Cigar Neophyte

I walked into the new Silver Leaf Cigar Lounge in Fort Worth’s Sundance Square as a female tenderfoot. Not going to lie, it was uncomfortable. “Stop looking at me,” I thought. “No, I’m not here to pick up a dude; I just want to write about cigars.” These insecurities swirled around my head with the thick cigar smoke as I waited for one of the many beautiful, young (also female) servers to wait on me.
     Men filled the unseasoned cigar lounge on that smoky night, but a few women studded the room too. An older tipsy man frolicked past me twice.
     “Have you ever smoked a cigar before?” he prodded.
     I must have been wearing a sign. And no, he did not work there.
     “These girls will help you out. She knows quite a bit you know,” he chirped again referring to the server approaching me.
     A girl barely in her 20s interrupted the friendly patron. “What can I get you to drink?”
     “Water to start, please, and someone to show me how to go about picking a cigar. Also, do people pair drinks with cigars?”
     Was this girl going to be my Rick Steves of the cigar world? How much could she possibly know about cigars? Not much, said a visiting aficionado (or Gurkha cigar rep) standing ominously in the modest humidor. But she’s learning, he later reassured. Once I picked a drink that sounded good from the distiller tasting menu, she ushered me into the humidor to hear about my pairing options. “Mr. Gurkha” was there to save the day.
     He told me what he would smoke with my sweet whiskey mixture, which was a light and smooth cigar. I said sure. He said in order to begin my journey into the cigar world, just start with a simple rule — smoke whatever I like and take pictures of the labels. It is a personal journey and possibly a long one. To learn is to smoke more, and to smoke more is to learn.
     I was happy to start with my first cigar. I took it back to my table and found my drink waiting for me. My cherubic waitress cut my cigar and told me to puff as if I had just applied ChapStick. As I waited for my friend, I stopped to take in the atmosphere, which was somehow light in décor but dark with smoke. Not like most cavernous taxidermy-covered, manly-man tobacco lounges, this place attempted to grab the attention of a larger demographic.
     “The light atmosphere keeps the mood on a lighter note so it is inviting to women… [and] there are some beautifully crafted cocktails that appeal to the feminine demographic,” Assistant Manager Patrick Kennedy said.
     They even hired a woman to design the lounge, and when a group of investors settled on names for the lounge like The Double Barrel or The Dusty Bottle, the women on the board shot it down. That’s how they came up with the name Silver Leaf. General Manager Jake Kesteloot said it signifies a sleek, sexier take on the much-coveted tobacco leaf.
     “Forty percent of our regular guests are women,” Kesteloot said.
     Before walking in, I was terrified that I might get ignored by the pretentious and sometimes male-only reputation that comes with cigars. After all, I might as well be fishing from a deer blind. And then there is that ugly stereotype that if a woman smokes a cigar, she is trying to attract a man or make a statement. I didn’t want that signage either.
     I was wrong. The staff was patient and kind. I enjoyed my experience at Silver Leaf and loved spending hours puffing on a smooth and flavorful Gurkha cigar with my friend and my drink, the Algonquin, made with Herman Marshall rye bourbon, Dolin dry vermouth, pineapple juice and Belle de Brillet pear brandy.
     The time it takes to smoke a cigar makes for a philosophical experience. Unlike a cigarette, you have to sit, be still, and spend time with either yourself or the person you’re smoking with. In a world as busy as ours, it was nice to go back in time, smoke and sit with friend.

Cigar 101Like wine, cigars pair well with certain flavors. Also like wine and cheese or any food pairings, you don’t want the cocktail you’re drinking to overpower the cigar you’re smoking and vice versa.

Did you know there was a Cigar Boom that started in the early 1990s? I didn’t. Maybe because I wasn’t smoking cigars on the playground. Most attribute the boom to the first publication of Cigar Aficionado magazine and the celebrity endorsements of men and women alike in the covers. Here is what the boom looked like: Starting in 1993, 117.8 million cigars were imported into the U.S. By 1996, the U.S. imported 293 million premium cigars. Kesteloot said that while the hype may have waned, the boom isn’t over. “It is still the rebirth period of cigars. There have always been groups of people that stuck with [the boom],” Kesteloot said. “Correlating with that, we are getting reports from around the world that some of the best [tobacco] crops in history are being yielded right now. That sparks a lot of interest in consumers.”
The cap is a thin tobacco leave that you cut; the foot is what you light. You set the cap down perpendicular to the table and your fingers on the foot. Place the cigar cutter on the table around the cigar cap and cut. That helps you cut the perfect amount off (not too much, not too little).

My sweet server did teach me how to puff: “Smack your lips around it as if you just applied ChapStick.” 

For the maximum enjoyment of combining flavors, take a sip of your drink; let it sit, swallow, and then “retro-inhale” the drink, then puff the cigar. Sip, sit, swallow, inhale then puff. Did you get all of that?
If you don’t want to drink alcohol but want to try a cigar for the first time, they may ask you how you like your coffee. If you like cream and sugar, caramel flavor, weak, strong or black, that usually gives them a hint as to what kind of cigar you may want. And yes, the manager said many women come in wanting a strong stogie while many men want a little caramel vanilla cigar. Stereotypes aside, ladies and gentlemen.