By Bob Tate & Jeremiah Dreier
A new millennium had just been born, and had barely gotten its legs under it, when three pipe smokers who had met on the internet collaborated and decided to start a club.
The year? 2000
The three pipe smokers? Matt Guss, Gary B. Schrier, and Ron Butler
The club? The Seattle Pipe Club (SPC)
They started working on the club details in late 2000 and had their first meeting in January of 2001. This was the dawn of a new century and millennium for everyone in the world, but it was the dawn of a new era for pipe smokers in the Seattle, Washington area.
All of us pipe smokers know that in this day and age, there are very few places for us to congregate to smoke and discuss things amongst like minded individuals. The SPC helps to solve this problem for the brothers and sisters of the briar in the Seattle area.
SPC Co-Founder, Matt Guss is currently the president of the club. The Seattle Pipe Club is one of the most active and well funded clubs in the United States. They currently have around 200 members and they hold a meeting once a month. The club currently meets on the second Wednesday of every month at Smokey Joe’s Cigar Lounge in Fife, Washington. Since Smokey Joe’s is located on the Puyallup Tribal Reservation, they still allow smoking in their establishments; which is a great thing considering the severe anti-tobacco legislation and state wide smoking bans that are in place in Washington state.
Smokey Joe’s provides a welcoming & relaxing atmosphere, with an excellent tobacco lounge, comfy leather chairs & sofas, tasty food, a gorgeous mahogany bar and adult beverages of your choice, including a impressive selection of single malt Scotch.
Smokey Joe’s Cigar Lounge
4411 Pacific Hwy E
Fife, WA 98424
The SPC sometimes have guest speakers at their monthly meetings. Some of the guest speakers that they have had over the years include; Rick Newcombe, Ben Rapaport, G.L. Pease, Craig Tarler, Marty Pulvers, and Peter Stokkebye, just to name a few. Occasionally they will have Mr. Clive Dunhill fly in and speak at some of their events.
Although anyone can attend the club meetings for free, to become an official member of the Seattle Pipe Club requires that you pay the yearly dues of $25.00. The dues are extremely important for the operation of the club. By becoming an official SPC member, you get some great benefits such as;
Another unique feature of the SPC is that they have their own tobacco blender in Joe Lankford. Three of the blends that Joe has created, (Seattle Evening, Plum Pudding, and Mississippi River), are packaged, tinned, and are available nationally from PipesandCigars.com.
Kevin Godbee, owner and publisher of PipesMagazine.com, attended and covered the Seattle Pipe Club’s 10th Anniversary Dinner and event in January 2011. He also spent quite a bit of time with Matt Guss and Gary Schrier at the 2011 Chicago Pipe Show.
Kevin says; “Matt and Gary are great guys and I had a blast hanging out in their room at the Chicago show drinking all of Gary’s single malt scotch, smoking and talking until late at night. Even though Gary and I have somewhat opposite personalities, I just love hanging out with him smoking pipes and talking about pipes and tobacco, people and society, and solving the world’s problems. Gary has a wealth of knowledge and some great books available through his publishing company, Briar Book Press. Matt is extremely witty, funny, intelligent and a great showman, so it was no surprise when I learned of his background in advertising. I’d hang out with these guys and the entire club any chance I get.”
Jeremiah Dreier had the opportunity to talk with Matt Guss on the phone, and ask a few questions about the Seattle Pipe Club. Here is his interview with Matt:
PipesMagazine: What was the impetus for starting the Seattle Pipe Club?
Matt Guss: Well pipe smoking is very much a social activity. It encourages society and it encourages thought. It is the only smoking activity where the hobby itself is also as interesting as the activity it generates between people. With that being said, it was late 2000 and I had been smoking my pipes and my nasty aromatic tobaccos, at least I now find them nasty, off and on for a few years and I was alone in the hobby. While I was smoking at home one day I got on a well-known pipe-smoking forum and I asked if there were any pipe smokers in the Seattle area that wanted to meet up and start a club. Both Gary and Ron emailed me back, and we set up a time and a place. That was the first meeting we had.
PM: Was there a personal goal you had in mind when you started the SPC?
Matt: Yes in a way. There are many opportunities to get turned off to the whole process of pipe smoking. One of the reasons that I started the SPC was my own hunger for knowledge about pipes and tobacco. When the club started I was not one of the knowledgeable ones. I was getting more out of it then I was putting into it in the beginning, or at least that is how I looked at it.
PM: What year did the SPC join the UPCA (United Pipe Clubs of America)?
Matt: I am not certain on that. We became friends and acquainted with Vernon Vig and the UPCA very early and he was a big supporter of the SPC. Honestly I had no idea what the UCPA even was in the beginning. We did join early on and we were one of the first clubs to hold one of their sanctioned Slow Smoke competitions.
PM: Can you explain if you think it is important for pipe clubs to join the UPCA? And if so, why?
Matt: Yes, I think it is important for any pipe club to participate in the National scene. They fill an important role in the pipe-smoking world as they give pipe clubs a reason for existing outside of their home club. They are a front for all pipe clubs to stand behind.
PM: Does the Seattle Pipe Club have a mission?
Matt: The SPC stated as a place for us to create and promote activities for pipe smokers. We wanted to promote education, entertainment, society, and a brotherhood. We did this by holding lectures and presentations. These weren’t always pipe related. We have had lectures on fly-fishing, and talks on coffee (We are in the Coffee Capitol of the nation). We have brought in beer brewers, wine experts, high-end pipe collectors, national and international pipe carvers, and even tobacco blenders. We wanted to really give the club some fun meetings and round out the experience and education. We want to give the SPC more dimension and more of a reason for existing. If there were a mission it would be to become better pipe men and women by giving them a reason to be together.
PM: What type of goals, planning, and organization are done for managing the pipe club?
Matt: We have been fortunate enough to develop a structure and a program for the SPC over the past 10 years. We have a framework so we really know what to do throughout each year. The program isn’t hard and fast but it ritualistic, we are still a relatively young club and it takes awhile for a club to find out what type of club it really wants to be. Our planning extends to making our club a fun, active, and vital force in the pipe world. We are still growing and changing even if we don’t grow and change every meeting.
PM: Are there any rules for the Seattle Pipe Club?
Matt: Well no, There is a structure for the club inside of which the pipe club happens, and that structure is all the events that the club hosts. It is a place to come for both new and experienced pipe smokers to come together and help each other out.
PM: Are there club officers and, if so, what do they do?
Matt: There really aren’t any other positions other than the President. We don’t have system set up for officers within the club. Things go very well with just the volunteers that step up and help throughout the year. We have some very strong members that step up and help wherever they can.
PM: What are the trends that you are seeing for enrollment in the club as far as it increasing or decreasing, and the demographics of the membership?
Matt: There has been an upswing in the younger pipe smokers, but there are new members from every generation. Our youngest member is in his early 20s and our oldest is in his late 80s.
PM: In order to become an official member of the SPC, there is a $25.00 yearly membership fee; explain a few of the things that the member dues help to pay for?
Matt: Membership is of course voluntary; you don’t have to pay to go to the club meeting. That being said, if you want to help support the SPC then we welcome your support. The dues are there to help pay for most of the events that we put on, which some are for members only, like our annual dinner or our barbeque cookout. The dues also help pay for the guest speakers that we have come to out meetings.
PM: You said that the dues used to help pay for club events and other things. Can you explain how the club keeps the treasury funded?
Matt: Well there are few ways that our treasury gets fed. First there are membership fees that help feed the treasury and luckily we have one of the highest dues paying member base. Second we hold a silent auction and a live auction every year at our Annual Dinner. Lastly the club does gain some revenue from the sale of our club tobaccos that were created by Joe Lankford.
PM: Speaking of club tobaccos, what makes your club’s tobaccos different than other club’s offerings?
Matt: From what I understand our three blends are the only Club tobaccos that were actually created by the Seattle Pipe Club. Joe Lankford created the original blends and they were perfected with the input from the club members. SPC has three unique blends; Mississippi River, Seattle Evening, and Plum Pudding.
PM: I know that the SPC has been involved with fighting some of the anti-tobacco legislation in the state of Washington. How does the club go about doing it?
Matt: This is a hard subject to go on since it is an ongoing battle to get the law, which prevents tobacco from being shipped into Washington, amended. What Gary and I have done is testify to the state Legislature, the state Senate, and to different committees to try to get pipe tobacco exempt from the new shipping law. We are fighting the Law and the law is winning. Our thoughts are, if you don’t stand up and be heard then you have no chance at winning.
PM: Getting back to the meetings, what are some examples of what gets discussed at the monthly meetings?
Matt: Because we meet in a cigar lounge, we do have to share the space with people who are not there for the club meeting. It can be difficult to hold a meeting with a set agenda. So we make time for everyone to go around the room and talk and greet each other. We do still have occasional speakers and we mainly talk about the upcoming events. It is more of an informal agenda at our meetings.
PM: Does any one event stand out as a personal favorite of yours?
Matt: The annual dinner would have to be my favorite event. There is a lot of work that goes into the event but it is well worth it. The Annual Dinner is kind of the Gala event of the year; all the members are there in a suit and tie when many only wear a T-shirt and jeans to meetings. It is a time for all the members to see and be seen at their best. There is a lot of pride in being at the Annual Dinner.
PM: Does the club ever have a formal meeting?
Matt: SPC isn’t that type of Club. We are more of a “come as you are” club, and our meetings are very informal.
PM: The club meets at Smokey Joe’s Cigar Lounge in Fife, Washington, how long have you been meeting there?
Matt: We have been meeting there for about 3 and a half years now. They love us there and we love being there.
PM: Does the SPC have any plans in the future of having and hosting their own pipe show?
Matt: The simple answer is no. There are a bunch of great shows already that go on all over the United States, and it just isn’t in the cards for us. We have our hands in a lot of events, and we have enough to do as it is. Shows are a lot of hard work and we can only tip our hats in respect to those brave souls that do it every year. I will say that if there was a swell of support from our members for a SPC show, then we would offer our support, but that swell hasn’t come forward yet.
PM: Is there anything else that you would like to say to our readers?
Matt: What we really believe in is the pipe club itself; there is a tremendous amount of value that comes from being in a pipe club and helping run a club. Pipe clubs, whether virtual or in person, are the only way that we find out what is going on in the Pipe World. It helps us understand the rich history that we come from and it molds our path for the future. There is nothing else quite like being in a club with like-minded people. It isn’t out of reach for anyone; remember the SPC got started because of a curious forum post.
If you’re a pipe smoker in the Seattle / Tacoma area and are not a member of the Seattle Pipe Club, meetings are the 2nd Wednesday of every month, so check them out at Smokey Joe’s Cigar Lounge in Fife, WA.