She comes on like a dream, peaches and cream and lips wrapped around a smoldering stogie.
Even an enlightened, pro-feminist fellow like me is stricken with some psychic whiplash at the sight of fetching Karyn Neils and her cigar.
Here she is, this 24-year-old Spokane woman with stunning good looks that are encased in a low-cut, black evening dress.
And there she goes, billowing away on her Dominican see-gar like some old Tammany Hall pol.
Brace yourselves, ye conservative-minded:
Karyn’s not alone. More and more adventurous women are breaching the ramparts of perhaps the final hazy bastion of maleness.
Cigar smoking is a hot new trend among women, who are emboldened by such celebrity cigar sisters as Whoopi Goldberg, Demi Moore, Sharon Stone, Lauren Hutton and supermodel Linda Evangelista.
“When all my friends told me cigars were gross and icky, I said, ‘No way,”’ says Karyn, blowing a blue-gray plume. “I’ve never tried to fit the feminine mold. It’s too bad when women do.”
Karyn is one of nine women to attend this posh cigar dinner, held the other night in Patsy Clark’s restaurant. The crowd of 44 paid 70 bucks apiece for a brush with decadence: elegantly prepared shrimp, red meat and cherries jubilee. Tobacco World in the Flour Mill provided cigars.
When these gatherings began 2-1/2 years ago, only one brave woman showed up. She was probably there more in good-natured support of her macho man.
Karyn is a true cigar babe. She says she smoked her first stogie on a ski trip at age 19 and stuck with it.
She came to Patsy Clark’s to help celebrate the 51st birthday of her dad, Rob, a clinical psychologist.
A cigarfest isn’t exactly the traditional father-daughter outing, but Rob is nonplussed. “More power to the women,” he says, laughing. “I can’t think of a more wholesome activity.”
Appreciating fine cigars is a wonderful politically incorrect craze that continues to confound cross-eyed, anti-smoking zealots.
Nobody but a fool inhales cigars so the health risks are minimal. Good cigars are handmade, aromatic, tasty and relaxing to smoke.
It was only a matter of time before women lit up. The Coeur d’Alene Resort, for example, recently advertised its first women-only cigar dinner and quickly landed 15 reservations at $65 a head.
Niki Singer, Sr., vice president of Cigar Aficionado magazine, says her national publication was originally geared toward older, very wealthy men. The sudden interest by women caught the magazine staff off guard.
Now, of the some-1,000 people who attend huge cigar dinners in cities like New York or Boston, “there’ll be a couple hundred women.”
“It’s erotic and sensual,” explains bartender Nichole Burrell, 27, who came to the Spokane dinner in a sleeveless, black dress. “It makes me feel masculine in a feminine sort of way.”
Sheer curiosity drew homemaker Susan Hval, 30. Her previous cigar experience amounted to stealing a puff now and then from doctor hubby Darrol’s smokes.
“I like it,” she says. “It gives me a sense of power.”
There may, indeed, be an intimidation factor about a woman armed with a cigar.
Denver psychotherapist Susan Mellinger, who came to the dinner with date George Latus, says she once took out a cigar in front of a business associate.
“It totally shocked him,” she says. “All he could do was stare. I asked if he wanted one and he just muttered ‘nooo.”’
But what do you do if your non-smoking boyfriend objects to kissing a cigar babe?
“He doesn’t have a say,” snaps Karyn, launching another cottony plume. “I’ll be smoking cigars with my dad and my brother till I die.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo