A quick look at the Wikipedia cigar page shows a brand list that is eye-catching. From 04.O to Zino — and, in between, with names such as Barracuda, Dignity, Fighting Cock, Man O’ War, Old Henry, Piano, Salute to Arms, Sexy Sticks and Vulcan — the world of cigars is a diverse one.
Despite the longstanding popularity of cigar and pipe smoking in many parts of the country, Nashville was never on the forefront of the movement — its citizens preferring cigarettes, chewing tobacco and snuff.
But fueled by homegrown success story CAO, an increase in female aficionados and the emergence of sophisticated local pipe and cigar shops, Music City is slowly becoming Davidoff-savvy, Altadis-receptive and Habanos-oriented.
And the area’s cigar and pipe shops — no doubt noticing the strides being made — are expertly accommodating that growth. Much like the so-called guillotine offers a crisp, straight cut of the cigar, these businesses deliver precise customer service and product lines.
Middle Tennessee is now home to an estimated seven shops, a number experts feel is ideal to create interest while allowing healthy retail competition. The stores, many with cool and distinctive atmospheres, cater to the men and women who enjoy the pleasure of a fine cigar or of tobacco smoked via pipe. In addition, various specialty markets carry cigars, often with fairly respectable selections. The days when many locals often opted for Swisher Sweets and Black & Mild seem years behind us.
In fact, a recent issue of Cigar Aficionado featured Brad Paisely on the cover.
“Nashville is a very good cigar city,” said Scott Partridge, general manager of Uptown’s Smoke Shop in Green Hills. “We’re fortunate here. Atlanta is saturated with cigar shops. In Middle Tennessee, we’re not.”
Uptown’s, which Forbes listed in 2002 as one of world’s Top 12 tobacconists, is arguably the Nashville-area epicenter for those who indulge in the pipe and cigar culture. The store, located next to Trader Joe’s in Grace’s Plaza, is always bustling with customers who enjoy the shop’s private rooms, lounge and general camaraderie.
“Our customer base runs a wide spectrum — everybody from college kids to regular blue-collar workers, attorneys, music industry types,” Partridge said. “Several people from the entertainment business are regular customers. We actually have several well-known songwriters come here and write. We have a room the songwriters use. Rarely does a week go by we don’t have two or three songwriters use the room.”
Partridge said Uptown’s most popular seller in the $3 to $4 range are the Tatuaje Berocu No. 5. In the $5 to $10 range, he said Crown Heads Four Kicks and various Padron models are popular. The most popular high-end cigars ($10 and more) include Padron, Davidoff, Diamond Crown and Arturo Fuente.
Uyen Tran, co-owner of Belle Meade Premium Cigars, said she has noticed two trends the past few years.
The first involves customers visiting the shop after lunch to enjoy a post-meal cigar. The second involves people conducting business at the store.
“Sometimes they have a client with them and do business here,” she said of her customers. “This is a cigar shop but it’s also a gathering spot.”
That “gathering spot” theme has seen continued emphasis the past few years. Nowadays, area pipe and cigar shops are almost like cafes and bars, as they lure those who enjoy socializing with likeminded individuals.
To accommodate those who like a leisurely smoke or a change of scenery for doing business, Tran said her shop offers two popular smoking lounges. One is for members only ($100 a year) and the other is open to any customer.
“We have about 60 members, and we would like to be at 100 members in the next three years,” she said.
Tran said a hot seller is the God of Fire cigar, which was introduced in November 2004. Though a relative newcomer, it sells well, she said.
Tran also noted she is seeing women who opt for flavored cigars and the continued trend of regulars who visit the shop two to three times per week.
Patrick Morgan, owner of Stogies Ales & Fine Cigars in Cool Springs, said that as far as cigars, the hot seller is “anything from Nicaragua.”
“A cigar starts with the soil,” Morgan explained. “Several years ago, Cuba was hit by drought and hurricanes, which resulted in diseased soil. Cuba had to ship in soil from Nicaragua.”
Another emerging and noteworthy industry component, Morgan said, involves boutique cigar makers.
“The small companies seem to be putting out the best product,” he said.
Other trends, Morgan said, relate to an increase in pipe business (with younger people enjoying more than before) and customers buying cigars in the $6 to $9 range.
“Cigar makers noticed the trend and started making cigars in that price range,” he said.
Popular sellers at Stogies, which also offers craft beer, include Gispert and Quorum (under $5); Fuente Double Chateau and Perdomo Champagne ($5 to $9.99) and Padron and Tatuaje ($10 and up).
With many aficionados ordering online, a key to the success of the city’s pipe and cigar shops is their interior vibe.
“I added a new bar about 18 months ago,” Morgan said. “And I added three TVs, so we now have five.”
Uptown’s Partridge agrees.
“What we’ve focused on here is atmosphere and comfort level,” he said. “This allows customers to mingle.
“With true tobacco enthusiasts,” Partridge added, “it’s the knowledge and customer service.”