PHOTO COURTESY OF BAY ROYAL CIGAR NETWORK | BIRI PHOTOGRAPHY
Smoke curls from the foot of an authentic Montecristo waft up memories of Creole culture and cigar-smoking old heads in fedoras and smoking coats. Under the cool night air with a stiff glass of something strong and brown, Ron Ford is brainstorming how to take his cigar club and community to the next level. At least, that’s how I’d imagine it went in 2013 when the founder of Bay Royal Cigar Network conceived the only one of its kind in the Bay Area. After picking up momentum in 2016, Bay Royal brought Creole family values, upper-echelon elegance, and an entry point to a close-knit community of people who just want to enjoy life in a simple way.
Newcomers unaware of the lifestyle can find it extremely welcoming, even if they are non-smokers. When asked about the community, Ford explained, “Everyone who I’ve smoked cigars with and met for the first time never started a conversation by asking ‘what do you do for a living?’, but by talking about the day-to-day type of things. We connected instantly because it was already the cigar we had in common.”
During Bay Royal’s beginnings, cigar lounges were hard to come by, and small groups created their own spaces in homes. Smoking in a facility, especially being in his 20s, Ford often received strange looks from onlookers who would question why he was smoking cigars if it wasn’t a special occasion or if he was trying to live out some sort of Godfather fantasy existence. With a more accurate intention to bring back “politicking” among community members, other cigar smokers would eventually join Ford and snowball into the booming network of upscale connoisseurs, cigar makers, and spirits brands that all participate in the cigar community.
With the assistance of Ford’s sister and event planner, Christina Avila, Bay Royal has hosted events that have attracted celebrities and welcomed hundreds into their circle. While non-smokers are welcome, to fully embrace the culture is to keep the mantra “It’s a lifestyle.”
“It's just developing a way of life,” Avila says. “It's not just something that you do on occasion. You don't do it just because we're celebrating stuff. You make it part of your life, part of your lifestyle. Do it just because it's Sunday or, you know, after a hard day's work, just like how a person will grab a glass of wine.”
At that moment, I recalled my early twenties and how my nights might have been like Ford’s. A glass of something substantial and smoke in hand - a Black & Mild for me, though! - to just clear my head under the night sky was the perfect way to end a hard day. Avila spoke to the relaxing effect and how a good cigar could calm you down. I had to admit that I was smoke-free these days, but the idea of participating in a Bay Royal event still piqued my interest. Avila, being a social smoker mostly, was more my speed and assured me of the spectrum of cigars available.
“What I like about this lifestyle is that, unlike weed, to my knowledge, cigars allow you to be a beginner or be experienced. They have such a broad range of cigars, like a smaller, milder smoke flavored with vanilla or sweet maple. You don't have to necessarily be experienced in order to enjoy a nice cigar.
At the end of our interview, I had to inquire about the smoking robes that appeared in the promo video at the top of the Bay Royal website. Not being a confirmed smoker, it was amazing to me that having a smoking robe was not a mere fashion choice for the elite. Ford reminded me of the Godfather wearing it and folks in the 1920s, but smoking robes resembling Tuxedo blazers date back to the 1850s. Visitors to the Bay Royal Cigar Lounge can borrow one during their stay.
“The Network is lifestyle, industry, and coaching. Those three things all in one make Bay Royal” is Ford’s response regarding his company’s mission, and it is taking off. Bay Royal has done a superb job integrating cigar culture into Bay Area culture, touching people like D. L. Hughley and others who rarely come out to these events. Adding live cigar rollers, tobacco education, music, and exclusive spirits tastings is just the beginning. In honor of his grandfather, Ford's vision imagined dapper gents and dolled-up dames truly experiencing a unified good time that began with a single cigar. Ford says that the trend is gaining momentum, and having cigar-themed nights is a fad among promoters and venue spaces looking to hop on the wave. While haters were taking shots at a young Ford for having a vision, today, Ford is living the vision. Leave the gun, take the cigar, Paulie. Let the record show that Ron Ford is the godfather of the Bay Area cigar culture, and Bay Royal Cigar Network is here to stay.