A Little Slice Of Heaven

The Tobacco Temple

A business trip to Orlando in March is a sweet thing. It’s a whole lot warmer and sunnier than Seattle in Winter and a welcome change of pace. It means taking a break from the Vitamin D supplements and doing it the old fashioned way with real sunshine. It means the simple joy of not having to wear a coat. It means attending consciousness expanding, fact filled seminars and talking shop with all sorts of interesting people, usually with an alcohol beverage in one’s hand after dinner. It’s so much more fun to talk about work with a pleasant glow, isn’t it? You bet. But all of these delightful things don’t really compensate for the incredibly demeaning act of air travel with its pains, indignities and hassles. In fact, nudge me ever so slightly and I’ll instantly decide to bail on the trip in a haze of negativity — the conference will be boring! I won’t sleep a wink! I can’t afford to miss time at work! That six hour flight is brutal! Disney World is so revoltingly suburban — ad infinitum! Screw it! I’m NOT going. What was I thinking? But then a faint ray of light penetrates my gloom and grumpiness as a pleasurable memory of camaraderie and adventure comes forth. Thanks to Doug, a fellow Brother of the Leaf, I discovered first hand last Fall, a little slice of Heaven tucked unobtrusively into the meticulous controlled Disney landscape — the Sosa Family Cigar shop. Ahhh…what a trip it will be — the abundant sunshine, the plentiful Vitamin D, the delicious warm breezes, new faces to share stories with, the stimulating lectures and the icing on this delicious, experiential cake — a field trip to Sosa! When do we leave? I can’t wait!!! What was I thinking?

A thing of beauty

On this particular trip, we’re staying just South of the Disney complex so instead of being able to use the superb, free Disney bus system, we’ll have to hop into a cab for the nine mile ride to Downtown Disney. I recruit three amigos, Scott, Joe and Dean, with tales of splendor and elegance about this tiny haven for those who seek the ritual of burning the sacred leaf. Scott Fleig, being a passionate photographer, has an assignment from his photo club — to photograph cocktails. Well, I just happen to know just the place for that. Hop in the cab, dude!

Our hostess, Nicole

If you don’t know where to look, you may very well miss this oasis in the Disney wilderness. After checking in the hotel after that grueling cross country flight across three time zones, the thought of paying a visit immediately perked me up. I ask the young lady at the front desk how one gets to Downtown Disney and being unaware of such a shop, she gets right on the horn and confirms the location and their hours of operation. She then instructs me to catch the shuttle bus outside the hotel door but I tell her I’d rather walk over on such a fine Florida night. She looks rather aghast and explains it is too far but I assure her I love a good walk thanks to my dogs. When she can’t dissuade me, she hits upon the fact that there are no sidewalks and traipsing along the shoulder in the dark is inviting mortal danger. Yes, they do try to keep the gators off the premises but…..ok, I’ll take the bus — whatever! So I walk out and hop on the bus but it heads the wrong way and proceeds to stop at every hotel along the lake. With each stop, pleasantly inebriated riders wearing Mickey Mouse hats pile on. As the bus continues to take me further from my destination and the riders spontaneously break into Disney song like they are in a musical, I inwardly wail, “I just want a cigar!!”. In desperation, I escape the bus at the next stop and take a deep, relaxing breath but as it pulls away with its merry inhabitants, I realize that we’ve circumnavigated the lake and I’m now one stop away from where I started out. Groan!! I whip out my Disney map and realize that if I hop back on, it will actually head for Downtown Disney. I chuckle and get back on.

I consult the Downtown Disney map display upon disembarking and head out through what is essentially an open air mall but as I wander through acres of seemingly endless Disney toy and gift stores, doubt enters my mind. Why would Disney allow such a hedonistic pagan temple in the midst of their Mickey Mouse, family friendly, consumer shrines? Surely they came to their senses and evicted this cigar bar long ago. Due only to my trust in Doug and my deep desire for a cigar, I journey on and finally come across a section of Downtown Disney called Pleasure Island. Suddenly, the Pirates of the Caribbean spring to mind with images of wine, women and song. Hope is rekindled and I quicken my pace into the adult section. When I finally stumble across a tiny shop tucked into an alley behind an Irish pub, I blink and rub my eyes to make sure it isn’t a mirage. I reverently enter this sanctuary, gaze in wonder and feel a sense of relief sweep over me as the haunting visions of Disney characters fade from my weary mind. Planted comfortably in a chair out on the patio beneath the star filled Florida night sky, I savor my Macanudo Vintage 2000 cigar and glass of Cabernet Sauvignon — jet lag and the unpleasantness of air travel are soon forgotten. Bliss! I close the place down at 11pm only to find out that the buses have long since running but I don’t care. I gladly hop in a cab and head for the hotel.

Sosa Magnum Natural / 7.75 x 52 / Dominican filler and binder with an Ecuador Sumatra wrapper / Medium flavor

On this particular night, the four of us arrive by cab and we begin the cigar selection ritual. On my last two outings here, I chose only cigars I knew but this time, I will purposely explore the house brand. I seek counsel from Nicole, a hostess, as to what to light up for Dean, a new friend and cigar apprentice. We settle on a graceful, Sosa cigar with smooth, mild qualities for him which he accepts with a big smile. Then after a discussion about cigar properties and my preferences, I pick a Sosa Magnum Natural, a 7.75 inch beauty with a 52 ring gauge, for Scott and me to enjoy. But upon seeing his diminutive stogie next to our massive ones, Dean’s smile fades and he expresses a desire to upgrade. My further consultations are politely rebuffed so Nicole gives it a shot and sweetly explains that size does not matter when it comes to cigars. Well, guess what? Dean is having none of that. No ma’am! He’ll not be seen at the bar as the only member of our party smoking this little cigar. Ok, lock and load!

Nicole checking on whether I need more wine

We inhabit the section of bar in front of the handsome wall cabinet humidors and arrange for drinks while lighting up. The first few hits on my Magnum take me off guard as I taste ground-up, dried leaves raked up off some dude’s lawn with some peat moss mixed in for flavor — wow — how delightfully organic! Yak! But then the cigar settles down and delivers the robust taste of premium tobacco leaf — it’s going to be a fine smoke. Scott gets right to work on his photography project atop the sculpted-to-look-like-ice glass bar top. While I settle into a delicious Robert Mondavi Cabernet, Scott proceeds to order colorful drinks that look rather revolting, especially the Gummy Bear Martini, which he gingerly samples and declares to be disgustingly sweet — no shit, Sherlock! Undeterred, he steadfastly arranges drinks and shoots them from various angles that the rest of us find to be rather entertaining while we puff and sip away. After awhile, though, this event becomes more akin to a movie set with Scott as the director than a simple photo shoot. All three bartenders are now bringing him colorful, no-cost, non-alcoholic contributions to the project and he’s got the rest of us acting as support staff and cocktail models. No worries — I order another glass of wine for fortitude.

I keep peeking over Scott’s shoulder at the images appearing on the screen of his fancy digital camera in the midst of all of this and I’m starting to think this whole photo shoot thing is a bust. Yes, photos are being taken but creative, artistic expressions of light, form and color? Nah! But hey, whatever floats his boat, right? I’m just about to impart some wisecrack wisdom about not quitting his day job anytime soon and BANG — the magic happens — he produces two remarkable, professional quality photos. Hey! He IS good and it dawns on me that it really does take perseverance, a lot of patience and an obsessive streak — qualities I respect. Perfect timing, too — our monster stogies are burned down to nubs and we’ve closed the place down. I buy a few more Sosas to bring home to Seattle and I pick out a nice Sosa Churchill for my fellow tribe member and scout, Doug.

Dean, an expedition party member

We gather up Dean who looks a tad battle weary — a half smoked cigar is parked in his ashtray and he has a glazed, baked look about him. We lovingly escort him out to the cab after saying our goodbyes to the Sosa staff. Dean informs me that I was right about that Magnum kicking his butt and being nothing but hard work. Knowingly, I reach into my smoking kit, extract a Macanudo Portofino and slide it into his shirt pocket, telling him to try this smooth, mellow beauty during his next sacred ritual. We pile into the cab and are soon saying good night back at our hotel. Joe and I stroll back to our rented condo in the next building under a star filled sky and along the way, I can’t help but gleefully put fresh footprints in the ever so neatly raked, pseudo sand trap in the hotel’s landscaping. I’ve done this every night during this visit and somehow evidence of my passage is always erased by morning. Personally, I suspect landscape elves are on the payroll. */:-)

P.S. While looking for some more bar photos, I found the architect’s website with their work detailed in an online portfolio. It turns out that the theme for the design was ‘fire and ice” and I think Scott’s photos below capture that perfectly.

A Magical Mojito

A cocktail of some sort, created by the master bartender for the project
Care to see more of Scott Fleig’s work? Take a look at myndzeyePhotography!

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