, I was immediately greeted by the “stock boy” as he called himself. He asked me if he could help me with anything, and I told him that I wanted to check out the humidor.  It was a nice start, and decided that this was going fine.

The humidor was stocked with a lot of the regulars – Padron, Cohiba, Arturo Fuente, Padilla, a lot of Tatuaje, Alec Bradley, etc. I also noticed that there was a travel tough box humidor with a Nestor Miranda logo on it. When the stock boy came in, I asked him about it since I didn’t see any Miranda smokes. Of course, I was looking in the wrong place! There was a good collection of them, so I picked a Nestor Miranda Special Selection Robusto and went to pay for it.

When talking, I mentioned that I was in the military and he went in the back and got me a limited edition trial blend from Nestor Miranda, since I neglected to get the discount while paying. I was totally STOKED! I love the Art Deco’s, and couldn’t wait to try these 2 new sticks.

I asked also about any San Lotanos and Room 101 cigars, but he said that the Room 101′s didn’t move so they stopped carrying them. Personally I love Room 101, but each shop monitors their movers and I guess that wasn’t one of them.

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The inside of Cigars on 6th is not very large, but it’s busy with both people and comforts.  They will not hesitate to get you a drink if you require one, and even a haircut if you are so inclined. There are quite a few lockers for regulars and the environment is one completely of fellowship and relaxation.

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Some eye-catchers are a wild boar smoking a stick in the main room, and even one in the head!

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The only thing I felt was really lacking was lounge chairs! Yeah, I know. Wait – a lounge without lounge chairs? Well there was a couch, but I think the design didn’t lend itself to huge cushioned chairs, but there was adequate seating none the less.

Overall, this was a pretty good lounge. It’s more for the relaxed atmosphere seeker, with quality smokes and conversation, not to mention regulars. Now if only there was a NY Deli next door…. :)

Tactical Lounges

Posted in Events with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 15, 2012 by cigarshaman

I must say, one of the BEST lounges that I have ever been to is anyplace that I can share a stick with a civilian or service member out in the field. Pulling up a plastic chair, getting a spot on a wood bench in the smoke pit, or standing amidships on a steel hull have to rate up there. You know why? Because within that hour, men and women in service to protecting our freedom trumps all the leather cushions, streaming ESPN, and plethora of beverages. It’s living in the moment, and creating a fellowship that lasts forever.

In tribute, I am posting pics from the “Cigar Fest” that I had the pleasure to be at in Djibouti, Africa. We were all honored with donations from esteemed companies such as Rocky Patel, Alec Bradley, Matt Booth’s Room 101, Nestor Miranda, and Crowned Heads, and ION. This was one of the most awesome events I got to ever attend with USN, USAF, USMC, ARMY, National Guard, even the French Navy.

Some of the donated shwag!

Great ash from a Xen!

Some of the participants of the Fest.

Thanks, and support your Veterans!

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