It was like walking into a smoke shop in the mid-1970s, all exotic incense, winking glass, funky T-shirts, the Allman Brothers laying down riffs on the stereo and vintage posters of everything from Deadhead memorabilia to Johnny Cash givin' you the finger. Somehow, I felt right at home.
This is a smoke shop extraordinaire with all the fragrant trimmings. Yeah, I ride the tobacco horse, my friends—it's my main vice and I'm not ashamed to admit how much I enjoy it. If ever I want to change it up a bit and try something new, this is the place to lay down my cash.
"Take a look around, "says Douglas Sharpe, the manager, "If there's something you want, but don't see, we'll be more than happy to get it for you."
I was a college student again, my allowance burning a hole in my pocket, trying to decide on just what I could buy and still afford lunch the next day. They have the incense, they have the Indian bedcovers, they have the psychedelic posters, the shelf upon shelf of every kind of pipe you can imagine.
Lest one gets the wrong idea, they also have nice selection of fine tobacco and cabinets full of fine cigars. Living in Beijing for three years, I made a habit of having a bowl of shisha (moist, fruity tobacco) burning away in the hookah as I ate my kabobs and hummus, and definitely developed a taste for taking a hit on those big glass pipes — it makes you feel a little like the Caterpillar in 'Alice in Wonderland' crossed with a wealthy eastern potentate — heady, to say the least. I was impressed by the selection here of hookahs in all colors, sizes and designs, as well as the shisha available.
Paradoxically, this smoke shop also carries a valid alternative to smoking: a much bigger selection of e-cigarettes than you'd find at any local convenience store or Walmart. E-cigarettes, credited to inventor Hon Lik in Beijing, heat a liquid nicotine solution, turning it into vapor — all the taste, none of the smoke.
I've seen the strawberry-flavored sets in my local Circle K, but at Smoke City you'll find 26 different brands of flavorings from cheesecake to salted caramel. The most popular combo, the manager laughingly tells me, is the cheesecakes mixed with a fruit flavor like cherry or pineapple.
I suspect when walking into a place that joggles some fine memories from my college days that the owner was a someone around my own age who had built the feel of the store from a host of memories — Stone Kingdom, a funky little shop that used to reside just outside the back gate of Hunter Army Airfield, comes to mind.
It was surprising to hear that the proprietor is not quite 30, not old enough to remember the halcyon period of the '60s and '70s when stores like this were a common sight. James Combs is from Jacksonville and savvy enough to recognize a developing trend. When stock market investments gave him a steady cash flow he decided to go with that flow and opened up specialty shops in Jacksonville and Ocala.
Combs currently lives in Jacksonville, so his faithful manager, Douglas, handles the store in Savannah. He's a friendly dude with twinkly blue eyes and a neat, blond beard. He's informative and very knowledgeable about smoking trends, and I can tell you, just juggling the details of what this place has to offer is amazing—just ask and he'll bring you right to it.
I like the specialty items for sale, which shows a willingness to step out of the comfort zone: witness the elegant glass contraption called the Venturi System, a sort of double-sided clear pipe with the bowl in the middle and held by a glass knob at the bottom. Douglas tells me the inventor just walked into the store one day and asked James if he could sell some product there. James was intrigued and thus the exchange commenced.
If you have a yen to decorate your pad with posters and glassware from the '60s and '70s, throw a psychedelic curtain over the entryway, find a retro T-shirt or pick from a wild selection of colorful patches to sew on your clothes, Smoke City has what you need. In other words, they're not just about smoking, but have a handle on the lifestyle as well.
It's a fun place to spend some time. I schmoozed away over an hour just ogling the variety of paraphernalia that stuff their shelves. Every corner and rack is packed and there are surprises everywhere. It was also interesting to hear the conversations of customers and sales staff — certain local celebrities in the music biz frequent the store for everything from e-liquids to blown-glass pendants.
48 W MONTGOMERY CROSS RD #103, 912/920-2255
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