A tightly-rolled pastime

Published 6:13 pm Wednesday, June 1, 2011

With the occasional exception of a wife shopping for her husband, there is hardly anyone in a hurry at a fine cigar shop.

Fred Kiesow, a Suffolk resident and Bond’s Fine Cigar Shoppe employee, lights his pipe in the Bond’s lounge. The store sells fine cigars and pipe tobacco and encourages customers to enjoy their tobacco purchases in its specially designed lounge.

Even a quick trip to pick up a couple of favorite smokes can turn into 30 minutes of browsing boxes in the humidor in search of some new combination of rich tobacco flavors. And the more one learns about how hand-rolled cigars are made, the countries where the tobacco is grown and the types of leaf that are used, the greater the chance that a brief jaunt to what one local aficionado calls “the men’s candy store” will become an exploration of tastes.

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Take one of those cigars into the lounge area of such a shop, and you should be prepared to spend even longer.

“Everybody who comes in here, they’re coming in here to relax,” says Dave Bond, who owns Bond’s Fine Cigar Shoppe in Suffolk’s Harbour View East Shopping Center with his wife, Deb.

The 400-square-foot smoking lounge features a 42-inch plasma television and rich leather seats with deep cushions, combined with low lighting that encourages one to take his time and enjoy a nice smoke.

“Bond’s has got the nicest lounge, as far as comfort,” says Ed Burton, a Hampton resident who works at the Joint Warfighting Center nearby and makes Bond’s a regular stop.

Burton is also an organizer for the Southside Cigar Club, which puts together events throughout the Hampton Roads area for cigar smokers.

Bennett’s Creek resident Andy Wheat is a regular in the lounge at Bond’s. He works at nearby U.S. Joint Forces Command and comes in most days around lunchtime for a smoke, “to read the paper and forget about work for an hour or so.”

“You can’t think of it like smoking a cigarette,” he says. “You can’t be in a hurry. It’s kind of like drinking wine. You have to take time to taste the different components.”

Wheat is one of a cadre of current and former members of the military and military contractors who make up a large portion of the Bond clientele. But the group is actually quite diverse, comprising people — though almost exclusively men — from all walks of life.

Lawyers and judges, shipyard workers and journalists — even the occasional preacher — drop in to enjoy the leathery, nutty or spicy flavors of their favorite cigars.

The atmosphere is almost that of a fraternity without the raucous Animal House connotations.

“I remember immediately enjoying the camaraderie that comes with smoking cigars,” says Chris Patterson of his early experiences in cigar shops.

Patterson, a utilities and communications consultant from Dallas who visits Suffolk for both business and personal reasons, is a regular at Bond’s whenever he is in town. He’s also a regular at other cigar shops around the country, depending on where his work takes him, finding shops that he can use as “home base” in every new city.

“I work three to four hours out of every day in a cigar shop,” he says.

Bond’s offers free wi-fi service to customers in the lounge, and at any given time of day, one can find men tapping away on laptops, making business calls or just watching TV and talking about politics, women, business, the news and anything else that strikes their fancy — sometimes even cigars.

“People come in here as total strangers and leave as friends,” Bond says.

The lounge often has a feeling of the old corner bar, as immortalized in the television show “Cheers.”

“I feel like I come in here, and people are like, ‘Norm!’” Patterson says.

It’s a sentiment that is shared by most of the men — and the occasional woman — who have joined the sedate, alcohol-free party in Bond’s back room and in cigar shops around the country.

As Ed Burton puts it, “This is my home away from home.”