Living La Vida Rica
I have five uncles, and none of them is filthy stinking rich. That said, all five are considerably wealthier than a certain wayward, estranged niece (me). I live several hundred miles from any of them, though, and don't receive many invitations to visit. But in my mind, reclining in a rich uncle's lavishly furnished mansion and playing sophisticate would be undeniably awesome.
If there's anything a millionaire uncle should have lots of (besides money and mistresses), it's cigars. Nothing says "elite" like puffing on a big Cuban cigar while discussing the stock market and sipping brandy. So, as a substitute for being high society by blood, I decided to go hang out at Florida Cigar Co. (1527 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale) on a Monday night to see if I could find me a rich, cigar-puffin' adoptive uncle (one willing to send me a nice, big check on my birthday) — or at least learn a thing or two about cigars (I'll need to learn something for when I get rich and join high society, right?).
Ambience: To get to the barroom itself, I had to first pass through the cigar shop, lined with more stogies than you could shake a stick at. The cigar saleswoman, Heather, flipped through channels on a flat-screen TV, guarding the rows of cigars. I slipped past her and entered the cozy, smoky, low-lit bar. About seven other people sat lounging comfortably in the green-walled room, puffing out thick streams of white smoke and sipping liquor through straws. I claimed a spot on a soft tan couch that faced matching chairs and a low table with two multiple cigar-holding ashtrays. The bar stretches across the left side of the room, and in place of the typical barstool, it sports classy highchairs with backs. Glass shelves filled with liquor cover the wall behind the bar, and five flat-screen TVs showing sports (including some "classic" NFL games) glimmer throughout. It is pretty much what every upper-class uncle's living room should be — except one thing. An electronic jukebox in the corner was the apparent cause of the random-ass music — Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" just didn't seem to fit my wealthy-uncle-living-room image. The hypothetical rich uncle must have some good taste in music.
Bartender: I walked over to chat up a platinum-blond lady in a black miniskirt, sitting all alone and smoking cigarettes. Andrea was syrupy-sweet, quite inebriated, and when I introduced myself, she misjudged where my back was and accidentally put her hand on my ass. And then left it there. She told me she was visiting her friend Grace, the muscular, bronzed bartender. Grace was blond, wore a black tube-top, and kept reapplying her pearlescent pink lipstick.
"So, why'd you decide to bartend for a cigar bar?" I asked.
"Andrea and I were looking for work," Grace said. "We came out here, and they weren't hiring — but the owner said he'd pay us $20 an hour to hand out promotional fliers."
"Oh God, we had so much fun," squealed Andrea. She made a motion like she was throwing fliers, which provoked both girls to dissolve into peals of laughter. "It was fun and not bad money either," agreed Grace. "And then one day, they needed a bartender, so they called me up, and now I'm 'Monday' — a different girl bartends here every night of the week."
Drinks: Hoping to appear sophisticated, I ordered a gin and tonic. When my companion and I asked Grace to recommend cigars that might go well with our drinks, she admitted not knowing much about cigars — which is why she is a bartender, not a cigartender. Fair enough.
Cigars: Since Grace didn't know a good cigar from a stogie (and honestly, neither did I), we went back into the cigar shop to talk to another hot blond, Heather. She wore a classy red and brown dress, high heels, and a black hair band to secure her platinum mane. She showed me around the shop, and when I asked for the most expensive cigar in the place, she took me to shelves of God of Fire cigars, all $20 and up. I yelped at the thought of spending that much on a smoke, so she directed me to the petit coronas — a preference of Heather's because they "don't last too long." One of my friends bought a java-flavored, flat-shaped cigar, and another bought a Cabaiguan. I decided to try the Cabaiguan, which my Makers Mark-swigging companion permitted so long as I didn't "get the end all soggy with my spit." Though I felt sophisticated and supersexy doing it, one puff didn't taste like much except burning in my lungs — but my companion insists the cigar was smooth, milky, and delicious.
Customers: At all times, fewer than ten people occupied the bar. But then, it was a Monday night. Al, a regular whom Heather described as being "always here," was a heavy, mustached man with his own cigar locker. A glass door separates the sitting area from a humidity-controlled room with 50 small lockers. He explained that the locker room is ideal for regular customers who buy in bulk and then stash their expensive cigs for later use. (And is it just me, or does "Uncle Al" have a nice ring to it?) His friend, Dennis, who wore a red striped shirt and a newsboy cap, had three cigars on him in small plastic bags. He was taking his time cycling among them, savoring their particular flavors.
When my friend brought over her flat, java-flavored cigar, Al cut her cigar with his miniature cigar cutters and lit it with an impressive, blue-flamed metal lighter.
"Now drink it in," Dennis instructed. "Sip it." He demonstrated by inhaling smoke and letting a thin stream of it gently curl from his lips. She tried to emulate him but ended up in a coughing fit.
"Hold it to your lips but don't suck yet," he commanded.
She held it to her lips and gave him a vacant stare.
"You're sucking in!" he scolded.
"I'm not sucking in," she snapped back. "I just suck at smoking!"
He discharged her with instructions to go practice, and I drifted over to talk to Jason, a tattooed dude in a black baseball cap who was sitting alone, texting on his phone and smoking a cigarette.
"You come here a lot?" I asked.
"Yeah, I know all the regulars and bartenders," he said. "This is a great place to sit after work, have a drink and a smoke, and not have to deal with a bunch of kids running around."
"You're not even smoking a cigar," I said.
"Yeah, well, cigar smokers are gonna get cancer too," Jason said. "Like lip cancer and stuff."
"Cigarettes will give you lung cancer," pointed out Heather, who had joined Grace and was hanging out behind the bar.
"Yeah, but that's internal," Jason said. "Lip cancer's visible. At least with lung cancer, I'll still be pretty."
I decided Florida Cigar Co. is like hanging out in your rich uncle's sitting room only if he employs lots of hot blond hangers-on, keeps around a collection of cigar connoisseur buddies, charges you for drinks, and can pull off listening to Nelly Furtado and Michael Jackson while smoking a $25 Cuban cigar. But lounging in big comfy chairs, smoking cheroots, sipping liquor, and pondering whether the cancer I'm being exposed to will ruin my looks is fun just once in awhile. What I really need are some uncles with yachts.
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