I’ve just returned from Texas de Brazil, a churrascaria in Fairfax. You know the kind of place: giant salad bar, lots of cheese, potatoes, and sauteed mushrooms, and, of course, endless rounds of delicious meat carried to the table by skewer-bearing gauchos. A night at this kind of restaurant is decadent on any occasion, but tonight was especially so. Hosted by John B. Hayes Tobacco and Ashton Cigars, this evening was about more than just tasty meat. Three hand-made cigars, a caipirinha, two glasses of wine, and key lime pie were all part of the package. I’d never matched cigars with food before, but the pairings went together wonderfully. Does life get any better? Not much. And definitely not a few miles to the east in Washington, where such a gathering would have been forbidden by law.
It’s nights like this that really stoke my dislike for people who are so intolerant of smokers that they would legally ban such gatherings from occurring. I’m not just complaining about losing the right to consume seared steak paired with a maduro cigar. I’m talking about the company. Aside from being decidedly male, we had a diverse, interesting group assembled. Across the table from me was a real, honest-to-Mao communist. Two seats to my left, an old school conservative Republican running for Congress. Most places we wouldn’t get along. But brought together by our love of fermented leaf products, we hit things off fine and enjoyed three hours of decadent food and lively debate. Sure, this kind of thing can also happen over coffee or beers, but it’s not quite the same. Coffee can be abandoned, a drink can be guzzled, but there’s nothing like committing to a cigar until it burns down to a stub. It’s a way of surrendering to nature, a time to sit back, lower your guard, and let the experience wash over you.
Tonight’s event is not what I’d recommend as a regular diet. Not long ago I would have thought being stuck in a room with cigar smokers a disgusting experience. If I ate and smoked like this all the time I’d be a wheezing fat man unable to make the bike ride from my apartment to the coffee shop. Yet over the past two years I’ve overcome my bias. I’ve been rewarded with an appreciation for tobacco and, even more importantly, friendships deepened over long hours with our cheroots of choice. I’m grateful to have attended tonight’s dinner while I can, before Virginia joins the trend of banning such activity in all establishments.
I sympathize with those of you who wish fewer bars and restaurants allowed smoking. I don’t like to be around smoke all the time either. Tax such places if you must. Make them install air filters. But don’t ban them. The dinner we had tonight is not for everyone and not for all the time, but damn it, it shouldn’t be illegal.