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They Get the Party Rolling

Sometimes a Cigar Is a Great Icebreaker

April 08, 2001|DEBRA J. HOTALING

Funny how life works out. One day you're in the dorm rolling your own (not really you, of course--you were in the library studying for midterms when this mischief was going on). And now, 20-odd years later, here you are, cognac in hand, watching someone roll one for you. "People are enthralled seeing a cigar being made," says Victor Migenes Jr., president of La Plata Cigar Co. in Los Angeles, who conceived party appearances as a sideline in the early '90s. "When we do parties, we're inundated by people who want to see this art--because it is an art--in action."

Legislated out of public places, cigar devotees now light up at cigar parties and "cigar nights" at locales such as Ritz-Carlton hotels throughout Southern California. "A lot of cigar smokers were discouraged from going out," asserts the 40-year-old Migenes, whose father launched the business in 1947. For a $375 fee, Migenes shows up with a cigar-rolling bench and one of his rollers ("Cuban, one of the older guys"), who wears a traditional guayabera shirt.

A good roller can make 20 stogies in an hour. "We set out boxes of aged cigars," says Migenes of the pungent parties, "and then guests move to the freshly rolled ones as they're made." Which taste how? "Heavier," he says. But the main event is the roller himself--his nimble expertise testament to an Old World workmanship too scarce in our age of mass-produced pleasures.

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