Story: Chris Gerbasi Photos: Fred Lopez
Enjoying a smooth cigar or a special drink easily can become a favorite pastime.
For many men, life doesn’t get much better than when they grab their favorite beverage, sit back in a recliner, click on the TV, light up a cigar, and get lost in a swirl of smoke.
Cigar smoking can be a time for guys to escape from the pressures of the day, enjoy some “me time” away from the family, or socialize with like-minded aficionados, whether it’s in the garage, the country club, or the cigar bar.
Cigars bring people together at shops, too. You may not know it by looking at these unassuming storefronts, but inside, men are getting away from it all.
“Guys are chilling, relaxing, smoking a cigar, drinking a beer, watching golf,” says Jennifer Withington, manager of Low Ball Louie’s Cigars & Tobacco in Lady Lake. “They enjoy cigars. We get a good bunch in here.”
The shop at 870 N. U.S. Highway 27/441, Suite E, is home sweet home for cigar smokers: seating for 23, a walk-in humidor, a lounge with a TV, beer and wine, and availability for parties, club meetings, and special events featuring representatives from cigar companies.
Louie’s offers 500 cigars, with Drew Estate, Perdomo, My Father, Low Ball Louie’s, La Famosa, Arturo Fuente, and Liga Privada among the most popular brands, owner Tammi Siegfried says.
One day recently, Mike Holland was checking on his order of Perdomo cigars. He also likes Oliva V and Padron brands. The Summerfield resident has been smoking cigars for 20 years after giving up cigarettes some years earlier.
“For me, it’s relaxation time,” he says. “I usually smoke in the evening, sit away from everybody, like in the garage. I read a book and smoke a cigar, and it sort of keeps everyone at bay away from me.”
Mike and his friends usually smoke on specific occasions, such as after a round of golf or during a get-together for food and drinks. Naturally, he hangs out and meets fellow smokers at Louie’s.
“For a lot of people, it’s a social thing,” he says.
And it’s not just a guy thing. While many men retreat to a cigar lounge because their wives don’t want to be around the odor, Kris Snell and his partner, Kallen Kneeland, smoke at the shop because they’d rather not smoke in their house.
The Wildwood couple, stretched out in comfy recliners, are regulars in the lounge, which Kris calls an “oasis.”
Kallen found a fondness for cigars through a grandfather and an uncle who were smokers. She tends to smoke the Arturo Fuente line, but on this day, she’s enjoying a Drew Estate Undercrown.
Regular customers become well-known acquaintances, Kallen says.
“The atmosphere is really great here,” she says. “There are always good people to talk to in here. If I want to dive into a book, he’s not bored because he’s got people to talk to.”
Low Ball Louie’s stands out among many cigar bars the couple have visited, Kris says.
“I think because this is family-owned, it just has a better atmosphere,” he says. “The owners are here regularly. They really cherish their customers. We’re important to them.”
Tammi’s family has been in the cigar industry for four generations. Her father, John Watson, and his brother owned 17 stores at one point. In 2007, Tammi purchased eight of the stores around Central Florida. She operates them with the help of her father, who remains the company’s buyer, and her mother, Bonnie, who works at the corporate office in Winter Garden.
Tammi’s great-grandfather, Martin Noriega, was born in Cuba and moved to Tampa, where he created his signature cigar, La Famosa Fumadora. His wife, Nunciada Scagleone, was a Sicilian-born cigar roller in Tampa, and a portrait of her graces the company logo. John later developed the company’s full line of cigars.
All cigars consist of a wrapper, a filler, and a binder, and tastes range from mild to medium to full-bodied. La Famosa Fumadora consists of a wrapper of Connecticut Shade Honduran tobacco leaves, a filler of Honduran and Nicaraguan leaves, and a binder of Honduran. The cigar has a taste of mild to medium, Tammi says.
In addition to Connecticut, named for the state where the leaf is grown, the other three major wrapper leaves are Corojo from Honduras, Habano from Nicaragua, and Maduro, says Bob Pizzini, manager of Good Ol’ Times Cigar Lounge in Leesburg. They vary widely in color, nicotine level, and taste.
Cigar maker Drew Estate infuses flavors, such as coffee beans, into its cigars, and the infusion becomes part of the cigar, Bob says. The aroma is more likely to be acceptable to women.
“Traditional cigar smokers don’t like flavored cigars,” Bob adds. “I think it brings in a whole new breed of smokers. With the infusion process, they’re top-notch cigars.”
Bob takes all of these factors into consideration when helping customers choose a brand at the store, 10601 U.S. Hwy 441, Suite A 3-4, in the Publix shopping center. Established in 1998 inside Lake Square Mall and now owned by Steve Light, Good Ol’ Times bills itself as Leesburg’s only premium cigar retailer.
Ron English and his wife drove from Bushnell to buy a box of Oliva V. That’s Ron’s favorite, along with Monte Cristo.
“I like top quality, something smooth. I like a light cigar,” Ron says.
His wife, Carol, has Alzheimer’s disease, and Ron says a cigar a day keeps tension away.
“My demeanor is a lot smoother,” he says. “I smoke a cigar, drink a beer, and read a Clive Cussler book. That’s how I mellow out.”
Customers also can mellow out in the store’s lounge, which has TVs for viewing and video games, leather chairs, and light refreshments. The lounge also is available for events and parties, and the store hosts manufacturer events with food about once a month.
“It’s a relaxing, air-conditioned place where you can sit and smoke a cigar and watch TV,” says Dan Bowden, who works part-time at Good Ol’ Times.
About 25 years ago, someone handed Dan a Fuente 858 and asked him to try his first cigar. He made the mistake of inhaling, so the experience didn’t go well, but he was hooked nonetheless. He still favors a Fuente, and enjoys smoking because it’s relaxing.
The store’s walk-in humidor has more than 200 different types of cigars, Bob says, and private humidors are available. The premium best sellers are the Padron Anniversary series, followed by Arturo Fuente and Drew Estate.
Mostly, Bob says, cigars create camaraderie.
“We have a saying in the business: ‘When you buy a cigar, you’re a member of the club,’” he says.
Maggie’s Attic in Mount Dora is best known for its selection of 300 to 400 craft beers and 500 to 600 wines.
But cigars have become a “profit center” as well, says Terry Abbott, who owns the business with his wife, Stephanie. The store keeps several different brands on hand in a humidor, and refills the stock every couple of weeks based on what customers like, he says.
Smokers enjoy their cigars in the courtyard outside the Attic, which has been in business for 14 years at 237 W. 4th Ave. The inside has leather chairs and sofas, and an atmosphere many customers compare to the TV show “Cheers,” Terry says.
The “guy thing” that really attracts male customers, though, is the beer, says Jerome Brouhard, sommelier and cellar manager, and son of the owners.
Maggie’s Attic has beer and wine clubs for customers, and hosts beer tastings every second Saturday of the month, and wine tastings the first and third Saturdays of each month.
Jerome shows off seasonal brews and new brands you’re not likely to find at Publix, he says. He tries to promote Florida breweries, such as Cigar City of Tampa, Funky Buddha of Oakland Park, and Tomoka Brewing Co. of Port Orange. The store’s shelves are lined with hundreds of brands, with names such as White Rascal, Sneak Attack, and Bell Cow, and other beers are on tap.
He highlights about 25 new wines at the tastings. The most popular wineries are Caymus Vineyards, Cakebread, and Silver Oak. A chalkboard above the bar lists “Maggie’s Favorites,” such as Hogue Riesling, Butter Chardonnay, and Freak Show Cabernet Sauvignon.
“The beer tastings are popular with the guys,” Jerome says. “The wine tastings are for men and women, but the guys really enjoy the beer tastings. You get some women, but it’s more of a guy crowd.”
Smoking, drinking, and gabbing are the norm for men and women at Two Old Hags Wine Shoppe, 410 W. Main St., Leesburg.
Inside, this well-known neighborhood spot features a small bar and a selection of 300 to 400 wines and about 35 domestic and craft beers, owner Joyce Huey says. Outside, customers are welcome to bring their own cigars to smoke at the sidewalk tables, enjoy a light lunch, or hang out after work with a glass of wine while catching up on the day’s events, she says. The shop also hosts occasional wine tastings.
Best-selling wineries include Caymus Vineyards, Nickel & Nickel, Etude, and Rombauer. Favorite beers include Victory HopDevil, Fat Tire, and Tucher, a German brand with dark, light, and white varieties.
“That’s real popular with all the guys,” Joyce says.
Two Old Hags also is known for its off-beat décor, such as a “Star Wars” stormtrooper figure atop the beer cooler, pink flamingos, colorful lamps, and, in the restroom, a space alien figure holding the toilet paper roll, and a photo of Joyce above the toilet, staring at the customer.
It’s all part of a comfortable vibe at another place where men, as well as women, can “wind down” with a beverage or a smoke, Joyce says.
“For guys, they feel safe coming here, and girls feel really safe coming here on their own,” she says. “The guys are respectful, but having a good time. And the guys, too, are not being swarmed by a bunch of women. It’s a two-way street.”
Special ideas for Father’s Day gifts
Cigar stores and wine shops just might be the perfect places to find Father’s Day gifts for connoisseurs or that hard-to-buy-for man.
Low Ball Louie’s Cigars & Tobacco in Lady Lake regularly offers gift packs that include lighters, cups, and cutters. Specially for Father’s Day, staff has been saving My Father cigar brand boxes. The store is taking 20 percent off whatever customers can fit inside the box, whether it’s cigars, ties, shirts—if it fits, it’s 20 percent off.
At Good Ol’ Times Cigar Lounge in Leesburg, women and children often come in looking for gifts for their husbands or fathers, manager Bob Pizzini says. They may have no idea what brand their men smoke, so Bob usually guides them to a mild cigar, reasoning that any cigar smoker would enjoy a mild one but not necessarily a full-strength stogie.
The store always has Father’s Day specials, such as buy two cigars, get one free. Other gift ideas include accessories such as humidors, ashtrays, mugs, and cigar snuffers, along with pipes, hookahs, tobacco, and gift certificates.
Gift certificates also are available at Two Old Hags Wine Shoppe in Leesburg. The wine bar also has its own label on a table wine, Blanco Da Tavola, for $20 a bottle, and wine accessories, such as corkscrews and aerators.
At Maggie’s Attic, cigars, a six-pack of beer, or a nice bottle of wine would make great gifts for Dad, sommelier Jerome Brouhard says. The Attic also offers a variety of beer and wine club packages, starting as low as $33 plus tax, and gift cards online at shopmaggiesattic.us.
Also for sale is the artwork that adorns the walls and shelves of the Attic: wooden wall art with “Mount Dora” travel slogans, metal-frame model cars, bicycles, and motorcycles, some of which are wine bottle holders, and sailing ship models.
The store also sells specially made jars of preserves, and novelty items such as a mini-flask keychain with a “Super Dad” logo on it.
“That’s the whole concept of the attic,” Jerome says. “You never know what you’re going to find in an attic.”