New Hampshire: Of Brews and Briar

By Horace Harker

 

A Smoker Friendly State
In the past couple of years my wife and I have taken some time off between the holidays to take a mini vacation. Last year we spent a couple of days in Freeport Maine, this year it was a log cabin in Lebanon, NH. Whenever we take a trip I always do a little Internet research to find out if there are any pubs, breweries or pipe shops in the area we’ll be visiting. If you read about last years visit to Maine you know that the state of Maine, although a very beautiful and with many positive attributes, was not the most smoker friendly of states. New Hampshire on the other hand is a different story. I guess a key element in being a smoker friendly state is that you are actually allowed to smoke pretty much wherever you want, which New Hampshire (thankfully) still allows. I'm sorry to have to tell you that I've become so conditioned living in Massachusetts that I totally forgot about the fact the NH wasn’t smoke free until I stepped inside Goodfella’s Bar in Laconia and was hit with a noseful of stale smoke (ok… not every part of smoking is pleasurable but you have to take the good with the bad in all things) but the service here was far from stellar so the management may have something to do with that. The positive side of it though was that in every other restaurant/bar we entered where smoking was allowed and actually taking place, I never smelled smoke. Not even a wisp. Although I never lit my pipe in any of these places, it was very satisfying to watch free people actually enjoying their freedom.

Pipe Shops and Other Stuff
Now although I did not find an overabundance of smoke shops listed in NH, the two I did find turned out to be well worth the trip. The first was Happy Jack’s in Laconia which was not in the area we were staying but it was on the way so we decided to make a short detour. Happy Jack's, which in not unfamiliar to some of our members, is a two story building on a corner lot overlooking Lake Winnisquam and was a little difficult to find first time around. The nostalgia of over fifty years in the tobacco business was immediately evident upon walking through the door. The limited walking area was bordered by walls filled with tobacco products with nary a bit of wall space left. Most of what was presented was cigar related but a glass case on one wall did containing a few pipes and there was a rack of tinned tobacco on the opposite wall. I was a little disappointed with the selection of pipes until the proprietor Peter Karagianis Sr. came up behind me and asked in his aged voice if I was a pipe smoker. Mr. Karagianis was an elderly gentleman, nicely dressed in a gray suit with easy manner. “Yes,” I told him and asked if this was all he had for pipes. He said "Oh no, we have a lot of pipes upstairs" and motioned me in the direction of the stairs. At 89 yrs old I’m sure he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of climbing up twenty or so stairs but you don’t stay in business for over 50 years by forcing customers away. He lead me up the narrow stairway to another room which housed two large display cases of pipes along with numerous accessories, basket and novelty pipes. This was more like it, I thought to myself and began to examine each case intently. He had a nice assortment of brand name pipes like Larsen, Peterson, Parker, Bari, Nording, Radice,Wessex and more. Many of which were reasonably priced.

A bell indicating that someone had entered the store downstairs which meant another trip up and down the stairs. But he left me on my own to look around and sent my wife up to join me. When he rejoined us I asked him how the pipe business was doing and surprisingly he said "pretty good". I was happy to hear it. After looking a bit more I finally decided on a Wessex rusticated Canadian and we headed back downstairs to pick out some tobacco. I picked up a tin of Frog Morton Across the Pond dated ’04 and a tin of Dunhill 965 (Lanes). Mr. Karagianis told us how he and his son Peter Jr. run the shop together and that his son

does the tobacco blending, so I decided to pick up a few ounces of their house blends which I have unfortunately not got around to trying yet. On our way out we noticed a framed newspaper article that had been written about the success of their shop and along with it a photo of Peter Sr. and Peter Jr. looking quite proud and happy to be in business together. I'm happy for them as well. It was a very enjoyable visit and I highly recommend that you make it a point to stop by then next time you're up that way, say hello and try a new cigar or pipe.

The next stop was Lebenon to our cozy log cabin with a king size bed in front of a fieldstone fireplace and located just ten feet from a branch of the Pemigewassett River. Although this winter's been extremely mild, it was a bit colder up here and they had recently had an inch or so of snow. We dropped of our bags, check out the cabin then headed into the town of Littleton where we were told they had a variety of restaurants and shops. One of those shops was Rae's Smoke Shop which was the second of my pipe shop stops. But it was already past 6:00 PM so we took a quick walk through the town then had some supper before heading home to a nice fire and a few cold bottles of Red Rack Ale, a delicious microbrew we discovered which is brewed from the Woodstock Inn & Brewery in Woodstock, NH (highly recommended).

The following day we headed back in to Littleton for an excellent breakfast at the Littleton Diner, which was another step back into yesteryear and also highly recommended. After breakfast we took a stroll down Main St to check out the shops and the infamous candy store that is featured in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the longest candy counter. Right next door to the candy shop was Rae's Smoke Shop. Rae's was quite different from Happy Jack's in many ways. Although it too has been around for many years it looked more like a watch or jewelry store from the 60's than a traditional tobacco shop. It was very neat and organized without all the clutter, old pictures and cigar store Indian that we love to see in the old time smoke shops. Glass wall cases lined the walls with neatly arranged boxes of cigars. The main counter of sparkling clean glass separated you from the shop owner and ran down one side, across the back and back up the other side. I was happy to see the cases on the left side contained a nice variety of pipes but their tobacco selection was limited. The back and right sides cases were filled with knick-knacks and jewelry which actually turned out nice since it gave my wife something to look at while I examined the pipes.

The proprietor was somewhat quiet and reserved but seemed to have a good knowledge of pipes and said he's been smoking a pipe since he was 14. He took out any pipe I was interested in and always some information to go along with the particular brand I was looking at. I told him about our club and asked if I could take a few pictures for the newsletter but he told me it was their policy not to allow any photography inside the store. It seems like a pretty strange policy to me but when you think about it, it sort of fits the feel of their store. He told me I was more than welcome to take photos of the outside of the store. I liked many of the pipes I saw there but wasn’t sure if I was going to buy another one on this trip, besides the no photo policy put me off a bit. I told him I’d needed time to decide and would probably be back.

My wife had seen some earrings she liked at Rae’s so we did decide to go back the following day and I could tell the proprietor was happy to see us. From all of the pipes I had looked at the day before he sensed which one I was most interested in and put in on the counter without me asking. Obviously this was a good sales tactic for although I did look at a few other pipes I ended up taking home the one he originally pulled out, a Stanwell 888 shape that I have admired for some time but had never seen in person.

The Cog Railway
Our last adventure before heading home was to ride the Cog Railway. Unfortunately, at this time of the year it doesn’t go all the way to the top of Mount Washington but does make a trip about a third of the way up for skiers and sightseers. We chugged along in the crowded car at about two miles per hour to our destination. They let us get out for a few photos then we flew back down the mountain at raging speed of 6 miles per hour to the station house. It was an interesting adventure, but I don’t think I’d spend the money to do the winter run again. I’d rather wait until summer when it’ll take you to the top where the weather changes from balmy to frigid in a matter of minutes.

Our little vacation was nearing its end and we awoke to find that winter had definitely come to see us off. It was 18 degrees outside with about 3 inches of snow that kept coming down for most of the day. Every shop owner we talked to was ecstatic to finally get some snow. Maybe now business would pick up. We headed home by way of Rt. 16 and stopped in North Conway for awhile to check out a few more shops and have some lunch before continuing on. It’s always hard to end a vacation but its always good to be home at last even if the Christmas tree was now dried and shriveled.

So if you ever get up to the White Mountains be sure to visit Happy Jack’s in Laconia, Rae’s in Littleton, the Littleton Diner for breakfast and be sure to pick up a sixer of Red Rack Ale. You won’t be disappointed. One last note. We did find one brew pub in Littleton called the Oasis. It was fair but not highly recommended. On the other hand, while researching the Red Rack Ale online I did find that the Woodstock Inn & Brewery where is brewed may just our next spot to visit in NH. If you like microbrews and country inns, you might want to check it out yourself. Here’s their website.

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