BLOWING ROCK — For the many superstitious, the number 13 is unlucky. For some four dozen men in Blowing Rock on July 22, the number 13 never felt luckier.
Back in mid-July 2008, local resident Jay Winston was in the muddy grass at the south end of what is now Town Tavern. He reached into a pocket and offered a spare cigar to a departing patron who admired the rich aroma wafting about the garden. The new friend accepted and the two men sat in ankle-deep mud, exchanging stories interlaced with an occasional joke well into the evening hours.
Finally, Winston said, “Let’s meet again next Thursday right here at this very spot. And let’s each bring a friend who might enjoy a cigar, too, with a few stories to tell.”
So on Thursday, July 10, 2008, an informal brotherhood was born and built around cigars and genuine fellowship. They called the group, “Smokes ‘n’ Jokes” — and every Thursday for the last 13 years this group of cigar aficionados and jokesters have arrived at the same spot for fun and fellowship. They celebrated that 13-year anniversary on July 22, the group having grown from two, to 48, give or take a dozen or two on any given Thursday.
“We have gotten together every Thursday except for a few times during the pandemic restrictions,” said Greg King. “And through the years, we have even made some improvements to the space.”
They bought and installed a tent on the south end of the restaurant, King said. A portable fire pit comes in handy when there is snow on the ground and the temperatures dip below freezing. Of course they bought drinks, too (and probably lots of them for this thirsty crowd).
“Before it was Town Tavern, it was Glidewell’s. When they started serving food at the Smokes ‘n’ Jokes tables,” said King, “Winston led the work to lay pavers on the space he called ‘sacred ground.’ The group gifted tables and chairs, and installed a standup bar that separates the cornhole court and the Smokes ‘n’ Jokes tent.”
On July 22, Town Tavern owner Justin Davis recognized the 13th anniversary of the group’s founding by offering its members the first round of drinks, “... on the house.”
Davis was all smiles as the group’s host and benefactor.
“These guys are mostly well-behaved and they appreciate the great service they receive from our staff,” said Davis. “Some of our servers and bartenders are on a first name basis with the Smokes ‘n’ Jokes members. And many of the ones who have graduated from school or left for other opportunities departed with generous gifts.”
The fun and fellowship have not gone unnoticed through the years. There was the time, for instance, that the group’s picture appeared in “Cigar Aficionado” magazine. On another occasion, a cigar wholesaler arrived, passing out samples while asking the group to assess the newest products from his cigar humidor.
“There are some tall tales being told here every Thursday,” said King. “I suspect some of them are true, some embellished just a bit, and maybe a couple of fabricated adventures because this is a creative crowd. Cigar smoking is no longer the mainstay that it once was. In fact, the majority of members today are non-smokers. But that does not dampen the enthusiasm for a few humorous stories and a some cool drinks for an hour or so on a Thursday afternoon. Whether it is five of us here, or 35, it is really all about the fellowship and friendships we have made. Thirteen years ... that’s a lot of laughs and the best of times in Blowing Rock.”