Maryland journal

Good cigar makes lunchtime smoke

Towson bunch combines tobacco and camaraderie

March 12, 2007|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

It's lunchtime. But the Mayor and his crew aren't eating. They never do.

The midday break is better spent in the burgundy leather chairs and stools at the back of Fader's tobacco shop in Towson.

Bob Fryer sits down with a Pedrone, a six-inch hand-rolled cigar from Nicaragua. He cuts the tip with a palm-sized tool, pulls out a lighter and draws the smoke in quick, kiss-like puffs until an orange flame jumps from the tip and a fragrant curl of smoke streams upward.

FOR THE RECORD - A photo caption on Page 1B of yesterday's editions of The Sun misidentified the people shown. The smokers in the accompanying photo are (left to right) Bob Fryer, Carl Crenshaw and Rob Brocato.
The Sun regrets the errors.
An article in the Maryland section Monday about cigar smokers who gather at lunchtime at Fader's tobacco shop in Towson misidentified the store manager. He is Jim Gray.
The Sun regrets the error.

Marc Horwitz flicks ash from an Arturo Fuente Hemingway, and Carl Crenshaw relights an Artero Fuente 8-5-8. As he does so, he acknowledges that he has "tiptoed back" into the bond market. Immediately, members of the circle chime in with their takes on the prospect of a rebound in Asian commodities.

Smoking might be under siege. But these guys still see a cigar as a treat worth savoring.

They could take refuge outside their offices or in the privacy of their cars. But that would be a bit like dining alone. Somehow, the cigar tastes better with friends.

The Baltimore City Council passed a ban on smoking in bars and other indoor public places last month -sparking a debate on whether it's prudent to extend the restriction throughout Maryland. Even before, the number of tobacco shops had been steadily dwindling, disappearing along with the corner hardware store, the neighborhood pharmacy and the butcher who remembers customers' regular orders.

The proposal under consideration in Annapolis includes an exemption for tobacco shops. But several shop owners testified last week that because the language is too narrow, few would be exempt.

So the regulars at Fader's wonder if their midday cigar breaks are numbered.

"It's just a shame," says Horwitz, a 59-year-old attorney from Pikesville who also coaches a youth lacrosse team. "It's nice to come in and shoot the breeze."

Horwitz has been coming to this Fader's - one of three remaining in the locally owned chain founded in 1891 - for nearly two decades. And nearly every day, somewhere between noon and 2 p.m., he finds some of his cigar-smoking pals in the back of the shop.

William Kirk, 67, a Pikesville attorney whom the group refers to as the Mayor and the Sage, always sits in the corner armchair.

Fryer, 34, a Towson architect, usually has the perch on the wooden barrel. And his mother - the lone female in the group - 59-year-old Jean Fryer, sits on a love seat between Horwitz and John Allen, a police lieutenant who lives in Carroll County. She sometimes enjoys a cigar.

They call themselves the "lunch bunch," though there's no food involved, at least in the shop. To them, the cigar break is in some ways similar to a lunchtime stroll or a quiet half-hour with a book.

"It's a way to get out for a while and relax," says Crenshaw, 51, a technology consultant from Parkton.

Several in the group are lawyers. Jean Fryer owns a nursing agency. Another regular is an anesthesiologist. The founder of the group is a retired judge.

They represent a range of political leanings and religious beliefs. But they are unified on a few topics, chiefly the virtue of a fine cigar and the importance of being able to smoke it, if nowhere else, in a tobacco shop.

There are some local bars and steak houses that don't frown upon a cigar smoker. But they, too, are few in numbers. At home, the men are sent to backyard decks and porches.

The core members - 10 or so - occasionally have dinner together. They pass along messages via e-mails. And over the years, they've learned each other's children's names and alma maters.

On this particular day, their discussion begins with commentary on a History Channel program and then turns to a child's decision to change her major in college - again. Bob Fryer asks about the due date of Jerry Glass' first grandchild, which quickly becomes a debate on the merits of the Diaper Champ versus the Diaper Genie.

Kirk, who jokingly rates golf courses by how good the hot dogs are, tells his inner circle that a course near Frederick holds first place.

This prompts talk about a radio report on a new soup restaurant. A few minutes later, Glass acknowledges that he is a frequent winner of another station's contest to identify newsmakers. A former prosecutor, he is good at recognizing voices.

"It was all those years doing wiretaps," he says, as the circle laughs.

"Is he talented or what?" asks Horwitz.

This is the stuff that keeps them coming back each day. That and the selection of fresh cigars that their knowledgeable host, manager Jim Grant, stocks.

One side of the shop is lined with shelves filled with open boxes of cigars. They are shielded by glass panels that join the back storage room, where a humidifier and temperature controls create the ideal environment for storing the tobacco products. In all, there are 200 to 300 brands and lengths, ranging from the stubby Robustos to the 8-inch Presidents.

They range in price from $1.80 to more than $30.

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