Havana great time

G.Q. Magazine 1995

Cigar man Peter Rosengard just can’t get enough big butts

Recently I became a father for the first time at the age of 48. Naturally I rushed out immediately to buy a box of cigars. At moments like this, you don’t stop to think that all your friends are non-smokers…that you have never smoked a cigarette, let alone a cigar in your entire life…or that when we have dinner parties, my wife routinely answers the polite request of, “Do you mind if I smoke?” with, “Don’t even think of lighting up one of your filthy, rotten disgusting death sticks in my house.”

I had always wanted to smoke, but I’d never had the willpower to start before. As I lit up my first cigar (a Montechristo No.3), I basked in the euphoria of witnessing the birth of my beautiful daughter Lily…without having passed out in the delivery room.

Five minuters after I lit up my first Havana, I knew I had found true happiness. It was love at first puff. A week later I was smoking four a day and had even managed to develop my own cigar-smoker’s cough. Actually I have discovered that cigar smokers don’t cough because of the smok: it’s because we’re remembering how much each cigar costs. A cohiba Esplendido works out at £19 plus – when you buy them in boxes of 25. As Gene Hackman said to Denzel Washington in Crimson Tide, “Once you get hooked on cigars, it’s more expensive than drugs.”

Even though I manage to adhere to my wife’s edict about not smoking in the house,I have still been thrown out a couple of times-“You stink! Get out!”-allowing me to observe the effects my new found passion has on others. For example, I recently found my elderly next-door neighbour enthusiastically pooper-scooping my discarded cigar butts from the gutter. “My poor little dog is terribly constipated,” she said. I nodded sympathetically.

More dramatically, I was driving home after dinner the other night. Waiting for the lights to change, I opened the sunroof to look at the moon. So much cigar smoke billowed out that it was totally eclipsed, and a man crossing the road pulled open my door and attempted to drag me out. He was screaming incoherently about fire, but I clung onto the wheel gamely, shouting: “Leave me alone, you idiot – it’s only a Montechristo No.3!”

One of the great things about entering the world of Dunhills and Davidoffs is that you meet a very friendly crowd. I recently found myself at 2am in that cigar friendly establishment Madame JoJo’s in Soho, talking to a 6’4″ transvestite waitress about the respective merits of the Cohiba Robusto over the Bolivar Belicoso. All was going well until my cigar allegedly set fire to the plastic breastbones worn by a fellow dancer and I was asked to leave. This would never have happened in the humidor room at Dunhill’s.

In spite of this, it’s definitely healthier to be a cigar smoker in England than America. My friend was having a quiet puff in a Manhattan bar when a well-dressed middle-aged man came over: “Excuse me, sir, but I have to inform you that unless you desist immediately from your cigar smoking, I will be forced to rip your kidneys out.” What do you do when you are suddenly confronted by a man who plans to enrol you involuntarily in a major organ-transplant programme? I am pleased to report that my cigar-smoking friend didn’t hesitate: he laid the non-smoker out cold with one punch.

I had a similar experience at the Gay Hussar restaurant in London’s Soho. I was halfway through my Cohiba Siglo, when we were seated next to a table of four goatee-sporting black-clad non-smokers. The weasley looting specimen next to me announced loudly to his friends: “They really shouldn’t let people smoke cigars in restaurants, should they?” Leaning over their Perriers, I exhaled a huge blue cloud of smoke, scoring a direct hit on their mushroom risottos. “I’m celebrating,” I said. “Celebrating what?” my neighbour asked. I paused between puffs: “I woke up this morning. You don’t have a problem with that do you?” I asked. “Oh… cool,” he said. “No, it’s really quite OK. Please carry on.”

I have now invested in three humidors which will hold my leaf-wrapped bundles of joy indefinitely. I have moved from mere dalliance to aficionado status. I have opened London’s first cigar club, The Havana Room. Ironically, while looking round town for a suitable venue, I called the Groucho Club in Soho. They rang back and said, “Unfortunately cigar smoking isn’t really our image”. To quote another Gene Hackman line: “I never trust air you can’t see.”