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Written by Rick McLaughlin

Friday, 01 September 2006

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A Tale of Two Cities...(okay, it's really a story about three cigar bars) I recently had the pleasure of going to St. Louis for some personal business. Since I haven't been there in quite awhile, I decided to enjoy a few of the "cigar friendly" establishments listed on Cigar-Review.com. After printing out all the important info, I packed my bags and my wife and I headed off for the city. St. Louis Arch

We arrive in St Louis at 1:00 AM, so my wife and I go straight to the room to crash for the evening. The next morning, my wife springs a surprise on me; we are going to the History Museum to see the world's largest collection of Ben Franklin memorabilia, catch a lecture on Ben's activities as a spy and social engineer, along with generally enjoying the day poking about the halls of knowledge. Just a quick FYI: this is so great because Ben Franklin is my all time favorite historical figure and the man I would most like to switch lives with. This day goes great! 

After all the fun, I decide to see where I can go to enjoy a stick and a meal. The first choice from the cigar-review.com list is the "Francois Cognac & Cigar Bar". This sounds like a really good choice. Some day I wish to find out, but not on this trip. It's closed for vacation. 

St. Louis Fish Market My next choice is the "St Louis Fish Market". The food was excellent! The menu changes daily, according to what fresh seafood is available to the chef. The atmosphere ranges from casual to slightly less then so, as one would expect from a hotel-based restaurant. I have the grilled skate wing; my wife has a fried seafood selection, accompanied with a nice Chardonnay. The restaurant area is not "cigar friendly", but the bar area is. 

So, after our meals, we retire to the bar area. The selection of single malt scotches was good, bordering on impressive, from lower priced blended to rare well-aged singles; you can find a drink to match your stick, no problem. I chose a Balvenie DoubleWood and enjoyed a H. Upmann Cristal #43. The bartender whipped out a large single cigar glass ashtray and a box of matches. I thanked him, but still used my Colibri to light my evening smoke. I joked a bit with my wife and the bartender about the $140 a shot Remy Martin Cognac behind the bar. The gentleman behind the counter relayed a story of a rap star ordering shots of the Remy and mixing it with Red Bull. Proof the measure of a man's taste does not always improve with his income. 

After my drink, I paid my bill, tipped my usual 20% for good service, and gave the nice bartender a Cristal for his own collection. We left for the Central West End, where my wife grew up. There is a running joke of sorts in my family. It goes "Trust the Fat Man's nose". What that comes from is my innate ability to stumble upon great eating and drinking establishments by sheer instinct. When asked how I do it, I usually reply "I followed my nose, and the place smelled good". In reality, I'm not sure I can tell you how it works, one part smell, one part "feel", a little bit of dumb luck, and one part "who-knows-what", but it almost always works. This is how I found Llewellyn's Pub

This unpretentious pub is what all Welsh/Irish/Scotch pubs should be: friendly, comfortable and inviting. They offer a broad selection of adult malt beverages, including my life blood, Guinness Extra Stout, on tap. For some strange reason, about which I will not complain, all the bartenders were women, and all could have worked for a certain chicken wing chain we are all so fond of. I enjoyed a few pints there andGuinness Extra Stout absorbed the sedate energy of the place. If not for the 6 hour drive, I would have gladly joined the dart league that was asking for members that night. Overall, this was a great place to have a drink, read the local underground newspaper, listen to the conversations of the young bohemians who inhabit this section of the city, and generally unwind. But this place has a pleasant surprise that I will share with you later on. 

The next day we did a little sight-seeing and my wife reminisced of her youth. After finding her first home in St. Louis, and seeing how it had not been maintained, I reminded her of the old line "you can never go home again", and we moved on. A nice surprise was finding her second home in St Louis, one on Pershing Place, that had not only been maintained, it had be restored lovingly. Her father had bought this home for $24,000 in the early 70's, and sold it for twice that amount a couple of years later. It now has an asking price of more than $1,200,000! (It has been VERY lovingly restored.) After my throat cleared all the organs that had climbed up into it from hearing the asking price, we moved on, quickly! Since this isn't a restaurant review, I won't bother telling you about this evening's meal, but it too was great. Damn, I miss the food opportunities a larger city offers you. This evening my wife mentioned she saw a place mentioned on my list earlier while we were driving about. And the best part is it was only 2 blocks from our hotel. 

The place she was talking about was the "Cigar Club" in the Ritz-Carlton. So, dressed up slightly more then one would for a night out at McDonald's, (honestly, my wife looked ravishing, I looked like the cigar bum I am, attired in my new Cuesta Rey Sun Grown golf shirt) we headed over. 

Once in the lobby area, I couldn't find a clue as to where the club was, so I asked a staff member for directions. She gladly led us to the Cigar Club's front door. However, we failed to notice the little sign outside the door as we followed her in. This place is nice! Private humidors line the walls. Wainscoting, old English walnut and cherry, dark leather; this place oozes posh and refinement. It has an almost idealized "Gentleman's" club feel, and not in the way some adult entertainment places have usurped the meaning of the term. Settling in at a nice spot near the bar, I start to survey the place, when the lone staff member working there that evening comes over to greet us. 

Douglas is nice young man from Scotland whose job it is to serve the members and keep out the riffraff. I soon found out I fell in the later group. You see, the little sign we missed when coming in said "This Cigar Club is for Guests of the Ritz Carlton, Private Members and their Guests Only. Not open to the general public" I found this out when Douglas asked me which room I was staying in. When I said I was not at the Ritz, he asked me if I was a member (sort of a trick question, since he knows ALL the members by face and name) or if I was a member's guest. Since I was neither, and I told him so, Douglas explained what I had missed reading on the entrance sign. Oops! Man, did I feel a bit like the country bumpkin at that minute. However, since we were nice, respectful, from out of town, and had made an honest mistake, Douglas allowed us to stay so we could enjoy a drink and a stick.

I asked for a CAO Brazilia I noticed in the public sales display humidor, a shot of Belvenie 18 Year PortWood, neat, and a Bombay Sapphire Martini for my wife. In between his running to answer the calls of his guest needs, I asked Douglas a little more about the club. The membership price isn't bad at all, just a $1,000 per year. Now, being among those of you whose income isn't so large that $1,000 dollars is no minor thing, think of it this way, that's only $20 per week. I would spend much more then that entertaining clients in such a nice place. A membership gives you your own humidor, a 10% discount to the hotel, invitation to the club's many events, and access to a place that would appear to be far more exclusive then the price would lead you to believe. 

The thing I found overpriced here wasn't the drinks, but the smokes. My Brazilia Lambada, which I buy at my local B&M cigar store for $8, had a whopping $22 price tag on it! That's more then four times what I can get them for box price at Cigars International! Overall, the total bill was not bad, I enjoyed my drink, smoke, and the time I spent there. My wife and I excused ourselves, and left Douglas to tend to his patrons. Oh, and one last note, if you are a member, you can fill your humidor with your own smokes, you don't have to purchase through the club. This, at least, makes it an easier pill to swallow. With my "value-meter" badly dented, I suggest to my wife that we head back to Llewellyn's Pub for a more reasonably price end to the evening.Llewellyn's Pub St. Louis

So off to the Central West End we go. For a Monday night, this place is quite busy. My wife and I are the oldest folks there (we're in our forties, certainly not near death), but no one seems to mind, so we settle in at the bar to enjoy a few pints from a local microbrewery. Now, here's the surprise I mentioned earlier. I noticed several of the folks are smoking cigarettes, so I figure what the heck, I'll ask the bartender if I can smoke a cigar here. She looks at me with a quizzical glance, and then she asks me, "What do I mean?" I'm thinking I'm about to get some cock and bull story about how it's justified to smoke cigarettes and not pipes or cigars in a public place. So I explain how it has become common for many places to allow only cigarettes, if any form of tobacco, to be consumed. She giggles slightly, grabs an ashtray from behind the counter, places it in front of me, and promptly tells me "This is a European style pub. You can smoke what ever is legal. No one here is going to mind." 

Huh? In this day of political correctness and ever increasing anti-smoking laws, in the middle of a youth driven, bohemian lifestyle-centric neighborhood, I find a cigar friendly place? Man, is this the twilight zone? Nope, but if I lived closer, I could see myself becoming this bar's "Norm" really easily! 

Taking the opportunity, I clip up a Romeo y Julieta Cedaro # 1, order a pint of a microbrew porter, and lean back to enjoy. And then the good times just keep coming. I find out that ALL draughts are only $2.50 per pint every Monday and during Happy Hour everyday. This place is cigar friendly, has a great selection of beers, low prices and very well-endowed happy bartenders? If it isn't heaven, I would have to suggest to Saint Peter to look at it real close for styling suggestions to include in the next remodel. 

As for the crowd, they were not offended at all by my stick. As a matter of fact, one young gentleman asked me what I was smoking and where could he get one for himself. I'm feeling better that there is still some hope for the youth in America. This concludes my tale of our trip to St. Louis. There are quite a few places I didn't get a chance to try. But who knows, maybe in the near future I will get a second chance and report back here for all of you. "Smoke 'em if ya got 'em", Rick McLaughlin (ram416)

Editor's note:
For more cigar friendly establishments and cigar friendly restaurants in St. Louis - Click Here.
For a nationwide-USA listing of cigar friendly restaurants - Click Here.

Rick McLaughlin

 

 

 

 

Rick McLaughlin - Writer at Large (no pun intended)




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