Cigar Aficionado

I am not a cigar aficionado, nor a cigar devotee, zealot or disciple. I'd no sooner toot on a Cohiba Robusto than on a canister of Centox gas. If I really wanted my breath to reek and my lungs to sound a fire alarm, I'd take up permanent residence in Marlboro Country-- where the property taxes are low and the coughed-up, tar-laden chunks of phlegm taste like freedom.

Happily for me, then, the April issue of Cigar Aficionado continues the title's subtle slide towards men's-general-interest territory. Unhappily for me and you and anybody else who can read, however, that tectonic shift has not served it well. The mag has lost much of its mojo--not to mention nearly all of its credibility and wit--in transition.

Somewhere along the line, the minds behind Cigar Aficionado seem to have thrown in the towel. Where the magazine once basked in its unapologetic consumerism, it now lifelessly flogs anything that's shiny and expensive. Where it used to serve up its celeb stories and travelogues with a side of alpha-male grit, it now meekly doles out rewritten press releases. The overall impression is one of editorial rot and neglect; it's the magazine equivalent of a dead man walking.

You'd think that Cigar Aficionado, with its we-know-luxury pretensions, would be the perfect venue for a best-of-Vegas spectacular. The April issue, though, pretty much punts the opportunity, offering little more than edge-free marketing chaff that might as well have been written by the city's tourism commissioner. None of the golf courses receive less than 3.5 tees (on a one-to-five scale); in the guide to Vegas restaurants, "the raw fish is fresh and properly prepared" passes for critical thought.

The feature on a dead guy dubbed "Las Vegas's splashiest player" includes precious few anecdotes, colorful or otherwise, while the story on celebrity poker ("big names are boosting the interest in poker playing," the mag breathlessly reports) is so dated as to defy rational explanation. The fact that the issue's photos depict a city inhabited exclusively by clean white people doesn't help matters any.

Then there's the 20 percent--by my rough estimate--of the April issue that actually peripherally deals with, you know, cigars. The breezy conversations with La Aurora's sales director and Cuba's cigar-distribution maestro add welcome behind-the-scenes pep --apparently Cuban cigar factories now boast both air-conditioning and electricity, just like Condé Nast HQ.

But the mag gives back whatever meager gains it may have accumulated with its terse, stubby reviews of new cigars. They seem to be graded in degrees of happy-pie goodness: not a single cigar of the 80-odd reviewed merits the lowly grade of "average to good commercial quality," much less "don't waste your money." Again: if you have no intention of being even remotely critical, why bother with reviews in the first place?

Cigar Aficionado's single saving grace remains its lush, opulent appearance. I feared touching its blacker-than-an-ivory-trader's-heart cover, lest that I taint it with my finger grease. The pages are as thick as slices of bologna and glossier than a local news anchor's hair. Of course, given that readers' "moments to remember" photos occupy 11 of them (a smiling-white-people-with-cigars motif dominates), the mag might as well be printed on deli napkins.

Besides, no matter how snazzy Cigar Aficionado might look, it can only divert readers for so long. With the late-1990s cigar craze having gone the way of the dodo bird, the mag is likely approaching the expiration date on its milk carton, so to speak. Unless its editors get off their asses and inject some personality into the plodding "good life for men" formula, it won't be with us much longer.

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