During a recent tobacco order from PipesandCigars.com I had the opportunity to speak with the owner, Scotty Bendett. Scotty informed me that he would be hosting a pipe show with Bjarne Nielsen, prominent Danish pipe carver and one of the largest distributors of pipes in the US. The event would take place at the Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe in Albany, NY, which is the physical location of PipesandCigars.com. Scotty extended an invitation to me and all interested to come up for the day and join them.

Listening to the excitement in Scotty's voice as he described the day's events was more than enough to pique my curiosity. Although it was on short notice, I sent an email to the other members of our club to solicit interest from those with a fondness for Danish pipes or who just love a good road trip. To my surprise I was able to recruit three other members, Tim Hynick one of the club's up and coming pipe makers, Ted Blank our resident Meerschaum collector and Mark Anzivino. We all met at a central location near the Massachusetts Turnpike, piled into my car and headed West towards Yankee country. The highways were clear, it was a beautiful day and we made the trip in a little under 2 and a half hours.

Upon entering the Shoppe I couldn't help but notice a man wearing a huge smile and exuding an air of joy and contentment that can only come from someone who is absolutely in love with their job. I instantly connected these attributes to the excited voice I remembered from our phone conversation and knew this must be Scotty Bendett. After introducing himself, he introduced me to his right hand man Sean and then to his guest of honor Bjarne Nielsen. As I shook Bjarne's hand I couldn't help but notice an unmistakable twinkle in his eye and with his gray hair and beard I couldn't help but think of Saint Nick. His English was excellent and his slight Danish accent added to his character and charm. He like Scotty carried that air of contentment from loving what they do. We chatted for a few moments but there were already a half dozen people in the shop and I didn't want to be too greedy.

I made my way past the check out counter and into the heart of the shop and found myself a bit awestruck as I looked around at the amount of product that adorned every shelf and every bit of wall space. It may be called the Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe but this was a pipe smoker's paradise and superbly laid out. You can tell when someone takes pride in what they do and it was extremely evident here. In addition to almost a thousand pipes, dozens and dozens of tins of tobacco and just about any accoutrement a pipe smoker could desire there was a large walk in humidor filled from floor to ceiling with cigars. I walked inside to take a few pictures and found the moist atmosphere and the musky smell of cedar to be very relaxing. I'm not a cigar smoker but one of these days I'll have to give it a little more attention and see if I can figure out what the rage is all about. But for right now I'm very content with my briar.

After a short time Scotty asked me if I'd like to see the production area for pipesandcigars.com and we headed downstairs to the basement. The ceiling was low and it looked very much like your average unfinished basement but reminded me of how a gold miner may have felt when he struck a huge vein of gold. The walls were lined with wooden racks containing bags and bags of bulk tobacco, numerous boxes of tinned tobacco and other stockpiles of the products available on their website. He also showed me the area where all the online orders are packed and shipped, and with lightening speed I might add. It is a rarity for me to order tobacco on a Monday and not have it by Wednesday. I know I'm only one state away but that's still excellent service and one of the main reasons I order 95% of the tobacco for our club's raffle and for my own consumption from pipesandcigars.com.

So after heading out of the gold mine I ventured upstairs to the smoking lounge complete with high back leather chairs, chess and dart boards, a TV and VCR and the one thing no tobacco shop should be without... a cigar store Indian. To Tim's surprise he found a few pipemaking videos including none other than "The Great Danes" featuring Jess Chonowitsch, Lars Ivarsson and others, which He and Ted quickly had loaded and running while enjoying one of their favorite blends. Tim was in his glory!

After taking a few pictures I headed back downstairs to check out Bjarne's pipes more closely. There were 2 tables and a glass display case filled with pipes made by Bjarne Pipes Ltd. All of the pipes were very reasonably priced and with the discount Scotty was offering it was almost like stealing. On one of the wall racks were a number pipes from Bjarne's Viking line which are all machine made and at an excellent value, especially for the new pipe smoker. Although these pipes are machine made he still uses the same Grecian briar he uses when making all of his pipes and with the same eye for detail and quality.

The pipes on top of the display case were from the Bjarne Nielsen Signature Series and all completely handmade by Bjarne himself. These pipes were higher quality pieces and as you might expect were also a bit more expensive. You could tell just by looking, that all of Bjarne's Signature pipes were meticulously crafted employing the highest level of detail. But as beautiful as each of these pipes were I didn't see the one that I had envisioned would fill the empty space in my rack. Instead I was drawn to a brandy shaped pipe from Bjarne's Colorado series and also found a very nice pipe from his Viking line. Rather than put both of these pipes in my queue of unsmoked pipes, I selected one of the Bjarne tobaccos that were available for sampling and loaded up the newly acquired brandy. It smoked beautifully from the first touch of a match and has become consistently more mellow with each bowl since then.

I headed back upstairs to relax and watch the rest of the video with the guys before we headed down the street for lunch at the Smokey Bones restaurant. Ted and I had the ribs that were out of this world and washed them down with an ice-cold beer. One of the attractions at Smokey Bones is the cluster of TVs they strategically placed throughout the restaurant. The TVs are numbered 1-6 and from a small box on your table you can choose which one you want to listen to. Our choice was an easy one since the Red Sox were playing. We were very happy to see Kurt Schilling holding on to a comfortable lead.

So now with bellies full and thirsts quenched, we headed back to the shop to begin the digestion process with another bowl of tobacco while getting to know our new friends a little better. As we sat around talking, Scotty brought out a couple of boxes of estate pipes for us to rummage through and Tim was very happy to find a very nice Bonaquisti to add to his collection. It was easy to deduce that Scotty loves telling a story and he always seems to tell them with an abundance of enthusiasm. While sharing his story of how he got started in the business, I lost count of the number of times Scotty said how lucky he was to be able to do what he's doing and loving every minute of it. He told us that he began by selling cigars from boxes at the mall and then started a cigar of the month club, which did well, so well that he was able to open up a store inside mall and watched his business continued to grow. Before long he was making plans to purchase or build his own building and ended up doing both. He started up pipesandcigars.com to attract business through the Internet and apparently his magic is working there as well. He says that biggest portion of his online sales comes from pipesmokers as compared to the store where the cigars are more popular. It's one of those success stories that help to instill in your mind the old adage; "You can do anything you want if you set your mind to it." Scotty Bendett has definitely done that and with pride.

So as I looked down to see the last ember in my bowl dwindle to ash I knew that it was time to head home. We took a few more pictures and said our good-bye's and thank you's to Bjarne and the rest of the folks there before heading back to the grim reality of our mundane lives, our jobs and those ridiculous gas prices. So if you're ever in Albany, be sure to make a side trip to the Habana Premium Cigar Shoppe, and if you do be sure to tell 'em Nelson sent ya.

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