Postcard from San Francisco

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Indy Lifestyle Online
CLOSE COVER BEFORE STRIKING - It seems hard to believe that the nationwide enthusiasm for cigar smoking has finally taken off in San Francisco - the anti-smoking capital of the America, indeed of the world. In a successful effort to get around draconian city laws, clubs and bars are opening up cigar rooms where patrons can swill a brandy and enjoy a smoke. Restaurants in particular have been quick to offer their customers an alterative place to have a between course cigarette instead of directing them out onto the pavement.

But there's no smoke without ire in San Francisco. The city council has gone apoplectic over the new passion - the same city administration, please note, that turns a blind eye to the daily distribution of "medical" marijuana at the Cannabis Club downtown - and has marshalled all its resources to "combat the slick marketing campaign" being operated by the industry and the new clubs, said Alyonick Hrushow for the council. But their efforts results left locals wondering throughout January. Signs appeared around the city declaring, "cigars - they look like what they smell like, don't put them in your mouth". What exactly do cigars look like? Dog shit apparently. A cable ad in which a dog sniffs languorously at a discarded butt before disdaining it provided the punchline.

Hrushow makes the naffness of the ads seem deliberate by declaring that it is essential to rob cigars of their chic image because the campaigns are deliberately "targeting young women", an accusation always guaranteed to get a reaction. She cites an instance of a club which gives away free cigars to women on certain nights and points to ads featuring women smoking.

JT's Bistro is located halfway between clubland on VanNess and theatreland on Geary. I'm ushered upstairs to the cigar room by a black-clad hostess who, after only the briefest hesitation, assures me that plenty of women smoke cigars. The room upstairs is certainly cosy and the decoration is definitely male-centered in that it looks like a cross between a gentleman's club and a bordello: red leather sofas, and mock-croc wall covering, chinese lamps and tiger skin floor covering. George Hamilton once gave a party here. Are you getting the drift? The magazines are GQ, Sports Car and Robbs Report. There are a couple of lawyers and an ex pro-footballer talking and smoking. When the waitress comes over they make suggestive jokes, then they ask me my name and the footballer says I remind him of someone he knows. There is only one other woman in the room and she is very young, very pretty and very quiet. She is not smoking a cigar

Dare I say it but according to the evidence of my eyes, no milestone of liberation or devilish new form of exploitation is taking place in the cigar rooms. Yes, women are encouraged to go there. But the answer to what lies behind the clubs' marketing strategy is a great deal simpler. Think Flake ad. A picture of a sexy young woman with a big, fat cigar in her mouth. How could we have missed it?