Sometimes, there's nothing quite like a good smoke.
Unfortunately, after a generation of surgeon general's warnings, it's getting harder and harder to find that solitary cigarette for the bumming. And at an average $7.00 a pack in Massachusetts, they're too damned expensive.
So, why not invest a wee bit more (as you would with any other rare treat) and get something of superior quality? In Boston, you'll find tobacco's finest offerings on the corner of Charles and Boylston Streets at the L.J. Peretti Company. 2010 marked the shop's 140th year in business.
Peretti's moved to its current location in 1938 and has survived the area's full-scale redevelopment. The shop still wears a classic fedora in a neighborhood now adorned with glass and steel. Its warm, grandfatherly atmosphere is buoyed by old-timey fixtures and vintage Cubana décor.
A Place to Buy Tobacco... and Smoke it
The well-worn leather chairs also provide a comfortable cushion to chill out and light up a smoke. Yes, you heard me, inside. Owing to its age (and perhaps respect), Willett points out that "We pre-date any law they've ever thought of; we're grandfathered."
Today, the tobacconist offers a staggering selection of cigars, pipes and tobaccos that few can rival--no one in Boston comes close, according to owner Stephen Willett. "There's an old saying that if Peretti's doesn't have it, it's not worth having," he said.
Not being an aficionado, I asked for a cigar suitable for a novice. The 125th Anniversary cigar, ($9) made exclusively for Peretti's by celebrated tobacco producer, Arturo Fuente, was the response.
Tobacco Still Brings People Together
Now, it's not that I've never smoked a cigar before. But as with wine, I seriously doubt my palate's ability to discern swill from swell. Unless you're a South American guerrilla fighter, the first step is to finely slice off the "cap" at the mouth-end, careful not to damage the "wrapper," that could unravel the whole thing. To light, cluster a few matches for a bigger flame and rotate the cigar for an even burn.
As I search for the optimum smoking posture and cigar fingering, the Thursday afternoon crowd files in and out: dapper business types, red-faced construction workers, punk girls, and various other collegiate cliques that still find tobacco cool. Those who stay either succumb to the hypnotic swirls of the smoke or push conversation through them. There is gruffness to the general chit-chat that can (and sometimes is) mistaken for rudeness.
For me, it's still ten times more satisfying than a blathering, overly perky TGI Fridays server. Besides, tobacco isn't the sort of product that inspires high school musicals.
But cigars account for only half the business. The substantially more aromatic pipes and tobacco makes up most of the rest. Just don't ask any questions pertaining to methods and make-up as you'll release the hounds: much like the specialties of renowned chefs, recipes are kept close to the heart in the world of high-end tobacco.
"You just don't throw two tobaccos together or flavor it," Willitt stressed. "It's a long process whereby you try out different formulations and arrive at one where you think the tobaccos marry correctly and make a unique blend."
With formulas dating back to the nineteenth century, the number of choices could be intimidating. For newbies, the owner recommends 'blend 432,' a Cavendish type that is mild, mellow, and sweetened with a coconut curing. He also suggests an inexpensive pipe until you become acquainted with the choices.
Surviving Harsh Judgment
Being a tobacconist in twenty-first century America is no easy feat. The odds are stacked firmly against you, taxes are at an all-time high, and you're a devil in the eyes of most onlookers.
Pipe clamped in mouth, Willitt bristles at much of the scientific evidence against tobacco, considering it to be tainted with political bias. "I can see where the danger would be in cigarettes, because there are chemicals in them," he admitted.
Despite the black sheep's clothing, Willitt still manages to so some community outreach do community outreach. "I can't tell you how many community organizations ask us for a box of cigars or humidor for charity, and we usually take care of them," he said.
Stamping out the cigar, I recall another old saying about smoking. "A cigarette is to be smoked, a cigar is to be enjoyed, and a pipe is to be savored."
For me, if I'm going to smoke, I'd rather do the latter.