New York City isn’t exactly known for being sympathetic towards smokers. On top of the citywide indoor smoking ban passed in 2002, a few months ago, partaking in the habit in certain walkways and in all city parks and beaches became illegal. However, all this legislation can’t stop Mike Lopez from enjoying a good cigar.
Lopez is the owner of Refugio Cigar House, a cigar shop and club on Lorimer Street earlier this year. Although Refugio has only been open for eight months, he has spent the past 10 years becoming a cigar connoisseur. “I started smoking cigars when I was 18 after the feast here in Williamsburg, the Giglio Feast,” he said. “I would always buy cigars every summer. As I became more of an adult I had a big habit. I was spending $300 to $400 a week at signature shops, so that was my mentality in starting a store.”
Refugio offers a laid back environment for people of all legal ages, from young, artsy types to older men who like to relax and have a nice smoke. “We’re not the kind of place where we put our nose up at people,” said Lopez. “We thrive on educating the young people, the young hipster. I’m only 28-years-old so I am part of that group and generation so we like to focus on that. Typically, when you think of cigars, you think of an old man smoking cigars and drinking scotch.”
The shop carries its own handmade blends, made locally in Williamsburg, and sells a large variety of premium cigars. Refugio produces six of its own cigars, one of which, Big Jimmy, a large ring gauge cigar, is named after the shop’s manager. Some of the others come from Nicaragua and Peru, and the store’s design was inspired by the Cuban Revolution. The sign in the window says, “Que Viva El Tabaco!” which translates to “Long Live the Tobacco!”
Patrons can also buy cigar accessories, hookah supplies, and rolling tobacco at the shop.
Lopez, who works during the day for the federal government as a criminal investigator, said he frequented the lounges near Bedford Avenue before stumbling across the empty space on Lorimer. “I saw the landlady, and she said ‘I like your face. I will give you a lease tomorrow.’ She didn’t even ask me any questions.”
Every Wednesday, Refugio plays host to Snip and Smoke, where a barber gives haircuts and razor shaves to customers while they smoke. For musicians, they hold Guitars and Cigars, a jam session. Monday is reserved for football, while Tuesdays are classic movie night.
If all goes well with Refugio, Lopez plans to open a restaurant in Williamsburg and another cigar shop in Queens. Right now, he’s still working to get his shop to a point where he can focus strictly on cigars, and transition into a new lifestyle. “If I could do this full time [then] that’s a possibility. We’ve got to be established enough to do it. I love the cigar world.”
It doesn’t matter to Lopez whether customers are seasoned smokers, novice smokers, rich smokers, or poor smokers. He passes no judgments, and is dedicated to providing a friendly, welcoming environment. “There’s a lot of camaraderie in the cigar world,” he said. “If you came into my shop right now, I got some old Italian guy from the neighborhood, some Latino guys from Bushwick, some black guys, [and] some hipsters. Everyone is united by the cigar. It doesn’t matter if you’re smoking a $6 or $25 cigar. You’re smoking a cigar.”
Refugio Cigar House
635 Lorimer Street
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