Cigar smokers converge on restaurant

April 09, 1997


Staff Writer

In a hazy front room at the Washington Spy, about 20 people gathered Tuesday night to share a common passion - cigars.

Cigarettes may have dropped out of favor, but take a whole tobacco leaf, age it for 18 months and roll it into a stogie and it's still cool to smoke.

"It's male bonding stuff," said Dan Weinberg, 43, who picked up cigar smoking years ago from his father-in-law.

Weinberg joined six friends, all men in their 20s and 30s, for an evening dedicated to sampling cigars and beers.

"Our wives have said we need to burn our clothes and shower before we come home," joked Jim Cremins, 37.

Weinberg and Cremins, both doctors in Hagerstown, said they would never advocate cigar smoking for their patients.

Mary Beth Barney, 37, smoked her first cigar at age 16, "just because I was trying to be cool."


Twenty years later, Barney started puffing again. But this time, she's interested in cigars as a business venture.

She and her husband, Ed, would like to sell them at their beer and wine store in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Each smoker handles a cigar a little differently.

Cremins used a toothpick to bore a hole in the end of his cigar. Others brought special cigar cutters to snip off the end and draw out the smoke. Mark Mohn of Waynesboro, Pa., used a device that resembled a bullet to core the end. Weinberg simply bit off the end.

Even after the room filled with a thick cloud of smoke, those who weren't smoking didn't seem fazed.

"It's an atmosphere thing," said Diane Zuspan, 38, of Boonsboro, who wasn't planning to indulge.

"I think I'd probably choke and gag," said Zuspan, who attended cigar night with her husband, Jay. Both work as firefighters in Montgomery County, Md.

Lighting up would have seemed hypocritical since she had convinced her husband to quit smoking cigarettes three months ago.

On Tuesday, however, Jay Zuspan was puffing on a cigar.

Sarah Ardinger, owner of The Plum restaurant in Hagerstown, wasn't smoking, but said she likes the smell of cigar smoke.

"My family in Kentucky all smoked cigars. I grew up with it," said Ardinger, whose husband, Ned, smokes several cigars a week.

The size of the cigar doesn't matter, the smokers said.

More important is the flavor of the tobacco and how it is rolled. On Tuesday night, it was premium pre-Castro Cuban cigars, legal because they were imported to the United States before the trade embargo against Fidel Castro.

"I've always wanted to try a Cuban," said John Gordon, 23, of Shepherdstown, who works for a computer company designing World Wide Web pages.

Tuesday was the third "cigar night" at the Spy. On other nights, cigar and cigarette smoking is allowed only in the restaurant's well-ventilated "smoking room."

Spy owner Nelson Haje, a longtime cigar smoker himself, got the Cubans from a tobacco store owner in Washington, D.C.

As the popularity of cigars has grown, Tri-State area tobacco shops have seen their businesses boom.

Edward Drake Trout, 25, opened his Stephen Street Emporium in Martinsburg, W.Va., just before the cigar craze hit. Now it's difficult to keep in stock the most popular brands of cigars, he said.

A cigar bar has opened in Frederick, Md.

Among the newest cigar shops is the 8-month-old Tobacco Shack in Mt. Airy, Md.

Tobacco Shacks operate at three other locations - the Francis Scott Key Mall in Frederick, Md., and two in Montgomery County, Md.

Two years ago, the FSK mall store expanded. Business has nearly tripled since last summer, said Manager Robert Noell.

Cigar prices have shot up as fast as their popularity. Stogies that sold for $2 or $3 last year are going for $5 and $6, he said.

There's a shortage of cigars because makers didn't anticipate the popularity. It takes at least 18 months to cure a cigar, he said.

At the Smokin' Briar in Inwood, W.Va., some cigars go for $15 apiece, said owner Robert Bryner.

Cigars aren't just for older men anymore.

"Young women are becoming big connoisseurs. You know - the jet set," Bryner said.

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