Some people don’t appreciate a good cigar. In fact, some people don’t even think there is such a thing.
I respectfully disagree.
When the weather is nice, smoking a good cigar on the back deck of my house in West Bloomfield, with good music playing, is a wonderful thing.
But the weather outside isn't all that nice right now, and sometimes it’s just nice to go out somewhere — so having two good places nearby to buy and smoke is a wonderful thing, too.
Lil’ Havana Tobacconist and Churchill's Cigar Bar are just a stone's throw away from each other on either side of Orchard Lake Road, just south of Maple Road. Both sell a wide variety of single and boxed cigars in all shapes and sizes and flavors — everything from the big names to, in Churchill's case, its own private blends.
The stores also have pipes, smoking tobacco, lighters, cutters, ashtrays, humidors and, in Lil’ Havana’s case, hookahs. And, like a good cigar, both stores give off an air of sophistication and attention to detail while being comfortable and friendly.
Michigan’s recently enacted smoking restrictions exempt cigar shops and cigar bars. But you still have to be at least 18 to buy any tobacco product or to hang out in a cigar store or bar. And these places cannot serve food, because that would make them restaurants, where smoking isn’t allowed.
Full bar and a private club
At Churchill's you can enjoy your smoke with offerings from a very full bar: so full, the drink menu runs six pages. The high-ceilinged room — with ceiling fans and state-of-the-art air purifiers that minimize the cigar smell — looks like a high-end pub. There are multiple flat-screen TVs around the room.
The large walk-in humidor — a perfect environment for storing cigars — is at the far end of the room, and customers stroll in to look around and pick and choose.
The other half of the place is a member’s-only club with plush leather couches and chairs and a smaller private meeting room. These areas are reserved for the use by 48 members and their guests. Members pay an annual fee for their own humidor and this special hideaway.
January marked a year since Churchill's opened near Plum Market, joining cigar shops owned by the Zaitouna family in Birmingham and Southfield. The West Bloomfield site has been so successful that the Zaitounas have applied to the city of Birmingham to reopen in a larger space with a bar there, too.
“We get a lot of return customers, but we cater to everyone who walks in the door,” said West Bloomfield manager Ernest Yeldo. Churchill's also allows people to bring in their own cigars to smoke without charging a cutting fee. It doesn’t pose a problem, Yeldo said, because “people know we’re here to sell cigars.”
“You’re not going to find a total experience like this in the area,” said West Bloomfield resident David Leb, one of the 48 members. “It’s at a different level. It’s relaxing and allows you to unwind. You visit with friends and enjoy your own space and your own time.”
'Home away from home'
Lil’ Havana has been around since 1993, said Sam Mona, who owns the shop with his father, Gabe.
When I walk in, Sam Mona is sitting with a customer enjoying cigars, chatting and watching sports on a large flat-screen TV in a comfortable sitting area in the middle of the store.
“Smoking a cigar is a great way to kick back and relax,” Mona said, practicing what he preaches. “Regulars pop in, and it’s like a home away from home.”
Asked about how business is affected by the availability of cigars on the Internet, he said it’s not positive, but he doesn’t feel a lot of impact because of what he can offer.
“We provide a different experience from the hello to the smile when you walk in. And by buying local, you support your community and the state,” Mona said.
“Don’t be afraid to walk in the door and give it a try,” he said when asked for advice for potential cigar aficionados. “We are happy to give advice to help you find what you might like.
"There are mild, spicy and fuller-bodied cigars," he said. "And what you’ve had to eat or drink beforehand or want to pair it with — you should always have something to eat before you smoke a cigar — all that makes a difference.”