During the 1920s, the Stanza was a speakeasy, where people came to relax. Later, it was a men’s club, where Riccio’s father and grandfather went to smoke cigars and play cards. As a child, he was not allowed to follow his father inside the club, so its initial appeal was one of mystery. As he grew up, his sense of curiosity developed into a deep passion for the culture of cigar smoking.
☆ By Christopher Cagliuso ☆ Photographed by Jazz Martin ☆
The Stanza’s charm is largely its warm atmosphere, which is driven by Riccio’s staggering collection of rare cigar-related antiques and memorabilia, dating as far back as the 19th century. From his almost two hundred year old “guillotine cigar cutter” (which is exactly what it sounds like), to his cigar labels with images of each Beatle, to his 1940s cigar vending machine, to his various antique humidors (small chambers designed to optimize the climate in which cigars age), to the statue of Al Capone complete with cigar in hand, the collection is the work of a man who loves what he’s doing.
More than that, the collection is also the work of a man who knows what he’s doing. While Riccio finds some pieces – like the beautifully crafted guillotine cutter – in antiques shops, many of the more subtle parts of the collection were purchased at flea markets for only a few dollars. “People get rid of that stuff,” he says of some of the rare cigar boxes adorning the walls, “because they don’t know what they have. But I read books on all this, so I can tell when something is very rare or very unique.”
Because of his keen eye for rare and beautiful works of old cigar culture, the Stanza has the feel of a place lost in time. And that’s the idea. “I wanted this place to feel like you’re walking into an old speakeasy,” Riccio says of his vision for the Stanza. “Or you might feel like you’re in your grandfather’s living room.”
In addition to providing the place with an authentic feel, the Stanza’s collection is a tribute to the lost art of finely crafted pieces of cigar artwork. “The workmanship in those days,” he says referencing the guillotine, whose fine woodwork and blade have aged well, “I mean, nowadays they make cutters out of plastic. But [I want] everything in this place to look old and natural.”
Make no mistake, though. The Stanza isn’t only about antiques and tributes to days gone by. For cigar aficionados, it has serious offerings which can be enjoyed inside the bar in a comfortable leather chair or booth, thanks to the City of Boston waiving its ban on smoking indoors for the local landmark. Riccio estimates that he features thirty-eight to forty different top of the line “facings” (aka, brands) of cigars at any time, including household names like Davidoff and Montecristo. When someone orders a cigar, a waitress (all of whom are knowledgeable about the merchandise) presents it on a tray and asks how the customer would like it cut and lit. “Again,” Riccio says, “in the ‘20s and ‘30s, that’s how cigars were served… It’s the romantic way to do it.”
The Stanza also features a room with many humidors where regular customers can store and age cigars to smoke later. The room itself is small and comfortable, the kind of place cigar smokers might enjoy one they’ve been saving for awhile. While not everyone has a special humidor at the Stanza, Riccio estimates that fifty to sixty percent of his customers are regulars, and a large percentage of the rest are cigar lovers from out of town who’ve read about the Stanza in places like Cigar Aficionado, which rated it one of the ten best cigar bars in the United States. Like Riccio, they are all people who appreciate the increasingly rare setting of a bar that sells high quality cigars you can smoke immediately in a relaxed, comfortable atmosphere with your friends.
With Stanza dei Sigari, David Riccio has achieved an uncommon thing. Without gimmicks, and through a dedication to authenticity driven by his relentless passion for the culture of cigar smoking, he has built a collection, a bar, a small corner of the world that captures the beauty of nostalgia. “The Stanza and David,” one of the regulars said to me, “are the last of the Mohicans.”
He may be right about that. But based on the number of relaxed, happy customers at Stanza dei Sigari, the last Mohican will be around for a long time.