In the heart of Jewelers Row sits the second-oldest tobacconist and the oldest family-owned tobacco shop in the country. It’s called Iwan Ries, and it’s the place to be for Chicago-area cigar smokers.
Iwan Ries is the epitome of Chicago. The building itself, located at 19 South Wabash, is a historical landmark that was built in 1882. It's the oldest surviving Adler and Sullivan building still standing anywhere.
Manager Kevin Levi showed FOX Chicago News more history on the shop’s second floor -- a nearly $2,000 pipe. It’s one of 15,000 pipes that can be purchased at Iwan Ries, along with one of the broadest selections of cigars and tobacco you'll find anywhere.
"It started with my great-grandfather's uncle,” Levi said. “His name was Edward Hoffman. It was named Edward Hoffman and Company. In 1891 he stepped down and handed it off to his nephew Iwan Ries, and since 1891 our name has been Iwan Ries and Company."
Talk about a family affair. Levi is the fifth generation of his family to work there. To give you an idea of how long Iwan Ries has been around, their first location burned down in the Chicago Fire.
“What the future holds, I don't know really put any pressure on myself or my three young children who are too young to think about it now. But to carry on the legacy of the service and the products that we offer and the reputation we built over time, that's important,” Levi said.
Cigar smoking reached its peak in modern times in the 90s when Hollywood helped make it cool. Cigar bars popped up everywhere, but the tobacco business soon took a dive with the implementation of smoking bans from coast to coast.
Curtis Stucky used to smoke cigars at a club nearby in the Loop, but now he heads to Iwan Ries, downtown's only private smoking club.
"I think some of the clubs were ready to ban smoking even without the state law. The membership didn't really like it. It's nice to have a place where it isn't a problem," Stucky said.
For $750, people can buy a year's membership, and that's what Zeb McLauren did. He comes by nearly every day, sometimes after work and sometimes during working hours.
"This is the best internet access around,” McLauren said.
We asked McLauren if anyone would yell at him when he lights up.
"Absolutely not. It depends on the type of day you're having. It's a way to relax with the stress and turmoil of your daily (grind)," McLauren said.
Levi said he has got 80 or so regulars in his smoking lounge, and daily passes for non-members are available for $15.