Fortunately for me, Grant and Chris were running uncharacteristically late, as I was frantically rushing about trying to finish packing, leaving feeding instructions so Sammy D and Kate didn’t starve and fighting the nagging sense that I was forgetting something. The three of us heard that last year’s inaugural pipe makers meet up at Smoker’s Haven was a fun bash and highly informative for all the attendees.
Never ones to miss a good party twice, pipe maker Grant Batson, Chris Merkle, the perpetual force behind Southern Fried Pipe Club and myself had decided we should make the six hour road trip from Nashville to Columbus, Ohio for the 2nd Annual Pipe Makers Forum Midwest Meet Up created and hosted by Premal Cheda, at his great shop; Smoker’s Haven.
We struck out from my home only about an hour behind schedule on Friday morning heading NNE towards Columbus and into a beautiful warm spring day. Grant was at the wheel puffing on a cigar that smelled as enticing as bacon frying on a crisp camping trip morning, Chris in the second row seat of the slate blue Ford SUV typing away on his new jumbo smart phone, continuing his unending efforts to keep all the SFPC plates spinning and I was seated next to Grant debating with myself weather to fill a pipe or try and recover the lost sleep from the truncated night before.
It was blossoming into a very fine, sunny day and the pipe won out. Hell, it was Friday, we were on a three day road trip to visit with old friends and make new ones, and, best of all — make pipes together in SH’s very finely equipped workshop. I would sleep later, or so I thought. Proceeding through Kentucky, passing the Corvette lover’s paradise, Bowling Green and up into Ohio where the lightly rolling farm country is truly picturesque, we had great weather, clear roads and good tobacco.
Sometime around dusk we were cutting through the Ohio State University urban campus and, after parking a block away, we trooped over to Smoker’s Haven. (We weren’t aware that Premal had good parking in the rear of his location.)
Smoker’s Haven is a big shop. And not just as pipe shops go. I would estimate it at twice as large as most pipe shops with a well organized and large pipe display area, a massive space for the humidor and a very spacious and comfortable lounge area with several soft and comfy chairs supplemented for the event with a few folders. Behind the scenes, as it were, is an office area and a very large and well appointed shop for making and refurbishing pipes. This is Bill Shlosky’s bailiwick.
Bill is the pipe maker in residence, and along with Premal, works away making some very fine briars. Both Premal and Bill greeted us, as well as Tyler Beard and several other pipe makers and local clientele that were invited to remain after hours that evening. Chris, Grant and I, after shaking hands all around, were given a brief tour by Premal and then given the critical information that he had a great catered meal on it’s way and that there was a well stocked liquor store next door. Friends, tobacco and cigars, free food, soft chairs, a fine workshop, good booze at hand and we still had the shank of the evening ahead. Things were looking good indeed. And good they were as the more industrious types spent time in the shop with Tyler and the rest of us delighted in ogling SH’s fine stock of great pipes and staking out the best chairs for a long evening of smoking, eating, drinking and story swapping. As pipe makers and pipe smokers are world class adepts of the latter few activities, the night drifted on a steady stream of fine smoke and alcohol well into the wee hours.
We broke up about 4am after a bleary eyed discussion concluded that working right through the night was a bad idea. Besides, Premal wanted to kick off the next day’s festivities at 10am sharp.
Well Grant, Chris and I were none too sharp at 10am, driving several blocks the wrong way down a one-way avenue searching for a Brugger’s Bagel shop that seems to exist only in cyberspace. We were leading a two car caravan, with Tyler and Scott Klein following. As we obliviously ignored the one-way sign Tyler declared “I don’t want a bagel that bad” and went on to SH. Now alone, we determined that Google had pranked us regarding the Brugger’s so we came about and soon arrived at a bustling Smoker’s Haven.
Saturday’s agenda was turned into a pipe show and sale and though somewhat lightly attended due to a cold rain and an unintended short notice, there were dozens of very fine pipes arrayed on tables and counters arranged with neatly printed name place placards all provided by Premal.
“Provided by Premal” would become the true underpinning of a great weekend as we were to discover. Not only had he fed us well the night before and made space for some 25 odd pipe makers to display their work, he kept things well organized and capped Saturday evening off with a fine meal at a local Italian restaurant. More on that in a bit.
As I said, turn out was not too heavy, but steady throughout a cold and rainy day and then it began to snow. Talk about extreme weather swings. Friday was sunny, dry and warmish and Saturday was gray, cold, raining and that afternoon the snow began to fall. We were assured it would be gone by Sunday morning.
Despite the schizophrenic weather, the day went well with more pipe makers having arrived and several local and some out of town visitors all milling around and everyone was all smiles.
Premal’s staff gamely kept up with regular store operations and the various requests of the visiting artisans and even Bill Schlosky was amiable after a rather impressive level of consumption the night before (during which he was vastly entertaining on the subject of exacting revenge on an ill fated identity thief) Later, as the day progressed, Premal gathered the crowd together to witness presentation of the various and several trophies and prizes for the winners of the following distinctions:
- Pipe most likely to be used as a weapon: Mark Tinsky
- Most wacky shape: Grant Batson
- Best shape design: Abe Herbaugh
- Best technical work: Scott Klein
- Best in show: Nat King
These were determined by judges George Dibos, Benjamin Berkeley and Tony Renschler, and thanks to them for their efforts.
The prizes were blocks of excellent Mimmo briar from Vermont Freehand and the trophies were created by David Huber of DSH Pipes. Again, thanks to these fine fellows.
The Smoker’s Haven 2nd Annual Pipe Makers Show and Sale wound down in the early evening as the snow began falling in earnest. I’ve always been wary of earnest snow, but that wasn’t going to deter me or any of the lucky 30 or so registered attendees from enjoying drinks and dinner at Bucca di Beppo that night, all provided by our host Premal Cheda.
Descending on the bar at Bucca di Beppo, we had a drink or two while the kitchen and friendly waitstaff prepared to accommodate over two dozen hungry, happy and boisterous pipe artisans.
Very quickly, we were all guided through the labyrinthine passages at “B di B” and seated at two long tables under low arched ceilings in a room resembling an old world wine cellar in it’s design.
Plate after platter of salmon, pasta, pizza, salad, meatballs and parmesan chicken arrived and were eagerly passed around and cleared of their tempting bounty. Premal, ever the gracious host and deftly low-key ringmaster, managed to down some of the tasty fare, all the while making certain that sufficient supplies of food and drink kept coming. He even took pains to accommodate those with special dietary concerns. As I said: Premal the provider. We became quite stuffed, though no less enthusiastic about the whole affair. It was a fine meal had amongst good fellows and again there were smiles all around.
Upon boarding our transport for the evening, it was decided that several of us would seek out an O.S.U. campus cigar hangout.
Driving first down slushy interstate and then picking our way through some back alleys, we arrived at a somewhat nondescript white clapboard house. I suspected we were about to patronized a nip joint, but upon entrance through what had once been the backdoor of a two story home, we found a well worn and very comfortable establishment with chocolate brown dark wood floors, comfortably broken-in couches and a very well stocked humidor. There were some eight or nine of us and, after amiably crowding out a lone TV watcher in a side lounge, we settled in for a lively post meal session of conversation, lies and friendly humorous insults. It was sublime.
Though we had not consumed additional alcohol, when leaving this excellent establishment, Scott Klein and I both got into the wrong SUV. Fortunately, we quickly realized our error and laughing and marveling at the unlocked lookalike, we moved over one vehicle and all made our way back to our motel.
Sunday morning we awoke to sunny skies and rapidly disappearing remainders of the snow and made a quick and uneventful trek to Smoker’s Haven for the grand event; the Pipe makers Forum’s Midwest Meet-up.
This was a fine event that began with several short talks on pipe making mechanics, tools and techniques and some subjective discussion on various topics like tenon length vis-a-vis mortise depth, and such. This was followed by the commencement of work on two collaboration pipes; one to be auctioned to benefit the Pipe makers Forum and one to be donated to the silent auction at the Chicago pipe show next month.
All the attending pipe makers had a hand in the production of one, if not both of the pipes that were later finished out by Bill Shalosky at SH. This was an opportunity for all to observe techniques used by their peers and get some true hands on experience with tools that were new to some and also some very nice specialty tooling offered by J. Alan pipes.
Nate King and Bill Shalosky were primarily in charge of the production of the collaboration pipes with Tyler Beard, Thomas James, Abe Herbaugh, Micah Redmond, Grant Batson and David Huber also primary contributors and yours truly also sat in on shaping for a bit. Premal had again arranged for a fine meal for our luncheon; a Mediterranean meal that was quite welcome and tasty. We then all gathered for a group photo.
The afternoon was spent working on the two group pipes, kidding around, sampling some amazing vintage tobaccos offered up by Sam Smerkol, the Drew Estates rep and one or two at a time, bidding farewell to friends old and new.
When Grant, Chris and I finally decided to tear ourselves away and head home we were handed a great swag bag that all participants received: a handled shopping bag containing a nice length of bamboo, a block of briar, a cigar and two 50g. tins of tobacco provided by Vermont Freehand, Drew Estates and Smoker’s Haven. These, ultimately, provided by Premal Cheda — the Provider.
Steve Morrisette is an artisan pipe maker, relentlessly snappy dresser, and self-confessed Virginia gentleman. He makes artisan pipes for discerning collectors, and scours the internet and shops of all types seeking information and fine garments, hats, watches, shoes, and jewelry – anything related to the gentleman’s lifestyle. Steve also spent several decades as a working drummer and photographer/photojournalist. You can find his pipes at www.smpipes.com, and catch his style photos and latest pipes on Facebook and Instagram.