As a New Yorker, I’m a sucker for anything related to my City. Call it hometown pride, a sense of nostalgia elicited, or simple local fandom, but I’ll freely admit to feeling my heart strings tugged at when I hear Billy Joel or Alicia Keys sing about it, when John Sterling intones "Ballgame over! Yankees win! Theeeeeee Yankees win!", or even when I see a tourist with an "I ♥ NY" tee shirt (ok, I admit it, I own one myself). So it is with much anticipation that I open my pouch of Tobacco Galleria Blue Note, from Sutliff. Named in honor of the Blue Note Jazz Club in Greenwich Village, it’s an aromatic blend of burley, Virginia, and Green River Black Cavendish.
Among us tobacco snobs, pouched pipe tobacco sometimes gets an undeserved bad rap, much more so here in the States than in Europe, where pouches are more common even with premium brands. Let us not forget the fabled Balkan Sobranie, which pouches still fetch stratospheric prices on the resale market. Many premium marques including Capstan, Erinmore, Condor, and Mac Baren are successfully marketed in pouches abroad; here in ‘Merica we tend to think of pouches as being strictly "OTC" or "drugstore" blends, though it’s not always the case that these are intrinsically inferior blends.
The Blue Note Jazz Club is a rarity, one of those legendary places that sprung into being in my lifetime. It’s still in its original 3rd Street location, in the heart of the Village, most of which is owned by NYU these days. Once the hub of counterculture and cheap rents, the neighborhood today teeters between overpriced condos and a perpetual Spring Break atmosphere, fueled by the nearly 50,000-strong student body and no shortage of bars and nightclubs. But the Blue Note has managed to successfully capture that certain something that made the Village "The Village". Stepping into the always-darkened interior, one is immediately enveloped with the intimate vibe of the evening’s jazz ensemble; the feeling of a throwback café where revolutions could foment and hearts could be broken. No longer one of a kind, there are now Blue Notes in Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan, and also in Milan, Italy.
Blue Note (the tobacco) manages to invoke some of that underground jazz feeling from the first light. In the pouch it’s soft and moist even after a few days open, evidence of a medium amount of humectant. The aroma is sweet and yet hard to pin down; like a rhythm section operating in 5/4 time, the beat flits between vanilla, fruity, and bourbon notes, always just one step ahead of your perception. The burley and Virginia are ribbon cut, with plenty of chunky Cavendish sprinkled in, so the packing is easy to manage, as is the burn. Lighting it up, there’s a brief smokiness that is quickly tempered into a nice balance between the sweet and savory elements. For the smoker, the tobacco flavor comes through in equal measure to the sweet aromatic taste, while for the bystander the aroma heavily favors the sugary Cavendish, with more of a background note of the tobacco. It is definitely a crowd-pleaser, tailor made for enjoying in mixed company. Not at all a complex smoke, this hits its middle-C and stays there, from top to bottom, consistently from bowl to bowl.
It’s a real crime that this can’t actually be enjoyed in its namesake bar. There are scant few places left in New York, and elsewhere for that matter, where one can feel free to light up and enjoy a drink and live music, like adults were once able to in this great country. Were personal freedoms such as this still the norm, I imagine Blue Note would be a great blend to sit and take in a McCoy Tyner set, or even to be one of the cool cats up on stage making the music. This of course brings to mind images of John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Ron Carter, or even The Great Godbee, jamming out under the spotlights, pipes precariously dangling from their teeth. Alas, I fear these are memories of a time that’s fading into oblivion, excerpts from an earlier age.
Overall, Blue Note is a mild and pleasant experience that doesn’t challenge any notions of what an easy smoking aromatic should be. The room note is really its strong suit; it’s got an almost magnetic quality that will draw compliments from twenty paces out. Like a good jazz tune, it swings along effortlessly and elicits applause from the crowd. It is somewhat handicapped from the humectant use, which seems a bit heavy-handed and probably unnecessary—without it, this pouch would be very easy to smoke through before it even had time to dry out. Regardless, it’s a good choice for those times when you don’t want or need to concentrate on the riotous interplay of exotic leaf in unique and fanciful combinations, when you just want a steady background smoke that leaves you free to concentrate on your music or your mood, and one that will get you invited back to the party.