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Cigar Tip: How to Spot an Excellent Tobacconist

10 Sep 2014

These days I travel a fair amount for my regular job, staying a few nights here and there with meetings during the day and little to do in the evening. So, naturally, wherever I go I try to find a good (non-private) cigar lounge or tobacconist so I can enjoy a smoke, catch up on some emails, do a little writing, and perhaps even have an adult beverage or two.

Cigar Store Indian

While there are lots of great lounges and tobacconists across this fine nation, believe me when I say that sometimes a good locale is hard to find. I’ve been mentally compiling a list of attributes common among the good shops/lounges. Today I thought I’d share them.

Maintains good selection, fair prices. This one is obvious. I assume I’ll be paying more for the sticks than I otherwise might be able to find online—and I’m completely OK with that. But I don’t think it’s necessary to charge crazy mark-ups, either. And the selection should be big enough to require more than a few minutes to peruse, with the usual suspects and hopefully some hard-to-find smokes as well. House blends, when done right, can add an exclusive touch.

Serves coffee and/or liquor, or implements BYOB. I realize local ordinances and laws may make this impossible, but nothing goes better with a fine cigar than coffee, bourbon, rum, wine, scotch, etc. I’m happy to pay the shop/lounge for drinks, if possible; BYOB is a great alternative. If nothing else, providing coffee or water for free, or for purchase, is a great idea.

Has a friendly, attentive staff. Nothing is worse than being rushed, watched like a hawk, completely ignored, or assumed to be a petty thief. I love it when the staff says something like, “Welcome. Would you like some assistance picking out your cigars, or would you prefer to browse the selection yourself?”

Stays open later. Time and again I find many shops and lounges close early in the evening—like an hour or two after a normal work day. I understand it isn’t always possible, but I love it when they stay open late enough to have a post-dinner smoke. Bonus points for shops that recognize there are important sporting events that need to be watched, and that often merits staying open later if there’s a crowd.

Provides comfortable seating with access to power outlets. I don’t need decadence, but I don’t want to sit in a lawn chair, either. Plentiful, spread-out seating with solid ventilation is preferred. This is what makes me want to hang out, spend money, and come back.

Makes cleanliness a priority. I’m not asking for much. Empty the ash trays, dust the surfaces, and vacuum after those three guys got pizza crumbs everywhere. Also, the bathroom shouldn’t look like the opening scene of Saw.

Takes good care of the product. The cigars you sell should be in perfect smoking condition at the time of purchase. Period.

Values entertainment. Good TVs, WiFi, and maybe even a poker table. These touches go a long way. Cigar events are great, too.

What am I missing? Please leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Patrick A

photo credit: Flickr

9 Responses to “Cigar Tip: How to Spot an Excellent Tobacconist”

  1. Wesley Wednesday, September 10, 2014 at 8:08 am #

    I like it when shops have some sort of loyalty program — like earning points towards free cigars.

    Events, as you mentioned, are huge. Getting the chance to meet cigar makers and ask them questions is really valuable to me.

  2. Dave Wednesday, September 10, 2014 at 8:16 am #

    In keeping with you discussion today, it would be nice to have a database or website for identifying and rating such lounges. While the internet helps, there have been more than one occasion where I arrive at what appeared to be a promising cigar shop/lounge only to find it a glorified head shop. Sharing any resources you have come across would be welcome.

    • George E. Wednesday, September 10, 2014 at 9:43 pm #

      IPCPR has a database of members, though it's changed recently and is much clunkier and less informative. And while being an IPCPR member is no guarantee, the info often includes phone numbers so you can call ahead to check it out. Cigar Aficionado started a database not long ago but in just the little I've looked at it there are numerous grammatical errors and incorrect shop information (B&Ms that are out of business, incorrect info, etc.) There's no doubt that getting good info on shops is not easy. I think one of the best ways to be active on a good cigar forum and use it to seek information on whatever areas you're going to visit.

  3. Brothel Wednesday, September 10, 2014 at 9:27 am #

    BYOB or selling drinks is a must. Coffee or water a bare minimum. I can't be expected to smoke cigars with zero liquids.

  4. Mike Friday, September 12, 2014 at 9:29 am #

    All good tips, but keep in mind that BYOB or even serving coffee or non-bottled water may be illegal. I know that in Michigan, where we do have legal cigar bars that serve alcohol and full food menus, a regular cigar shop is technically not supposed to serve coffee to the public. A food license is required to do that, which a tobacco shop cannot have. (NYC has similar rules).

    BYOB, while not uncommon in Michigan, is technically illegal. The state has no way to regulate a place that does not have a license.

  5. James A Tuesday, September 16, 2014 at 7:37 am #

    Promoting the cigar lifestyle, not just the sale of sticks is important to our hobby. Completely at ease while in the shop is key to a happy customer.
    Having good clientele while in the shop is key to a prospective customer too. Saying hello, or even a quick nod to say welcome is always good.

  6. JWR Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at 1:44 pm #

    You've obviously never owned a cigar store before as places such as the ones that meet your criteria go out of business all the time, having enormous overhead expenditures catering to your need to spend $7 for a cigar at 7:55pm after you left the restaurant you spent $50 or more at, then go "support" your excellent tobacconist til 10pm drinking 3 or 4 cups of complimentary coffee.

    • George E. Wednesday, September 17, 2014 at 10:20 pm #

      Yes, there's no doubt running a cigar shop is a tough business. And, sadly, many fail. But there are others — Paretti in Boston, Fader's in Baltimore, Iwan Ries in Chicago, Straus in Cincinnati and Draper in D.C., just to name a few — with roots going back over 100 years that have adapted through the decades to become institutions.

  7. Hugo F. Melo Wednesday, September 24, 2014 at 11:55 pm #

    I appreciate the advice that you gave. It was very helpful.