Smoke, ember, something something

by Brian Clarey

Smoke, ember, something something

Larry Christopher snips the tip off the end of the cigar and torches the other with the type of turbo-butane torch favored by crackheads and firebug teenagers. It’s an Arturo Fuente A’ejo from the Dominican Republic, one of the world’s most rare cigars, with a maduro wrapper that has been aged for five years in an old cognac barrel. “I been sitting on these since November,” Christopher says. “Fantastic cigar.” And then he passes the stogie, now charred on the open end and teasing out a thin stream of smoke, to me. I bring it over to one of the leather chairs in the conversation pit, settle in and hit it a few times. Christopher is right: This is a fantastic cigar. Across from me, Allen Wilhelm flips the pages of a newspaper and works his way through a Flor de Olivia Maduro. We are the only ones in the pit, though Christopher drops in between runs to the register or the walk-in humidor to help customers of his shop, the Pipe & Pint in Greensboro. I found this place around the time I quit smoking cigarettes, and Christopher gave me a rudimentary education in cigar smoking, which I took up to keep me from the cigs while I drink. I was alerted to it by YES! Weekly readers, who voted it one of the best-kept secrets in the Triad. And today I believe I’ve figured out a way to sit here and smoke a cigar while I’m on the clock, which is probably why there are only two of us sitting here. Wilhelm shrugs and considers the ember at the end of his smoke. “I’m in sales,” he says. Though I’m a neophyte both in the craft of cigar smoking and at the Pipe & Pint, the place has actually been here more than 10 years, when Christopher lived here in Lindley Park and liked to walk to work. He is always here even now, and he alone chooses the cigars he offers in the humidors that line the wall of his shop. They run from two bucks to about $20, dozens of labels, perhaps hundreds. If you like cigars, you could spend a whole afternoon just sorting through the bundles on the floor of the walk-in humidor in magnificent disarray. He also sells pipes and fine tobacco for them, a few lines of cigarettes, smoking accessories and an impressive short list of wines, coffees and beers. But most people come here for the cigars, and many who do will take the opportunity to grab a seat in this conversation pit and slow-burn a toro or a torpedo or maybe even a Churchill. And the conversation begins, wending its way through tanning beds, the history of tobacco in North Carolina, the city of Charlotte and how they used to put cocaine in Coca-Cola. A silver fox in dress casual pushes through the front door, sits in the lounge and clicks his lighter. “How’s your day William?” Wilhelm asks. “I’m quitting,” William says. “I can’t take any more today.” He’s followed by Jeff who, according to his business card, works as a “Spiritual Advisor, Freelance Writer, Hillbilly Musician, Technical Geek & Righteous Dude.” “I’m hiding from my wife,” he says, and lights up a Don Pepin Garcia JJ Maduro, lets the smoke create a translucent curtain. “I’m smoking all new stuff today,” he says. Together the four of us, with Christopher piping in from time to time, maneuver the conversation from Red Bull energy drink through video games, the lack of a decent statewide train system, Times Square on New Year’s Eve, crime in the city, hurricanes, baseball stadiums and integration. By the time my Arturo Fuente A’ejo has burned down to a stub, more than 90 minutes have passed. I leave it in the tray to let it go out of is own accord, rather than crushing such a fine thing like a common Marlboro. I make to leave, but not before taking one more quote from Christopher. I am on the clock, after all. “I’ve come over the years to realize [the store] serves a purpose more than just an outlet for cigars,” he says.

The Pipe & Pint 2500-B Spring Garden St. Greensboro; 336.218.8610

The Arturo Fuente A’ejo has a maduro wrapper aged in cognac barrels for five years. (photo by Brian Clarey)