By M. Scott Morris
TUPELO – The air gets heavy on the third Thursday of each month, and members of Tupelo Smokes like it that way.
“It’s called a cigar club, but we could call it ‘men’s night out,’” said Art Chambers, 64, of Tupelo.
Fred Pitts is the closet thing to a president the club has. He has a list of about 50 people, and he sends out emails each month. (To join the list, email firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Between 10 and 20 guys usually show up to smoke cigars, while also sipping Scotch or another beverage of their choice.
“I had the idea a few years ago,” said Pitts, 71, of Tupelo. “Jim Goodwin and I got together that first night. It was him and me.”
Pitts has smoked cigars on and off since college, but it’s become more frequent in the past five years.
“In the summer, I’ll probably have one every day,” he said. “In the wintertime, that depends on when and where I can.”
The club often meets upstairs at Park Heights in downtown Tupelo. It’s an open-air location, so thick, gray smoke clears out pretty quickly, but the location has its drawbacks.
“We have met at Park Heights in December when it was snowing outside,” Pitts said. “That was dedication.”
February’s meeting doubled as an open house for Spring Street Cigars, a new business owned by Dalton Healey, 23, of Starkville. He co-owns a cigar shop in Starkville, and decided to give Tupelo a try after hearing about the club.
“Having them here is a big plus,” he said. “If you don’t have support, your business isn’t going to make it.”
Healey said he was surprised members of the club didn’t open their own shop, but there are cigar options available. Chambers’ wife sells cigars at His & Hers Antiques, and many Tupelo Smokes members buy online.
“Cigars are a lifestyle,” Healey said. “It’s not a habit. It’s not a cigarette. It’s a lifestyle.”
An old tradition
Tupelo resident Mo Daher, 30, started smoking cigars about 10 years ago, so when his daughter Annie was born, he felt a responsibility to find the perfect cigar to mark the occasion.
He wasn’t interested in cheap novelty cigars with “It’s a Girl” written in pink. Instead, he found a variety by La Dueña that featured a cameo of a lady on the wrapper.
“It’s feminine and my wife likes cameos, so I thought that would be nice,” he said.
More importantly, how do they taste?
“I really enjoyed them,” said Daher, who placed boxes full of cigars along with a picture of newborn Annie at the last meeting.
Matters of taste
Members of Tupelo Smokes aren’t elitists, but they have standards.
“It’s like smoke-able art,” Daher said. “Every one is hand-rolled and hand-blended.”
“It’s kind of like Scotch with different ages and different blends,” Pitts said. “Every cigar can be rolled out of multiple leaves to get different tastes, like blending grapes for wine.”
Maury Giachelli, 28, of Tupelo, joined the group last summer, and he’s enjoyed cigars since his college days.
“Usually, they say bring a cigar to smoke and bring a cigar to trade,” Giachelli said. “Put it in the pot, someone smokes it and you can talk about it.”
Giachelli said he’s no expert, but sometimes a hint of cinnamon or hickory smoke can be detected. Some smokers prefer milder cigars, while others appreciate a heavy, full-bodied taste.
Pitts said one rule seems to hold true all the time: “The cheaper the cigar, the worse they are. If you get good quality, you don’t mind the smell.”
He said a cigar can go for $4 up to $25.
“I’ve never had the ones that are more than $25,” Chambers added, “so I can’t tell if they’re worth it.”
No mention of quality can be complete without bringing up Cuba. Because of the U.S. trade embargo, Cuban cigars have taken on a mythical quality.
There are ways around the embargo, especially for those who travel to other countries, but an anonymous member of Tupelo Smokes said, “If we tell you about it, we’ll have to kill you.”
Besides, Pitts and Chambers said hand-rolled products from Honduras and Nicaragua provide about as fine a smoking experience as a guy could ask for.
Anyone with a contrasting opinion is welcome to share it with the club. Then again, cigars don’t have to be the topic of conversation.
The next men’s night out will be 5:30 p.m. Thursday, March 20, at Park Heights.
“Anybody is welcome. There’s no membership fee. Just come and have a good time,” Pitts said. “What we usually do is order hors d’oeuvres and everybody snacks on them. By the end of the night, somebody pays for it. That rotates each month. Nothing formal, sort of a gentleman’s agreement.”
Tupelo Smokes has a relaxed vibe, and pipes are welcome. There’s no membership fee, so the only real price of admission is the air you breathe.
“When everyone lights up,” Giachelli said with smile, “it will hit you in the face.”