2200 Penn Ave., Strip District
3525 Washington Road, McMurray
It sounds like a scene from a Hemingway novel: Smoke curls in the dry air. Men sit in high-backed chairs and slide chess pieces across their board, sipping coffee beneath walls covered in license plates. Bearded patrons file in and out of the cigar room, scan the humidors and sniff the tobacco for just the right aroma.
And like reading Hemingway, there's something liberating about visiting the Leaf & Bean Company. Once you step inside, time seems to elongate. Schedules dissolve. You could lounge all afternoon at an outdoor table, puffing a Cohiba and people-watching. Better yet: puffing a Kinky Friedman and kibitzing with a Leaf & Bean regular (there are a lot of them, and they're all characters). Best of all: chomping a Montecristo as you shoot the breeze with Jim Robinson, the café's founder.
In a former life, Robinson worked as a hotel-chain executive. But as the legend goes, he got tired of the corporate lifestyle and co-founded the Leaf & Bean with Sunny Kroser. Now Robinson wears his hair long, sports a silver beard, and he'll entertain conversation with just about anybody.
The company has two locations, in the Strip District and McMurray. And in each of these cluttered little cafés, folks are free to relax and flip through a dog-eared paperback. There are board games and free wireless, too.
For a cigar bar, the Leaf & Bean is incredibly well ventilated. In the summer months, the Strip District location's garage doors are opened and the café is almost open-air. But even so, it still feels illicit, in an old-fashioned way, to light the end of an Omar Ortez with a kitchen match and puff smoke-rings toward the ceiling.
Meanwhile, the coffee is roasted on site, and every cup tastes just right. There are plenty of baked snacks to accompany a good mug of joe, and if tobacco isn't your bag, the barista can guarantee a more fitting refreshment. (Oftentimes that barista is Robinson himself.)
What's most remarkable about the Leaf & Bean is that it pulls off Caribbean charm without being hokey. The seashells are real, the outdoor umbrellas are functional. Above all, the tropical spirit is preserved. Things here are simple: Drink, talk and smoke 'em while you've got 'em.