New York Pipe Club Visit June 10.
By Maxim Engel
Last week I had the privilege of attending the June, New York Pipe Club meeting/dinner. It takes place on the 2nd Tuesday of each month at Florio’s on 192 Grand Street. The really good thing about Florio’s is that you can smoke there. The owner refuses to be told what to do in his private establishment by the nanny state. I don’t really understand how State anti-smoking laws can trump an individuals right to use his private property as he sees fit. I thought that the right to private property was enshrined in the Constitutional amendments.
I flew down that afternoon and went over to Vernon Vig’s where I had been invited to stay for the night. Vernon received me with every kindness imaginable. We then spent the afternoon looking through Vernon’s very considerable collection of pipes. I would hazard a guess of upwards of a 1,000. Vernon collects mostly smaller pipes, either straight of partially bents and he is not interested in who the maker is but whether the pipe appeals to him. So, the chance to compare many different makers takes on a smaller billiard was very informative. It was a great illustration of how a classic shape can have so much variation within its given parameter. An endless variety of subtle differences, a slightly longer shank, a slightly taller bowl, etc. And still be undeniably a billiard.
After a pleasant afternoon examining some, and I say decidedly some, of his pipes, as he has so many. We left for the pipe club dinner around 5:30 PM. it was blisteringly hot, as only New York City can be in the summer.
We arrived at Florio’s. It was a true NYC Italian restaurant. Lively and loud with a number of guys in the front section smoking cigars. A delight to see those gentlemen indulging in their pastime - free from harassment. The back section of the restaurant was reserved, that evening, for the club members. They gradually filtered in and by 6:30, at least 20 plus members were there. All of whom were rapidly doing their best to fill the room with the sweet smells of pipe smoke. I believe I detected a decided bias to wards Latakia blends in the waft of the fumes. I already knew a few of the members from pipe shows and was pleased to meet those who I did not know. Dom and Lou certainly made me feel at home.
That night the club pipe was delivered. A lovely squat bulldog with a faceted top made by Jacques Craen of Genod pipes France. What was interesting was that they were at least 50 years old from Jacques back stock. So, they were most likely Algerian briar. Considering that “Genod” has been around in one form or another for over 90 years, it is not surprising that he keeps finding lost bowls, ancient briar etc.
The members quickly made sure they all had a libation and examined the limited selection of Ashton, Cavicchi, and London Castle I had laid out for the members to peruse. I was asked many a question about Cavicchi, a make that they were not particularly familiar with. Cavicchi makes so few pipes that they are only available in a very limited way. We then sat down to dinner. The fare was what I believe is called Italian rustic. All good with a hearty emphasis towards meat dishes it seemed to me. I shared with Vernon a platter designed for two, with chicken, beef, liver, Italian sausage, potatoes and roasted peppers. Needless to say, the platter could have easily fed four people. There was no way we could have finished it.
After dinner, there were some club announcements. Then I gave a brief talk of the history and development of British pipe making, as well as British tobacco blending, and how pipes2smoke found the lost recipes of Compton’s of Galashiel & was able to reproduce the blends.
I pointed out is that there really isn’t a younger generation of British pipe makers. And when David Web of Dunhill retires in 14 months, it is very possible there will not be anymore Dunhill’s. Pipes are less than 2% of Dunhill’s sales.
Conversely, in Germany there is a strong contingent of younger pipe makers who are taking the German style into its second generation. In Britain the 4th generation of pipe makers, Bill Taylor, Les Wood, Barry Jones (Upshall), Colin Fromm (Dunhill) will all be retiring in the next 10 years. The only younger British pipe maker is Ian Walker, (Northern Briars), and he is 50 years old. It would be shame if there were no fifth generation of British pipe makers ending, a 135 year old tradition.
My talk was well received and followed by many questions from the now satiated members. I was pleasantly surprised by how knowledgeable they were. Interestingly, Matt Guss, a member of the Seattle pipe club, has two brothers who live in New York and are members of the NYC club whom I met. I’ll see Matt next month in Seattle. A bi-costal pipe family.
The rest of the evening proceeded in a raucous and enjoyable manner and wound down around 10-10:30 PM, it being a weekday. I highly encourage all pipe smokers in the NYC area to join - as all are welcome. If you don’t live in the NYC area then join your local pipe club. There is nothing like good fellowship with hearty fare to make an evening of pipe smoking a memorable experience.
If you are in New York on the 2nd Tuesday of a month, then join them at Florio’s. You will find yourself more than welcome.
What I especially like about all pipes clubs is that all are welcome and there are no social distinctions, as to who is older, richer etc. All any club asks is that one have an interest or passion for pipes.
The next morning Vernon I went to De La Concha, one of the NYC”s best pipe and cigar stores. It is certainly one of the nicest and most inviting specialty tobacco stores I have ever seen. The store reminds me, with wood paneling, café tables & chairs, of a cross between a British men’s’ club and a Parisian cafe. It has knowledgeable staff and a good selection all things tobacco. I met the staff and we discussed pipes over an in house espresso.
By late noon, it was time for me to bid a fond goodbye to Vernon, New York city and head to the airport. I will certainly, when I get a chance visit the NYC Pipe Club again.