For me, cigars have always been associated with Edward G. Robinson, George Burns and Gordon Gekko and a pungent odor that clung to my clothes days after I was around a cigar smoker. To better understand the world of cigars, I stopped by Fumé Cigar Shop and Lounge (415 Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair).
“Cigars are definitely an acquired taste. Some people prefer beer; some people prefer wine; some people prefer cigarettes over cigars; and then there’s different types of cigars and there different types of cigar smokers,” says Frank Alberto, who along with brother Ralph (and another person who is no longer with the shop), opened Fumé in 2004.
The shop offers 2-3,000 different types of hand-rolled, limited produced high-end “boutique” cigars from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and Honduras ranging from $7.00 to $50 per stick or $100-$1,000 by the box, depending on the number and type of cigars in the box. The Alberto brothers also sell cigar cutters, lighters, tobacco pipes, humidors and select cigarette brands.
Members (for a $400 annual membership fee) have access to a lounge where they can smoke their cigars that are stored in their own humidified lockers. They can also watch sports on a wide screen TV (hot food is served on Sundays), attend special events and get discounts on purchases.
While the majority of members are male, Alberto says there are two female members. “One lady is here every night,” says Alberto, who grew up in Newark and now lives in Cedar Grove. “It definitely takes a woman who can deal with men on a large scale. There is a little bit of a watch TV, a lot of sporting events on. If you’re not into sporting events, it’s probably difficult if you’re a lady. Some guys don’t even like sporting events, so they’ll go in the back room where it’s quiet and sit there and smoke.”
For first-time cigar smokers, Alberto recommends they start with a milder cigar, which can have a creamy, earth-peppery tone and leathery taste. He says cigars from the Dominican Republic are creamier, less acidic and have a cocoa taste, while Nicaraguan cigars (his favorite) have a black peppery taste and Hondurans have an earthy, bittersweet chocolate-type taste.
“You learn what you like; we’ll set you up with two-three different cigars with three different tastes—a creamy one; one that has a little bit of spice and one with an earthy overtone—has a light bitterness. Then you bring in the cigar labels and we mark the ones you like. After your second or third try, we’ll bump it up to a medium (stronger) taste. Then we’ll go to a full-bodied taste.”
The Fumé co-owner says many women who visit the store with their husbands or boyfriends try flavored cigars—the cigars’ outer leaves are dipped in fruit, coffee or mint chocolate chip flavored extracts.
While Cuban cigars hold a certain caché because of their illegal status in the United States and their craftsmanship, Alberto thinks Nicaraguan and Dominican cigars (known as domestic cigars because they are allowed into the U.S. legally) have equalled or surpassed them. “The issue is quality control with these domestic cigars. The manufacturers have different people looking at every step of the way. With the Cuban stuff, it’s still done in an antiquated way. There are no real regulations, so you might get a box that’s excellent and the cigar color might be dark and then you’ll get a box again with a lighter (colored) cigar. The consistency is not there, whereas there is with domestic cigars.”
Thoughts on ending the trade embargo that banned Cuban cigars from entering the United States legally 52 years ago? “I don’t see it happening in the near future…I’m not a diplomat, so I wouldn’t know. If it does happen, it would create a great boom again for cigars, like in the early ’90’s,” comments Alberto.
“People tell you there’s not enough product to go around—that’s not true. There’s enough Cuban cigars that they can supply America with. 80 percent of the Cuban cigars that are currently made are exported to Europe and re-imported to the U.S. Customs will check it and grab you if they want.” Alberto says he doesn’t think this happens often.
Are cigar pairings with specific wine and spirits legitimate or just a marketing thing?
“Sometimes we try to pair stuff; for me it doesn’t work. It all depends on the person and the palate he/she has. Everybody is different; that’s why they make all these different cigars—that’s why we have so many variances in prices.
“A guy comes in here and buys a $20 cigar for the first time here and he’s used to a $3 cigar from another place. He might like the $3 cigar taste he’s used to—he’s used to that earthy or creamy or cocoa taste. It’s just like a wine. Some people might like a Barolo; some people like something lighter and they go for a pinot noir.”
Popular accessories Alberto sells that might translate into holiday gift ideas?
Cigar lighters ($15-$2,000; “It’s a big part of the whole mystique of a cigar”) and cigar cutters (similar pricing and also a status symbol for cigar smokers).
Fumé Cigar Shop and Lounge, 415 Bloomfield Avenue, Montclair, 973-783-3863