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By Connie Leinbach
In Tom Cain’s new business, smoking is allowed, actually encouraged.
Cain opened Ocracoke Cigars, a cigar lounge in the upstairs garage of his home on Back Road in July and cigar aficionados have already sniffed it out and have begun patronizing the gathering spot, open Tuesday through Saturday from 1 to 7 p.m.
While a big-screen TV shows a major league baseball game and an air filter hums, Cain, cigar in hand, heartily greets his customers.
“Wait until football season starts!” he said.
A cigar smoker for 23 years, Cain, who spent his 39-year work career as a telecom engineer, is a font of information about the boutique brands he relishes.
First, he said, there’s very little health risk since cigar smokers typically do not inhale.
“I used to smoke with a retired heart surgeon,” he said during a recent interview. “He never saw any health impact from cigars.”
Cigar lounges are places to meet people from all walks of like, Cain said.
But it’s the cigars themselves that are the main attraction.
A hand-made cigar consists of the filler leaf, the binder and the wrapper and typically come from different countries that specialize in each part’s cultivation which creates unique flavors and strengths. The United States is famous for its Connecticut shade-grown wrapper.
“It’s very much an art and an artisan product,” he said.
Take the Neanderthal cigar from Nicaragua—one of the best sources for good cigars along with the Dominican Republic.
Customer Myles Wood, the drummer with the band The Ramble that had a gig at Gaffers July 21, sought one of these cigars and spoke Cain’s language.
“It has a deep rich blend and complex flavor structure much like a deep red wine or stout beer,” Wood said, sounding like a food critic. “It has subtleties of flavor that stick out from other cigars.”
While many may assume that Cuban-made cigars are the Holy Grail, Cain says the best ones are made in Nicaragua. That’s where many who fled Cuba in the 1960s went and subsequently continued their cigar-making craft, Cain said.
Actual Cuban cigars aren’t nearly as good as they once were, he says.
“Their fields are beat and they’re not aging the tobacco like they used to,” he said.
Along with the famous cigar brands Arturo Fuentes, Padron, Rocky Patel and Don Pepin, to name a few, Cain will soon sell his own custom-label cigar crafted by Noel Rojas of Miami.
“It’s typical of cigar places to have a house brand,” Cain said.
Island artist Karen Rhodes has designed the logo—a billfish smoking a cigar—which will decorate the band.
Cigar lounges are places to relax and hang out with other (mostly-but not exclusively) fellows who appreciate cigars.
“You can’t be in a hurry when smoking a cigar,” Cain says. “There’s nothing like the smell of a good cigar. There’s the smoke; then there’s the taste.”