Thoughts on Being a Great Patron at a Cigar Bar

A few weeks ago, I discovered a newly opened cigar shop and lounge in downtown Grand Rapids. The Grand River Cigar Co., located in a building that a century ago started as a cigar store, offers a nice selection of cigars and plenty of comfortable seating. In fact, I liked the shop and its owners so much that I rented a locker on an annual contract the same day of my first visit.

I spend about two evenings a week there; I buy cigars, smoke one or two, and enjoy a responsibly sized dram of Scotch or snifter of port. My loyal podcasting sidekick, Tony, does the same at The Corona in Okemos (itself a lovely shop).

Despite being Michigan’s second-largest city, after Detroit, and being a t0p-50 national market, the Grand Rapids area didn’t have a robust presence on the cigar map. A few years ago, there were basically two main tobacconists, neither of which offered publicized on-site storage to the general public or even adequate seating. Each had its charms — one had really friendly staff, the other had a superior selection — but they were places to buy, not places to stay.

In the last c0uple of years, the outlook improved; a cigar bar opened up beneath a downtown restaurant and several additional discount cigar shops opened up in the suburbs. That said, until Grand River Cigar opened, there really hasn’t been a “destination” place in the G.R. metro area.

Having spend a fair amount of time there in the evenings over the last month, I’ve seen a few things that prompt reflection about what it takes to be a great patron at a cigar bar. Thoughts:

  1. Check the house rules and meet the owner. Learn what’s expected.
  2. Don’t take advantage of the host’s hospitality. If the cigar shop closes at 10 p.m., then wrap up by 10 p.m., even if the staff won’t toss you out until after midnight.
  3. Support the shop by buying the shop’s products. Don’t bring in your mail-order sticks to your locker at the shop.
  4. If the shop allows you to bring adult beverages on-premises (common in Michigan), don’t put the house at risk by getting tanked or pouring for minors.
  5. Clean up after yourself: Empty your ashtrays, pick up your cups, put cutters and torches back in the common area.
  6. Don’t play the “this is my seat” or “hey, I was watching that” game. If the shop has two TVs, don’t insist on watching the Golf Channel during March Madness, and don’t get territorial with seating.
  7. Encourage your friends to frequent the establishment. Nothing says “thanks for the great service” to the shop owner like referring new paying customers.
  8. Help new smokers. Every shop will attract people who are relatively new to cigar culture; do your best to make them feel welcome.
  9. Be social. If you’re a regular, introduce yourself to the other regulars and occasionally chat them up. The whole point of enjoying a cigar at a smoking lounge is the social aspect. Follow the usual rules: Avoid pontificating about politics and religion unless the conversation turns to it and listen more than you speak.
  10. Respect “community property” — leave copies of Cigar Aficionado, wipe up the sink in the bathroom, make another pot of coffee if you drink the last one, etc.

Cigar shops offer a chance for gentlemanly (and sometimes, gentlewomanly) camaraderie in a relaxed setting where patrons may take advantage of the finer things. Do your part to keep up the environment by being a great patron at your local cigar lounge!

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