From the current issue of Sierra FoodWineArt magazine:
“There’s something about having a great bottle of wine and a great cigar. Nothing compares to it.” — D.L. HUGHLEY
CIGAR SMOKING BECAME POPULAR WITH the masses in the 1870s and is now a popular pastime. Global cigar sales are expected to surge to 19.9 billion “sticks” annually by 2020, and the United States is the biggest market. An integral part of the cigar smoking experience is celebration (such as a wedding or a child’s birth); relaxation (mulling over a cigar’s aroma and flavor, like sipping a glass of fine wine); and the collection and lifestyle around cigars (a full humidor is a “source of pride,” like a wine cellar).
Some of the century’s most famous figures — men and women — have embraced cigar smoking: Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, Alfred Hitchcock, Groucho Marx, Robert DeNiro, Whoopi Goldberg and Demi Moore, among others, rank among the top 100 cigar smokers of the century in Cigar Aficionado magazine.
Some famous cigar shops include Nat Sherman Townhouse, an upscale tobacco shop in midtown Manhattan. In our region, Loomis is home to the Tobacco Republic, opened in 1996; and South Lake Tahoe is home to the Lake Tahoe Cigar Co., with shops in the casinos.
In late October the biggest walk-in cigar humidor in the foothills — stocked with premium cigars and accessories and lined with Spanish cedar — is opening in Stucki Jewelers in historic downtown Grass Valley. Owners James and Nicole Arbaugh have named it the Phoenix, after a popular drug store that was located on the same spot in the ’30s.
“Our goal is to have one of the top humidors in Northern California,” says James. He and Nicole carefully researched the project and brought on one of California’s premium cigar distributors, San Jose-based JMG International, as a consultant.
The Phoenix’s walk-in humidor is being built with $10,000 of Spanish cedar imported from Central America—considered the best wood for a cigar humidor. (The inside of a cigar humidor is supposed to be around 70°F and have about 70 percent humidity.) It occupies a handsome space in Stucki’s Gold Rush-era building, combining the wood interior with existing exposed brick.
The humidor is being stocked with hundreds of premium hand-crafted cigars — including ones from Cuba — along with loose-leaf tobacco and pipes and accessories such as cigar cutters, lighters and ashtrays.
The world-renowned brands include Arturo Fuente, Padrón, My Father, Montecristo, and Ashton, among others. The cigars are hand-rolled with premium tobacco from places such as Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua. The selection includes top-rated and rare cigar samplers and gift sets, as well as individual cigars priced from $8-$25.
The Arbaughs, imaginative and experienced merchants, figure the premium cigar humidor will compliment their mainstay jewelry business — providing offerings for men and women shoppers. Jewelry and premium cigars are luxury-lifestyle products (think Robb Report magazine), and both are gifts for “right of passage” celebrations such as birthdays, graduations and weddings. Stucki Jewelers also carries distinctive gifts such as crystal decanters and flasks.
The Arbaugh’s idea for a cigar humidor also stemmed from Stucki’s annual “Gentleman’s Soiree,” an event that kicks off Father’s Day weekend with premium scotch tastings, hand-rolled cigars, gourmet food from Emily’s Catering & Cakes (owned by James’ brother, John, and his wife Emily), as well as shiny vintage cars parked outside. Some of the event’s proceeds are donated to a local nonprofit, such as the Friendship Club.
The Arbaughs’ have other ideas to expand their new cigar humidor venture called Phoenix. This includes a cigar club (akin to a wine club), “Cigar 101” classes for those who are new to the world of cigars, cigar-rolling demonstrations and more.
Downtown Grass Valley
The Phoenix, the foothills’ largest premium cigar humidor, is just the latest addition to downtown Grass Valley.
Other businesses that recently have opened or are in the works include the Grass Valley Brewing Co.; Twisted Ale Taphouse & Grille with craft beer, local wine and imaginative pub food; the Wild Eye Pub, a vibrant, multi-use venue anchored by a local-foods eatery, a shared kitchen, an event space and pub; and Sourdough & Co., a casual restaurant featuring freshly baked sourdough bread, deli-style sandwiches and fresh soups and salads.
With the planned expansion of The Center for the Arts, the downtown has a bright future.
(Photo: Jennie Sparks’ and Stucki’s Facebook page)