While it certainly is important to carry quality stogies in a cigar shop, the true differentiator between a good shop and a great one is the people who staff it and by that standard, Rain City Cigar in Seattle is one of the very best. I love their passion, expertise and unwavering sense of humor. Best of all is the cameraderie they engender. Whenever they host a cigar event, an awning is erected in the parking lot with chairs where my Brothers and Sisters of the Leaf and I can watch our purchases go up in smoke. What amazes me every time is the eclectic crowd that shows up and the fascinating conversation that ensues — everything from cigars, world travel and other hobbies to how we generate disposable income for our leafy love affair and the state of affairs of the world we live in with nary a contentious word. There is something about a cigar that brings out the true civility in us and no, it’s not just because I live in Seattle where civility is commonplace. I’ve experienced this from Orlando to Tucson to Los Angeles to Vancouver, BC where cigar stores are islands of civility in the midst of chaotic urban landscapes. I just read in “Churchill’s Cigars” how Sir Winston, upon reaching a seemingly insurmountable impasse during a critical meeting, invited the attendees into his private office where he gave each of them a Cuban cigar out of a fine wooden chest (a gift from the Cuban government) and lit them up. By the time the cigars were burned down to nubs, consensus on an action plan had been formed and everyone emerged smiling. Now that’s leadership and something we are desperately lacking these days. (Barack, break out the cigars, dude!)
I first wandered into Rain City in 2005 looking for a very specific cigar to take on my motorcycle ride to Alaska — Macanudo Portifino in tubes. I found these to hold up well to the rigors of being stuffed into a saddle bag and hauled thousands of miles through heat, cold, rain and dust. (I hadn’t discovered travel humidors yet.) I’d put a rubber band around a big bundle of them and then dole them out around the campfire each night where we would puff away, drink and tell stories until the wee hours. While I was certainly an avid motorcylist, I found myself thinking, more and more, about nothing but that end of the day ritual. Ask me about that ride I did around the Olympic Peninsula with a couple of buddies and I’ll tell you all about camping out on the Pacific Ocean beach, smoking three new cigars and the camaraderie we shared. Or about that time I rode across the Mohave Desert with my brother, Eric, to meet up with our brother, Paul, and his friend, Don, in a forest just South of Flagstaff, Arizona and I’ll tell you about how those Portofino cigars and red wine were perfect around that campfire under an amazing night sky filled with stars. Or about that party on the North Rim of the Canyon at the end of a 500 mile ride….oh yeah, baby!
Then one day I walked into Rain feeling a need to expand my horizons. It so happens that Joe Arundel, the owner, was out front so I asked him for advice and he replied, “Where’s your log book?” to which I responded, “Uh, I don’t have one.” With a big smile on his face, he said, “Well, how am I supposed to know what to recommend if you don’t have a log book?” Being a former SCUBA diver with a very detailed log book, I took this very seriously. “I’m supposed to being logging the cigars I smoke?” “Hell yes! What you like, what you don’t like, then we can talk.” Ok, then! Upon hearing that I liked Macanudos, Joe recommended some stogies with a bit more character and told me to get busy. I went home, got on the Internet, found a cigar log template and smoked my homework. I soon eagerly returned with my log book in hand and after flipping through the pages, Joe said, “Ok, I want you to try this, this and that and here’s why I’m recommending them. Mind you, I want a full report!” I was hooked — I love methodical research and the thrill of exploration as do all Virgos with a Sagittarius ascendant. Joe launched me on an amazing journey and many log pages and a lot of ashes later, I have experienced sticks from all over — Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Cuba — with just about every kind of wrapper, binder and filler known to man. And yet there is always something new to try and when that happens, I scour the Internet for every bit of information I can glean — who designed it, who built it, how it is made and how it has been received by the many cigar bloggers out there. Of course, the more I learn, the more I realize I am merely a student of the Leaf.
Once fellow smokers have perused my log book, they usually ask me to email my cigar log template to them but alas, these days more and more of them are inspired to use an app on their iPhone or iPad instead. I guess that counts as progress in the Digital Age but I still favor the old school analog of paper and pen. There is something very relaxing about puffing away and scribbling my thoughts as I ponder the construction, the flavors, the artwork of the band (which I glue into my log book) and the people behind each particular cigar. When I meet a new cigar rep, I hand them my log book and challenge them to pick something out of their line that they think I’ll like which leads to new smoking experiences.
While I do watch a couple of Internet-based cigar shops for mega bargains, I love doing most of my shopping locally due to the rich interaction with truly passionate people. When I’m traveling, I purposely hunt down the neighborhood shops where I can savor the aroma of a superbly stock humidor, the proprietor’s knowledge and our shared love of the Leaf.
What a journey it has been as I have expanded my palate and I have Joe and his top notch staff to thank for it. Cheers! — Scott Bruce Duncan */:-)