story by Michael Shapiro
photo by Brad Goda
Doug, a fresh-faced Navy noncom, has driven all the way from Mililani to Kaka‘ako, in Friday rush-hour traffic, for his pau hana cigar. “The General won’t let me smoke inside,” he laments, falling into one of the loungers arranged around a punchbowl-sized communal ashtray. “… the General being my wife.”
South Pacific Pipes & Cigars isn’t elegant; barely larger than its walk-in humidor, it’s a no-frills zone of easy conversation, unhurried silence and aromatic smoke. “We didn’t want a TV or radio,” says Gene Pomeroy, who with his wife Eiko and partner Dale Neff, opened the store five years ago. “We’re social; we want to communicate.” Apart from the hum of the air purifier and the indolent plucking of the occasional ‘ukulele, the only sound is talk.
Good tobacco, like fine wine, lubricates conversation. Pull up a chair and listen to Al (the 86-year-old “fixture” has his own chair) tell you about the three airplane crashes he’s survived—two in one week when supplying one of Sir Edmund Hilary’s expeditions in the Antarctic. Or Larry talk about his experiences driving a truck in Iran during the last days of the Shah. Or war stories and tales of Honolulu’s checkered past, when Waikiki was more like the Wild West than the Far East.
Places like South Pacific Pipes & Cigars are an endangered species: Since the state imposed stiff smoking regulations last November, it’s one of only three spots left on O‘ahu where you can (legally) smoke indoors. But you won’t find déclassé cigarette smokers from the adjoining nail salon ducking in for a furtive puff; these guys (and they’re pretty much all guys) are aficionados. Cigars, mainly, but also a healthy ratio of pipe smokers; South Pac is the only shop in the state that sells tobacco blends from glass jars, like a crackseed store for the health unconscious.
At the moment, there are five cigars and three pipes going. Frank, a globe-trotting photographer, exchanges a knowing glance with Larry; they’re both smoking the same suspiciously bandless brand of cigar that Frank brought.
“Smooth,” croons Larry through the creamy smoke.
“Are those Cuban?” I ask.
Frank looks at me askance “You law enforcement?”
“No,” say I, exhaling a cloud of whisky Cavendish, “but I am a journalist.”
“Then no,” he grins. “They’re not Cuban.” HH
South Pacific Pipes & Cigars