The 1990s were the best of times - and the worst of times - for the premium cigar industry. On the one hand, the previously near-moribund pastime suddenly experienced huge growth in profits, garnered new publicity, and racked up all sorts of hipness points as a stressed-out workforce turned to cigars for that little touch of luxury that makes a day complete. On the other hand, a wave of smoking bans across the country made it a somewhat dicey time to pick up the habit.
As more and more cigar smokers find themselves unable to enjoy their favorite hobby in bars, restaurants and nightclubs, due to new legislation, smokers find themselves wondering where to go to enjoy a smoke-filled vacation. It's nice to be able to enjoy a stogie with that after-dinner glass of wine, after all, or to share a box of cigars with that special someone at a sophisticated bar. Where can these pleasures be had?
According to writers Tom Van Riper and Robert Malone in a Forbes.com article titled "Best Cities for Smokers", there are still a dozen major U.S. cities where legislative interference with smokers is kept to a minimum. In these twelve cities, you can rely on lower tobacco taxes, a greater number of smoker-friendly bars and restaurants, and higher numbers of smokers to enjoy the pleasure with you.
St. Louis, Missouri, topped Van Riper and Malone's list, offering the freest possible environment for smokers. It also offers the breathtaking Gateway Arch, colorful and funky college neighborhoods near Webster and Washington Universities (as well as University of Missouri-St. Louis), and some gorgeous old houses off the downtown area. Visit Mark Twain's birthplace and light a stogie in the tobacco-loving humorist's honor.
Don't miss the St. Louis Zoo or Union Station, either.
It's no surprise to see North Carolina's cities dominating the list, since this state was the site of the discovery of one major American tobacco strain. Winston-Salem (yes, that Winston-Salem), Greensboro, and Charlotte take the 2-4 positions on the list, while Wilmington and Fayetteville also represent for the Tarheel State at positions six and nine. Not surprisingly, all of these towns have college populations. Charlotte also offers a relatively smoker-friendly airport, with bars and restaurants in the airport that allow smoking.
Gulfport-Biloxi, Mississippi, offers Vegas-style gambling and a tradition of wild Fat Tuesdays. With its Gulf Coast location, this small city is also quite a catch for those who love Mississippi catfish. If you visit, be sure to try to pass through Oxford, Mississippi, on the way there, to see the birthplace of William Faulkner. (Mississippi, an overall smoking-friendly state, is also quite rich culturally and artistically - Delta blues originate at the Mississippi Delta, of course, and the state's given us Bo Diddley, Jim Henson, James Earl Jones, B.B. King, Elvis, cigar-smoker John Grisham, and Oprah, not to mention a near-embarrassment of great American writers: Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Richard Wright, and others.
In Des Moines, Iowa, besides lighting up, you can buy insurance - aside from Hartford, Connecticut, Des Moines is the insurance industry's biggest state in the union - and you can also visit Drake University, as well as the Iowa state capitol building. (OK, for pure touristy excitement, there are probably other cities in Iowa with more to offer. Try visiting Winterset, the birthplace of smoker John Wayne.)
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is a sunny summer beach getaway for folks on a budget, loaded with waterparks and minigolf. A big Spring Break destination for students at Clemson University and the University of South Carolina-Columbia (otherwise known as the Fightin' Gamecocks), this beach resort might offer visitors a quieter vacation in early September, when the kids go back to school and the monstrous heat of a Palmetto State summer subsides a bit. Pass through Charleston to see the birthplace of comedian Stephen Colbert.
Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, and Mobile (Alabama) round out the list. Milwaukee's claim to fame is that it offers another side of Lake Michigan than the fairly smoke-intolerant Chicago, located about ninety minutes away. It's a worthwhile summer visit. Pittsburgh, with its lovely skyline and many cultural opportunities, deserves a much better reputation than the "iron city" moniker it outgrew many years ago. (Besides, it's the city that gave us Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead; many Pittsburghers pitched in for those low-budget horror classics, spending their off-hours playing zombies and other extras.) Take in a Steelers game while you're there. As for Mobile, who wouldn't want to see one of the oldest major harbor towns in the South?
Wherever you go, if you're worried about encountering roadblocks to smoking, call ahead to your hotel or visit the city's web page. After all, local ordinances can be as restrictive as any statewide ban. Do research first.
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