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In Bars & Clubs

Cigar bars continue to spark Milwaukee's leisure scene

It's hard to pinpoint what ignited the cigar craze of the mid-to-late 1990s. It could have been television's "Seinfeld," which featured several storylines revolving around Cosmo Kramer and a box of Cuban cigars, or perhaps it was the first season of "The Sopranos" that kept the fad alive.

In any case, for a brief period of time, it was fashionable for men and women alike to spark a stogie, and consequently, cigar bars popped up like polyps in every major city imaginable. It's now more than a decade since the cigar scene exploded -- a half-decade since it fizzled out -- but it appears cigar bars are still smokin' in Brew City.

Since 1986, Shaker's, 422 S. 2nd St., has been the premiere pub for cigar smoking. Owner Bob Weiss says his place isn't a typical cigar bar, yet cigars are very much a part of the whole Shaker's experience.

"(Cigars) are a natural conclusion to a very large ticket affair," he says, referencing his upscale food and spirits menu.

During the cigar boom, Weiss opened several retail smoke shops. He says the end of the cigar rage led to the closing of the shops, but cigar sales inside the restaurant have not changed.

"There are fewer people coming in to try a cigar with their martini, but overall, we have just as many of the big-ticket guys still coming in here," he says.

Weiss also notes that cigar smoking among women has increased recently. He says the short-lived popularity of cigar-pulling ladies in the '90s quickly came and went, but the trend is heating up again.

Cindy Humphreys works at Shillings, an English-style pub and cigar bar in Racine, and she says increased smoking bans and the public's general disapproval of smoking has improved business.

"Because so many places are non-smoking now, it's made Shillings even more popular," says Humphreys. "We're a destination point. People really seek us out."

John Underhill of Uhle's Pipe Tobacco, 114 W. Wisconsin Ave., agrees that, overall, the cigar smoking has not decreased since the '90s fad ended, even though a fair share of short-sighted cigar companies that cropped up during the trend were snuffed out in recent years.

"In general, I would not say people are quitting cigar smoking," says Underhill.

Because cigar smokers don't inhale, it's less likely they'll get lung cancer than their cig-smoking counterparts, which may keep cigar smokers puffing for longer periods in their lives. However, they are more likely to get mouth, tongue or larynx cancer than non-smokers.

But most cigar smokers are not overly concerned with potential health hazards, and they generally harbor a "live life to its fullest" attitude while enjoying, what some call, the finer things in life, says Humphreys. Hence, there isn't a need for smoking and non-smoking sections at Shillings.

"People are allowed to smoke everywhere here," she says.

The same is true of Club Havana, 789 N. Jefferson St., which sells four different brands of cigars in their downstairs lounge. The club allows cigar smoking both in the lounge and the dance club upstairs.

The relationship between cigars and alcohol appears to be more intertwined than the one between cigarettes and alcohol; call it the "Bogie and Bacall" or the "Tony and Carmela" of indulging. And this torrid relationship is the very reason Mike Roman of Roman's Pub, 3475 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., is selling so many cigars.

Roman's offers 18-20 different varieties, and he says they're selling as well as ever because they complement his vast selection of micro-beers and imports.

"They go great with the beers," says Roman.

Modern television shows like "Boston Legal" are keeping the cigar trend cool, showing successful attorneys like the one played by James Spader enjoying a nightly smoke after a successful -- or not so successful -- day in court. And hip-hop culture has immortalized the blunt, which involves rolling marijuana in the paper skin of a (usually cheap) cigar, sometimes even mixing the cigar tobacco with the pot.

Overall, cigar bars in Milwaukee are almost as popular as they were in the '90s, but in a different way. The boom introduced more people to cigars, and although the trend-following smokers jumped ship, the pool of die-hards is deeper than ever.

"We're always seeing new cigar smokers," says Underhill.

Talkbacks

OMCreader | March 16, 2006 at 3:08 p.m. (report)

Steve said: Hey Steve, your right bobaloo did have the first over priced sub-par food cigar dinners that many people walked away from with that over charged feeling..if slick was an art..bobaloo is a master at it..explore, there's other cigar friendly bars out there

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OMCreader | March 16, 2006 at 11:45 a.m. (report)

gary deuling said: Milwakee get ready, I and my cigar smoking friends who used to go to Chicago's great bars and restaurants will now come to your Phister Hotel and the cigar bars of your great city Thank you

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OMCreader | March 2, 2006 at 2:44 p.m. (report)

Know smokers said: This article repeats the fallacy that cigar smokers don't inhale. If the author had spent much time observing frequent cigar smokers, as I have, she would quickly see how untrue this can be. She also says that cigar smokers are more likely to get cancers of the mouth, throat, and tongue more often than non-smokers. They also get lung cancer more than non-smokers; the three cancers she names are more prevalent among cigar smokers than among cigarette smokers. Whether you are pro-cigar or not, there is no getting around the health consequences of frequent smoking.

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OMCreader | Feb. 28, 2006 at 11:25 a.m. (report)

Blain said: Hey Steve.. In regards to your Shakers Summerfest Tax quip.. Regardless of the tax collection (or lackof) Shakers WAS the first Cigar Bar in the City. (Anyone ever been to one of those famous Cigar Dinners??!) Cigars were "cool" there long before anyone grabbed the cigar afficianado culture. Shakers truly set the trend! Besides, Suburpia was the original sub shop with an owner that was FAR less above board...Look at there popularity then and now!!! Tax dodgers? Who cares. I go to Shakers to say hello to Bobaloo and I go to Suburpia for their Subs...Maybe you should too! (;

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OMCreader | Feb. 28, 2006 at 9:27 a.m. (report)

Chris said: Hey Ranter...you're EXACTLY right, I too am a lifetime non-smoker and I am completely against a smoking ban in private establishments. If second-hand smoke is so bad for you, then why doesn't our beloved government/common council band smoking in homes with young children? Afterall, second-hand smoke must be far more detrimental to children compared to grown adults right? We already have government mandates for child safety seats until you're 8 years old, so why not protect these defenseless and innocent children from the dangers of second-hand smoke?

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