Cigars are a lingua franca — a common language — that crosses all known barriers. I know this because it was demonstrated to me forcibly for the thousandth time on my recent international travels. I found myself among the wine taverns, coffee houses, wurst stalls and opera houses of magnificent Vienna, Austria. And I didn’t waste the chance to make new cigar friends.
[quote_center]Vienna is a beautiful, cultured, and elegant city, full of endeavour, splendour, history and architecture. The coffee house culture, along with a strong link to the arts, means the city is also a bohemian’s delight. Cigar lovers will find plenty of pleasure in these glorious, wide city streets.[/quote_center]
Discovering Local Secrets
I had tracked down one of the city’s best kept cigar secrets. It’s a small but superb store, its walk-in humidor stocked with every type of Havana as well as a vast range of New World sticks. It wasn’t easy to find, but local knowledge is always key.
Don’t just rely on your own detective and map reading skills when visiting a new city for the first time. You’ll waste both shoe leather and time, traipsing around trying to find the perfect venue. Do your reconnaissance beforehand whenever possible, ideally pinpointing a trustworthy “man on the ground” who can offer sage advice, hints and tips, and who, perhaps, will also meet you for firsthand guidance around the streets.
This particular store was in the back streets and I’d never have found it without my Vienna “mole.” Not much bigger than your average corner shop tobacconist, it was piled to the rafters with boxes, lighters, books and humidors, and I was welcomed like an old family member.
The walk-in humidor was a treasure trove, and I selected a brand spanking new Montecristo Petit No. 2 — the baby version of the original Cuban behemoth — to sample at the accommodating coffee shop next door.
This was indeed a separate coffee shop, but frankly might as well have been part of the cigar shop. It was thick with perfumed cigar smoke, several men and a couple of ladies enjoying a variety of sticks, a conversation and a coffee or beer. Like the shop, it wasn’t plush. And like the shop, the welcome was warm.
I pulled up a seat in the corner, ordered an espresso, and began work on my new Cuban. As I torched it, I caught the eye of a young chap on the table opposite, smoking a huge cigar with a pal. He grinned and raised his cigar in salutation. No words necessary, no language difficulties here. I raised mine back and before long we had joined tables and were chatting in pigeon English about our common passion.
The young Austrian was proud of his “neighborhood cigar store,” as he called it. He described it as more like a social club than a shop, with a roster of members who dropped in and out throughout the day to hang out, talk cigars, and enjoy a new smoke.
He haltingly described how, one roasting hot day in the summer, this gang of like-minded friends gathered and grew outside on the storefront pavement. A small table with chairs is concreted-in there, and the party grew as more and more chairs were commandeered from the coffee shop and beyond.
Soon, there was a real assembly taking place, more than two dozen cigar lovers having a blast in the sunshine. Someone smart ordered an enormous block of ice to be delivered –— and soon traffic was slowing down to see what all the fuss was about, as this group of guys kicked back and cooled their feet on this great slab of melting ice.
Even from the broken translation of events, retold in another language many months later, I could get a real sense of that afternoon’s events. It sounded like one of those days in your life you will never forget; an almost surreal, perfect capsule of a couple of hours when your world is in perfect harmony with those around you. These memories seem to sear themselves into your consciousness in a way that others don’t.
I thanked him for the story and we smoked on. The Petit No. 2 was slap-in-the face strong, with little finesse, and I hope it becomes kinder with age. But nonetheless we enjoyed each other’s company and camaraderie until I finished and paid up, waving my thanks to my new circle of friends, before stepping out into the street once more. It took a couple of moments for me to clear my head, and I took a deep lungful of cold, crisp Viennese air.
Then I was back off up the street to find more places of interest and to track down a cigar-friendly bar for later that night. A cigar-lover’s work is never complete, my friends. We must rely on our lingua franca to steer us in the right direction. And sometimes a cigar is worth a thousand words.
Nick Hammond is a writer and journalist from the U.K., specializing in travel, food, drink, cigars and the Good Life. Nick was voted Spectator Cigar Writer of The Year 2013 due, in part, to his work with Cigar & Spirits Magazine. The Spectator is one of the U.K.’s longest running publications and is a political and cultural institution.