Cigars may be stinky and unhealthy, but they relieve stress during record-listening parties at Fidel's Tobacco.

Smoking in Cuban 

Cigars may be stinky and unhealthy, but they relieve stress during record-listening parties at Fidel's Tobacco.

In a back room of Fidel's Tobacco in Westport, people are smoking chocolate cigarettes and browsing through stacks of records while the Wipers blare from an old record player next to a humidor. This would feel out of place any night other than Tuesday, when enthusiasts of tobacco and vinyl gather at Fidel's for the weekly Golden Smoking Needle listening party.

Musically, it's like the potluck dinner and the mix-tape concept rolled into one -- everyone who brings an arsenal of records gets a shot at the turntable. DJ and promoter Alexavier Strangerz initially showed up to play a few songs and unexpectedly found himself in charge of the parties. "The employee who started it left the next week, and I knew this was a good idea that shouldn't die," he explains. "So I talked to the owner, and now we've been doing it for the last six months." What started as a two-hour party now goes on for seven hours, splitting shifts between Fidel's lounge and AC's Garage next door.

Mixing equal parts High Fidelity and Algonquin Round Table, the first part of Golden Smoking Needle is casual and contemplative; topics of discussion range from the record on deck to the comparative qualities of cigar brands. "It's social, but not social like a club," Strangerz says. "It's more like a good group of friends coming together to catch up and share some music."

The pace quickens when the party moves to AC's Garage. "People are shoving CD binders at me, someone's bringing in a crate of records while a trance record is playing, and I'm just trying to make it so it doesn't train-wreck," Strangerz says.

Though Strangerz might have trouble figuring out a segue between a Sisters of Mercy track and a Pantera song he's never heard, it's the whimsy of it all that makes Golden Smoking Needle so exciting to him. "We've had execs break meetings to stay and talk music. The semiregulars who show up play their records, and we don't see them for weeks. And eighteen-year-olds coming in with these rare records, and us old fogies going, 'Oooooh' -- that's a success to me."

Forgoing cover charges and eschewing elitism, Strangerz hopes that the concept will continue to catch on with audiophiles still relegated to sharing their musical treasures in living rooms and moving cars. "We don't have genres in mind. We don't follow any particular trends. What we're most interested in is good music and encouraging people to buy music and share it with others and hopefully pass on their love of some small band or rare song."

For all his excitement, though, Strangerz recognizes that the idea is by no means new. "It's an eternal concept," he says. "People have always played music for each other." With the economy stumbling and a war begun, Strangerz thinks there's no better time than now. "No matter who you are, one way we relieve our stresses in life is to sit back with some friends and listen to music," Strangerz explains. Those who rely on their pack-a-day habit to get through tough times are covered, too. "You still have your stresses, and we still have the cure."

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