All in the Family at 2nd Street Cigars

2ndstrettBy Andrew Mercado

Come sit down, talk a little, laugh, watch the big screen, play some poker or chess. 2nd Street Cigars Lounge and Gallery, one of downtown’s most hospitable hang out spots, provides a thoroughly relaxing way to unwind or escape the fast-paced demanding life one may experience in downtown Los Angeles.

Just the initial layout of the entrance may intrigue the wayward downtown passerby. The walls are decked with eclectic selections of art, recognitions and photos, while the friendly staff can be found casually smoking a cigar, and awaiting a new friend, or loyal fellow member whom is by now part of a family as strong as any traditional definition of the word.

“I know everybody here,” says Mike, a regular of 2nd Street Cigars. “You know, you can relax, take it easy, smoke cigars, and you meet a lot of people here. Louis is not as bad as he looks, you know, he’s really okay,” Mike jokes as Louis, the night manager, strolls by. Louis smiles and acknowledges him with cigar in hand. This is the type of environment cultivated in the homely lounge areas.

“I came here about 4 years ago. I applied on Craigslist, but I have been in cigars for about 20 years now,” Louis, resident night manager and cigar aficionado, says. Clearly, this establishment takes special care to ensure their people know the craft well. Louis reveals that they sell over 120 brands of cigars in their humidor, and the sole owner, said that “2nd Street Cigars sells 95 percent cigars and only 5 percent cigarettes.”

By Andrew Mercado

Albert loves cigars. His passion is realized in his establishment, and he makes sure his products retain a quality that is second to none. “We roll some of the cigars in house, along with La Plata Cigars,” says Albert. “Every month,” Albert explains, “there are cigar tasting events and private event cigar rolling.” He is adamant about the family vibe in the lounge, and says the employees and he have been through much adversity together. Albert knows his employees like he does brothers or sisters, and they share his love of people and cigars. continued on page

Louis corroborates Albert’s zeal in regard to the cigar clique that meets often. “About a year and a half ago, I had a bike accident, you know, and everybody here was there for me. I had two cards with 70 plus signatures, and everybody was pitching in meals. We lost one of our own a little while back, and everyone went to the wake.” As people began to trickle in, the diversity and stark togetherness of the group became apparent. Some of them went to greet Mike, while another joined Louis.

On a busy night, 2nd Street Cigars becomes a congregation of people whom share the complex, pleasant artisan fragrance of cigars, and art that is varied in taste and style. “They’re not just customers. It’s beyond that. It’s pretty cool,” Louis says with sincerity.

Cigars, since they are somewhat of a niche, bring these people closer. The members and visitors bond into a family that, although open to anybody that wishes to join, feels special, and sanguine – full of life and empathy that is exclusive to this cigar lounge.

“With cigars, people either like them or hate them, you know. I hate cigarettes. I can’t stand them. Cigars are more social. You know, you get together, you play games, you talk, or whatever,” Mike says. The denizens of 2nd Street Cigars understand that cigars have a special element to them that cigarettes are lacking. There is a distinctive smell, texture, taste, heft, and technique to smoking them that contributes to an experience that is approached differently than the concept of the cigarette. Smoking cigars is a bonding social act in itself, but the accoutrements can be just as important to the environment.

Albert talked with pride about the poker tournaments held at the cigar lounge, and Louis showed me the spot in the main back lounge where they set up the poker table. The VIP lounge provides even more freedom to loosen up, as a 5 dollar fee will allow you to enjoy a privatized section for exclusive events. And so, life is worked out through card hands, cigar butts, chess moves and sweet lingering stimulants in the air, but some of it is manifested in the art displayed on nearly every wall of the lounge.

Kendra, curator at 2nd Street Cigars, showcases a variety of art, which is of a quality that qualifies them as a legitimate stop for art walkers. The entire lounge seems to double as a gallery and the art ranges from colorful Expressionist depictions, Cubist works, dark abstract influences, to artistic photos, and Pop art like the stylized logos of Batman and Reservoir Dogs re-imaginings. Not only is the art fascinating, it is quite popular, and sells rather quickly, as Louis will tell you. For some, this is an extra incentive to the already great experience, but for others, it is a treat in and of itself.

Albert, being the sole owner of 2nd Street Cigars, can be supposed as a man of conviction and dedication. He takes his job seriously, and knows the assets his lounge can provide to the community. He names off his employees with love: Teresa is an expert cigar roller and respected in her craft, and Nino has also been in the business for several years, as well as Julio. Nina is an expert whom is widely respected in the lounge. The detailed praise and description of Louis and Kendra are also largely a result of his burgeoning respect and outspoken acclaim for those individuals. There are a very small number of similar cigar lounges that populate Southern California, but 2nd Street Cigars has the aura and memories tied to a bond of friendship, and a family unlike any other, which one can look at over the years and encompass the experience into a moment, seemingly irrelevant, but ultimately definitive of an entire gamut of emotions and warm fulfillment unique to this lounge.