Winston’s, Downtown Kalamazoo
Cigar Lounge Review by Zinta Aistars
the ritual of it,” I said to Sherie. “It’s like a meditation. You pick the cigar, unwrap it, cut it. Draw
in the scent. Light it, slowly, turning it in your fingers… like this.” I slowly twisted the Macanudo in my fingers,
holding the tiny flame of the cedar match just beneath the head. Life glowed. A thread of smoke lifted from the cigar.
Sherie watched me, then lit the second Macanudo that I had given her. We were sitting in the cigar lounge
of the new Winston’s, downtown Kalamazoo, Michigan. What a grand not-quite-summer evening... finale of a Friday, Art
Hop, with all downtown opening its doors to art of every medium. Paintings, sculpture, jewelry, woodwork, stained glass, music.
Kalamazoo’s newest bar, found at 224 East Michigan beside its shared kitchen with Arie’s London Grill, specializes in scotch and whiskey and is open on Fridays and Saturdays only. Winston’s is named after (of course)
Winston Churchill, the English politician known for the cigar forever in the corner of his mouth. Art was still the bigger
draw when Sherie and I strolled in; the place was empty. Only the bartender’s face, wreathed in smiles, greeted us.
He waved us in, invited us to make ourselves at home, and we did—although first walking through the entire place and
checking it out.
The front room was an inviting space with windows on East Michigan, green and off-white and yellow walls
decorated with large and sassy quotes by Winston Churchill and bright, jazzy prints. The bar was richly stocked with bottles
of whiskey and scotch, and passing the bar, the hallway led, almost like a secret, to a cigar lounge in back. We peeked inside.
A few tables and chairs, black leather armchairs, flat screen television tuned to ESPN (Must they? All cigar lounges? As I
find this eye-rollingly typical, that all are tuned to sports stations when I first walk in!). But Winston’s, about
2,000 square feet of space, had a touch of class, a bit of a British air with Irish on the side (bartender in red plaid),
and Churchill’s spicy whimsy on every wall. I liked it here.
Sherie and I sat down at the bar. Our attentive bartender, having yet no other distraction, told us delightful
stories about the scotches and whiskeys, handed me a cigar menu after I handed him my business card: The Smoking Poet, editor-in-chief. A lift of his eyebrow. Cigar reviews? Did I know my stuff? I do, both literary
and cigars, and I pointed out to him that Hemingway, the name of an author and a cigar, was misspelled on his menu with two
m’s. He blushed. I laughed. I was having fun not making this easy.
Still, he would shine. He poured tiny amounts of three scotches for Sherie to try, as she explained herself
to be a martini connoisseur and not the scotch type. I had already ordered my 15-year aged Glenlivet single malt, enjoying
the slow burn. Sherie savored each of the three: Aberlour, Old Pultney and Highland Park. Being the good friend that she is,
she pushed a sip toward me. Aberlour was my clear favorite. Highland Park my least. And by the time we were served dinner—Guinness
Beef for me, Chicken Curry for Sherie, the place had filled, every seat.
Wiping the last from our lips, the two of us retreated to the cigar lounge in back. Where we sat now…
ribbons of smoke curling above our cigars, leaning back in the leather chairs, watching the occasional horse and carriage
clop by through the tall, narrow windows. Now and then a group of curious males popped in, inevitably a little taken aback
to find two women with cigars. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. On one
hand, I enjoyed the surprise. On the other, I sighed at this separation of what the two genders are supposed to enjoy. The
cigar industry is infamous, after all, for its objectification of women. CAO has its Flavorettes, each woman not a person,
but a flavor to pop in your mouth and flame. Cigar magazines are full of ads dripping with sex for sale, the cigar a phallic
symbol in her lips. I am the first to defend the right of men to have their own retreat and women theirs… the occasional
separation is meaningful, I believe, and good. But can we ever achieve mutual respect?
Two more men entered the lounge. Saw us and smiled with surprise and obvious delight. One confirmed, “Hello,
ladies! Oh hey. Got to love a woman with a cigar! Enjoy…” and they left again, leaving the two of us to discuss,
not babies or fashions or our nonexistent husbands, but current events in politics, global warming, and how quickly the
planet might recover should humankind disappear tomorrow.
Cigar Moment by Skye Leslie
kids in bed after long hours of play in the lake, husband preoccupied with a game of solitaire; it is the perfect time to
slip away to the water. I have a cigar and a lighter in my pocket. Hand-rolled with the care and precision of an artist, this
fragrant wand. I imagine a woman, a mother, too, perhaps, miles away from here, sitting at a workbench, with stained fingers,
giving her best to this small creation.
Pine trees perfume the shoreline. I rest at the base of the one with the broadest trunk. The sun will dip
past the horizon soon. I light the cigar, puff, puff again ― and hold the smoke in
my mouth. As I release the smoke into the air, I realize the deer will be along soon. A few birds still sing and sand on the
beach stirs in the breeze. I watch the sun’s descent at the horizon; I draw again, savor the taste, exhale. This small
ritual will outlast the setting sun. Smoke rises like incense in churches in which I have knelt. It drifts from my lips, takes
slow flight upward, breaks apart in places . . . just as so many whispered prayers.
Por Larrañaga 1834
Rudyard Kipling wrote, in The Betrothed,
There’s peace in a Larrañaga, there’s calm in a Henry Clay.
The original Por Larrañaga cigars date back to 1834, when it was
made at the Menedez y Garcia factory in Havana. Altadis U.S.A. now makes it, along with Montecristo, H. Upmann and Romeo y
Julieta. An excellent cigar, the Por Larrañaga gold label uses a higher grade tobacco and a longer aging process. Rolled in
the Dominican Republic, the gold label is wrapped in a nearly blond Connecticut shade wrapper. The binder and filler are both
from the Dominican Republic.
I enjoyed my gold recently while playing hooky from work. And
since I was AWOL, I chose to light up shortly after lunch. I poured a shot of Old Pulteney single malt—did I mention
I was playing hooky from work? The OP is a nice warm weather twelve-year-old that’s easy on the palate any time of day
(no, I haven’t tried it with breakfast).
Anyway, the Connecticut shade wrapper conveyed a faint woodsy
aroma. The tobacco took eagerly to flame; the resulting aroma was light, the flavor creamy with a touch of cedar. This cigar
remained peacefully smooth throughout, burning evenly and never requiring a touch up; the ash held firm. Although little in
the way of complexity took place, a touch of pepper appeared near the end. As I lay the cigar in my ashtray for the last time,
I took comfort in a kindred spirits reaction to a distant relative of this cigar, written more than a century ago: There’s
peace in a Larrañaga. Indeed there is.
A mild summer smoke any time of day, and for under $4 a stick,
Wrapper: Nicaraguan Puro
Filler: Nicaraguan Puro
Size: 7 ½” x 40
to smoking cigars—only a few months old, as it were—but I’ve found one of the most relaxing things one can
do is light up a good cigar half an hour before the sun sets. I do, on occasion, and sit on my porch, letting the cigar take
me through to the night. Youngsters walk by, on their evening trek around the
block, and the hills in the not-too-distant distance become a wall the sun slides behind as a plume of smoke escapes my pallet
into the night. My preference is the Mucione Holy Lance, a thinner, longer cigar, with a mild flavor that compliments the
sun’s departure for another day.
new and inexperienced, I cannot tell you about the flavor, the texture, the feel of the cigar, but I can appreciate these
things on a warm evening while I unwind and watch the world change, and I can tell you that such an experience seems wasted
on those who cannot appreciate the joy of a fine tradition.
— W.T. Lackey
Size: 7.1” x 58
I’ve always been taken by figurados, the workmanship that must go into the
creation of this odd-shaped cigar—the tiny nipple at the head, widening to a bulbous girth before tapering to a narrow
foot, in the case of the Reposado, a point. So when I recently received an email alert from one of my online tobacconists
that they were offering a chest of forty of these for under a C-note, I indulged myself. It’s offered with either a
Connecticut shade wrapper or a Habano wrapper; I opted for the latter.
They arrived nestled in a rugged box that looked like something
I might’ve nailed together in my high school wood shop; its slightly warped lid bore the Reposado logo. A delightful
departure from some of the elegant boxes many other brands produce that often leave one to wonder over the value of the product.
Anyway, enough about cigar boxes and my ability to wield hammer
and nail. The Reposado is a decidedly handsome cigar, its toothy wrapper betraying a ruggedness that, together with its Salomon
shape, begs to be admired. That the Reposado bears no label only adds to its bold shape and construction: “Aye, look
at me, I’m a handsome stick, ain’t I?” it seems to ask.
I clipped the foot and, as is my custom, took a moment to enjoy
the fragrance of the wrapper before putting match to tobacco. I always light a figurado with a match as I’ve found it
too easy to scorch the wrapper using a lighter. Also, the tiny nipple takes to flame quite easily and doesn’t require
the intensity of a lighter to ignite.
The initial aroma is mild, the flavor spicy. Once I get past the
nipple, the Reposado rewards me with plumes of white smoke and the spiciness tapers off, to be replaced with a hint of coffee,
which held most of the way through my smoking experience, to be replaced near the end with pepper. The draw was easy, the
burn even and slow, never requiring a touchup, and the ash held firm—in addition to flavor, all of the things I look
for in a cigar.
A decidedly mellow smoke, the Reposado goes well with a morning
cup of coffee or an afternoon or evening English ale or lager, and at $2.50 a stick, nicely priced in that everyday any time
of day range.
Wrapper: Connecticut Broadleaf Maduro
Henry Clay, Sr. was a nineteenth-century American statesman. A great orator, Clay was known
as “The Great Compromiser” and “The Great Pacifier” for his ability to bring others to agreement.
Founder and leader of the Whig Party, a war hawk and, according to historians, Clay was more than any other individual responsible
for the War of 1812. In 1957, a Senate committee chaired by John F. Kennedy named Clay as one of the five greatest senators
in U.S. history. An advocate for abolishment of slavery,
Henry Clay was admired by Abraham Lincoln.
Okay, so maybe Clay isn’t the type of hero to be found on a box of
Wheaties or to have a bobble head made in his image, but Altadis wanted a classic American hero, not an action figure. So
Henry Clay it was.
Although today’s Henry Clay cigars are produced in the Dominican Republic
at the Altadis factory, the old Henry Clay factory in Cuba still adorns each box of Henry Clay cigars.
I’ve found most Dominican smokes rather mild, but not so with the
Henry Clay line. A hearty blend of premium Piloto Cubano-grown Dominican tobaccos wrapped in a maduro Connecticut broadleaf
wrapper results in a flavorful smoke, light on spice, somewhat peppery at the onset, sweetening later, with hints of honey
and tea. Never overpowering, the breva toro I smoked, as part of a sampler, finished boldly and was never bitter. Contrary
to its namesake, the cigar never compromised, but it did manage to pacify my stress at the end of a rather hectic day.
A box of twenty-five retails for around $125, but they can be found online,
with little effort, for around $75.
A fine smoke, highly recommended.