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My mother and grandmother smoked their cigarettes in a little room off the kitchen we called the back porch. In the company of a washing machine, a dryer, a chest freezer, and a broom closet they sat at a table, talked and smoked, sometimes for hours. The appliances never complained. The cigarettes did have an impact my grandmother’s health. She only lived to 92. She might have lived to 100 without the cigarettes or maybe if she had used cigars instead like George Burns.
I tried to smoke when I was in high school. It was cool back then to wrap up a pack of Lucky Strike in the sleeve of your white T-shirt like James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause. Quite frankly, I couldn’t stand the smell or the taste. I switched to a pipe. Two of my teachers smoked pipes with aromatic tobacco that gave off a pleasing smell. Pipes were the choice of intellectuals, or so I thought at the time. I chose Amphora pipe tobacco. But, that didn’t last long either.
I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs. Einstein
Einstein gave up his pipe on his doctor’s advice. I gave up mine because ultimately I didn’t like the taste or the smell. Smoking leaves a distinctive smell on the clothes, hair and skin of the smoker. Second hand smoke does the same for those in close proximity.
When my father-in-law watched the car races on TV, a favorite pastime when not working, he sat next to the fireplace chimney. He held his cigarette by the chimney and blew his smoke in that direction as well. It didn’t work. The rest of us, nonsmokers all, had to live with the smell all over our clothes and us.
In my early days at the Sea Gull smoking was allowed everywhere. When I went home at night, I was physically sick from the smell of smoke that clung to me like a group of bloodsucking leeches. I couldn’t sleep unless I took a shower. Even then I stood outside in the cold air in a futile attempt to remove the last vestiges of smoke.
The 1976 fire was a defining moment. The Sea Gull was totally destroyed. According to those who investigated, the cause of the fire was a smoldering cigarette left between the cushions of an overstuffed chair. The décor of the old Cellar Bar was consistent with that conclusion. The Cellar Bar was commonly described as being like a Turkish parlor or opium den. One can credibly suspect that joints and bongs were not unknown to the crowd that frequented the place late at night.
Upstairs by the front door to the Restaurant and Coffee Shop one found the cigarette machine. It was a small income producer for the restaurant. Every few weeks the cigarette salesman would come to empty out the coins and replenish the cigarettes and cut a check for the commission earned for the privilege of leaving the machine in that location.
There was a small table next to the cashier’s station where employees often sat and smoked when it wasn’t busy. Before I acquired the restaurant from Martin and Marlene Hall, they sold it to a woman from Los Angeles, Anita Klaus. The story goes that Anita sat by the front door, smoked little black cigars, and played cards with her partner. When a customer arrived they were greeted by a puff of strong cigar smoke and a growl that could be barely made out as a “What da’ya want?” Needless to say that didn’t go over very well. Anita gave up the restaurant and a few years later I arrived.
The National Handbook of Restaurant Data, geared for advertisers, reported in 1935 that 91% of restaurants sold tobacco. But after World War II casual restaurants were more likely to have a cigarette machine on the premises than an old-style glass counter filled with cigar boxes. While cigars were more often smoked on the way out, it was common to light up a cigarette inside the restaurant.
Customer complaints about smoking increased after the U.S. Surgeon General reported that smoking could be bad for one’s health in 1964. We got our share of complaints as attitudes toward smoking started to change. Then came the fire.
The cigarette machine was destroyed in the fire. It was not replaced. By the 1970s some restaurants were experimenting with nonsmoking sections. We decided to give it a try. Most people went along with the idea, some less enthusiastically than others.
The greatest resistance came from the Cellar Bar. Smoking and drinking go together, stylish and naughty at the same time. It used to be that “having a good supply of fine imported cigars and liquors was the mark of a first-rate tavern or restorator as much as was the cuisine.”
Complaints about smoking came long before my time at the Sea Gull and long before California became the first state to ban smoking in bars and restaurants in 1998. As early as 1923 a Cleveland woman complained, “It is getting so that at almost every lunch table or counter one is liable to be nauseated with cigarette or cigar smoke.” Anti-smoking and anti-drinking campaigns were often carried out together against the “twin evils.” The war had begun.
There were concerns that smoking and alcohol and even certain foods could undermine the morals of our fragile young citizens.
Spicy foods were [considered] stimulants. They were classified as stimulants, so they were on that same continuum along with caffeine and alcohol all the way up to cocaine and heroin. And if you started with an olive, you might find yourself one day addicted to opiates. It put you on a very slippery slope — watch out for olives! [Source]
Anti-smoking edicts also go back a long way. In 1575 all uses of tobacco were banned in churches throughout Mexico and the Spanish colonies.
Interestingly, there is a certain yin and yang to styles and tastes and even morality. Over time things have a way of changing back and forth. The same seems to be true of politics. Absolutes and truth with a capital “T” are elusive.
There is much more to tobacco than mass-produced cigarettes; premium tobacco is arguably every bit as artisanal as many of the other food and drink products that those of us in the culinary world obsess over. The unique leaf offers flavors that many find enticing, appearing occasionally in the works of creative chefs, bartenders, and baristas. At the French Laundry, Thomas Keller experimented successfully with desserts like coffee custard infused with tobacco. In Tampa, Cigar City Brewing crafts beers inspired by cigars. Tobacco bitters appear on fancy cocktail menus. In France, distiller Ted Breaux makes a liqueur called Perique that captures the essence of Louisiana pipe tobacco; it’s a remarkable elixir with a light, tea-like quality, and alas, as of this writing not imported to the United States. (Cautionary note: Tobacco infusions can extract dangerous levels of nicotine, so anyone curious to attempt one should first do careful research.)
If someone creates a tobacco infused mezcal, I might be persuaded to try it. But I won’t be smoking cigarettes or cigars or even pipes in spite of George Burns. When Einstein gave up smoking, they say he chewed on his pipes and got the same “calm and objective judgment” without the tobacco. Chew on that for awhile, then make up your own mind.
It’s all about your point of view. Elmo in Grouchland