Nice Ash

I'm going to say something that goes against my own conscience and the warnings of the U.S. surgeon general. You single women out there: If you want to be a player in the Valley mating dance, you'd better be holding something like a Macanudo Petite between your fingers.

I've recently discovered that a woman smoking a cigar -- or even just lamely trying to light one -- is as much a magnet for the predatory male's roving eyes as a pair of D-cup implants.

So what is it about the sight of a woman smoking a cigar that sets a man's embers smoldering? Sitting with friends at a booth at Durant's, I was trying, but failing, to light my Davidoff Lonsdale with a microscopic-size match. Faster than you could say, "Cohiba," a guy at the bar raced over and flicked his trusty lighter in my face.

I sense a new book title: Women Who Smoke Cigars and the Men Who Love Them.

Nowadays, both men and women are hanging out at cigar bars. Office types, wiped out from the dronelike altered mental state that comes from sitting in front of a computer all day long, are seeking ways to unwind -- and finding them -- by puffing on a finely rolled cheroot while nursing a single-malt Scotch. Their conversations are peppered with seemingly incongruous terms like gran cru, perfecto, packed tightly and ring size (which has to do with cigar width, not the hunk of platinum the speaker's boyfriend sprung on her at dinner).

A number of different bars and restaurants in the Valley offer cigars for sale, and some even proffer their wares with a deference bordering on the spiritual.

One such place is The Club at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Equipped with an impressively large walk-in humidor, the swanky yet comfortable bar is top drawer. The server ushered us into the humidity-controlled chamber and helped us select from the 25 to 30 cigars on display.

We followed her recommendation and chose the pricey but incredibly flavorful Arturo Fuentes Hemingway. Afterward, we sank into one of The Club's elegant couches as the server skillfully lit our smokes.

The Club's ambiance is what you would expect: oak-paneled walls, complete with paintings depicting rich-guy sports like duck hunting, which, when last we checked, was foreign to the desert southwest.

The wall to the right is covered by drawers that make it look like a mausoleum. But don't be alarmed, the drawers don't contain the remains of dearly departed club members. Instead, they're personal humidors where customers can stash their own stogies. Getting the key to one of these babies is going to set you back, though, about $1,000 a year.

Across the street from The Club, Eddie Matney has taken over the cigar and wine club that, a few years back, was part of Christopher's Restaurant.

Just like the Ritz's offering, Matney's club on East Camelback -- a short elevator ride up from his restaurant -- boasts a walk-in humidor with an impressive selection of Davidoffs, Arturo Fuentes and Macanudos.

The upscale corporate-style atmosphere complements the large conference room and formal Asian-style sitting room. However, you'll find things get a whole lot more comfortable near the bar. There, in the alcove, you can relax in overstuffed chairs and peer out the full-length windows at the street traffic below while you puff away the hours.

Matney is known for his egalitarian streak, and his staff tells us he often offers special edible fare for cigar smokers who come to watch Monday Night Football.

Eddie's club has more than 100 members, but anyone can indulge in a stogey here.

Echoing the current craze for the swing era is the cigar bar and restaurant The Famous Door in Scottsdale. If you dig a good martini and feel inspired by those crazy kids dancing in khakis for The Gap, you'll like this place.

The staff takes its presentation of cigars seriously. Servers come to the table armed with a humidor containing a wide selection, and they offer all the accouterments: a cigar tray, cedar sticks for toasting the end, matches and a shot of cognac for cigar dipping.

The decor is comfortable and reminiscent of New York during the heyday of the original Famous Door -- black-and-white photographs and framed art deco posters stylishly grace the walls.

Similarly, descending into the dark-paneled interior of Durant's on Central is like stepping back in time. It's still reminiscent of the testosterone-soaked days when martinis, Scotches and cigars destroyed an assembly line's worth of livers, arteries and lungs.

Durant's only sells one type of cigar, Davidoff. Our waitress, Kitty, appeared as a sort of elder female cigar guide who nimbly offered a quick course in Davidoff Cigars 101. She recommended a smaller band for my tiny fingers. She told me the difference in wrap styles. And she helped me toast my cigar, without signaling to all around me that I was clearly a novice of the first water.

Durant's is not trendy. These days, you're just as likely to find older guys furiously munching on inchlong cigar stubs as you would young professional men and women smoking their Romeo and Juliets, trying to look cool and not cough.

Nowhere was I made to feel uncomfortable as a woman smoking a cigar.

The attitude: Smoke 'em, because we got 'em.

 
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