Once upon a time you wouldn’t think of ending an important event without passing cigars. It was more than just a custom but a rite of passage ratifying that you had been present at an important occasion. Now, it’s not possible in almost anywhere in the free world and quite frowned upon if you wanted to. Even a meal in a better restaurant often ended with a Havana. Today, if you tried, you might be metaphorically stoned.
My Grandfather smoked cigars and I adopted the habit from him though never to the extent he did. In the pre-Castro days he could easily smoke three or four Belinda double Claro Corona Gordas a day. I at best (or worst) could not do that a week; but would enjoy one after a really good dinner or lunch in a fine restaurant. Prior to Mayor Bloomberg making it illegal, it was already highly disapproved of by the vast majority of the restaurant-going public—however, a few enlightened establishments still tolerated it from regular customers.
The late, much lamented Gino on Lexington Ave. was one, even though they had a large sign posted: “No Cigars.” Harry Cipriani was another, 21 was already starting to waffle by suggesting you smoke in the lounge. Private parties prior to Bloomberg continued to serve cigars at will, and for a brief time it was almost a craze. Europe held out longer, of course, held up by London, which was the cigar capital of the world. Nothing was more pleasurable than finishing a satisfying lunch at Wiltons than lighting a Hoya de Monterrey Ericure No. 2 – a specialty of the restaurant since the days when Cartin on nearby St. James St. supplied their cigars. It’s out of the question now even though Wilton’s still exists. Carlins Hoyo specialists are long gone. About the only place you can enjoy a cigar in London today is the cigar lounge at the Lanesborough Hotel (when it reopens).
Usually I hate cigar lounges and regard them as a repository for cheese balls and other undesirables; but, the Lanesborough’s is an exception—so well done, beautifully maintained, comfortable and with the best selection of Havanas in town.
A word about Havana cigars: They are not as good as they used to be. Generally underaged, often plugged. It’s a little like playing Russian roulette when you light one up (at $30 each) if it will be smokeable. I bought a bunch at Sautters on Mount St. the last time I was there and had to throw them all away. A safer bet is with the Nicaraguan Patron Family Reserve. I’ve never had a bad one; of course, when a Havana is good, no other cigar can compare.
Cigar smoking in public is gone and with it a part of the celebratory conclusion that meaningful events, dinners, and joyous occasions would so often end with. Personally I miss it but I know I am in a very small minority.
Herbert Rose is Director Emeritus at GUASTAVINO’S and 583 PARK AVENUE. He has 50 years of experience as Director of Catering at New York’s finest venues.
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