An interview with Houston city councilman, Dwight Boykins

 

While we were in Houston doing research for our March/April 2014 issue, we happened to meet Dwight Boykins, who is not only a member of Houston’s City Council, but also of Our Legend’s Cigar Bar. He’s also a regular at Houston’s Cigar Emporium, which is were we sat down with him for an discussion on cigars, smoking rights and what to do during a visit to the Bayou City.

Tell me about your role as a member of the city council.

I’m on the Houston City Council, which is a 16-member council board — five at large, as we refer to them, which represents the whole city, and then 9 districts. I represent one of the districts. We’re in our first year. It’s two three year terms, so it can add up to six years.

What led you to want to be involved with the city council?

Public service. Love helping people. (Before this) I worked in Washington. Still do. I have a government affairs firm in D.C. that I represent clients in education, healthcare and transportation.

How long have you been smoking?

Smoking what? (laughter) This is all I smoke (motioning with a cigar)! For about maybe six years now. A friend of mine named Kevin Brewster introduced me to them and then I met a young lady named Jenny, who now works at Stogies, and she explained to me the difference between the different styles of cigars and sort of helped me find a (profile) that works for me. Then I met this guy named Van (Thai) and he just gave me every cigar I could think of until I found one … I’m still looking for my favorite, but this shop (Cigar Emporium) has a variety.

Have you found any that you find yourself going back to over and over?

Yeah, Nording by Rocky (Patel), man, I love that Nording.

Give me a rundown of what a visitor to Houston should know about where cigar smoking is and isn’t allowed?

The city of Houston has a city ordinance from maybe 10 or 12 years ago — I’m not certain on the year — but it prohibited cigar smoking in restaurants. It painted everybody with the same brush. If you smoked cigarettes, cigars in restaurants, you were disturbing nonsmokers. So the current ordinance only allows one cigar shop in Houston, which is called Downing Street, to be grandfathered in with that city ordinance. To allow them to sell alcohol, sell food, and sell cigars and tobacco products.

What I would like to see is for cigar shops that have an interest in selling food and alcohol to have an opportunity. More so alcohol, because it can help generate more tax revenue for the city. But secondly, I don’t know of anybody that goes into a tobacco shop to sit down and have dinner. They come to a cigar shop to sit down, may have a cocktail, socialize and that’s the purpose. So I don’t think that everybody should be painting with the same brush in this retail type of business.

How easy or hard would it be to move Houston in the direction that you’re talking about?

Well, what we would have to do is pull the city ordinance, take a look at it, and if we can get an amendment to it…

We’re not trying to go into the restaurant business. Again, this is my opinion. The city and tobacco shops have to agree to this. What I would like to see is that we just say, “A cigar shop sells cigars or tobacco products only,” and add a new charter amendment or an amendment to the current ordinance allowing these shops to sell alcohol if they choose to. Because when you come and have a cigar, you want to sit down, relax, enjoy yourself. And if you want to have cocktail, you should be able to get that.

People don’t walk off the street and make a reservation to come here and sit down and have dinner. They come to smoke a cigar. And I think, you know, some good rum you wanna add to it or some good scotch. I think you should be able to have that.

Suppose you brought something like that up with the council now. What do you think that vote would be like?

You know, that’s a great question because the mayor we have is not anti-cigars. She’s fond of them. Once the case is made, I don’t think we’d have a problem. This is a pro-business city. People understand that the council that saw that coming back in the day, 14, 15 years ago… Probably one, if any of them, smoked cigars.

I credit Downing Street for strategically finding a niche with someone on the council to find an angle for them. But, today, I think we have about 4 or 5 cigar smokers on the council that would definitely see the other side of it.

How helpful have cigars been with other members of the council and in your work in Washington?

Oh, absolutely! As a matter of fact, Van allows me to come in here sometimes and have meetings with my colleagues on the council. It’s a perfect outlet when you come come down and sit here in privacy and have those discussions.

I would love to sit down with President Obama and smoke a cigar. I think that’d be cool. I smoked a cigar around former president 41 Bush in Kennebunkport, Maine, playing golf with him. He wasn’t smoking, but that was kind of cool, too.

Any other favorite cigar smoking experiences?

Oh, I have many. At Our Legends, for example… It’s a private place that’s established to allow people to come together to talk about business opportunities and build friendships. Everybody is sort of in this one little club. We watch football, we talk business, we cry together at funerals. We do it all. It’s like a family environment. That’s great.

Then I belong to one in Austin and one in Washington, too. At the one in Austin, the governor comes in and the attorney general. You find a lot of people in politics because I think they have one place — one, maybe two — where you can buy cigars. So everybody’s in that membership.

As a city councilman, you probably wouldn’t make a bad tour guide. Suppose you have someone coming into Houston for three days. What are some of the places you take them to eat and smoke?

(To smoke) Cigar EmporiumOur Legends, and Stogies. (To eat) The Palm,Reggae HutJust Oxtails.

What about other things to do in Houston that people might not be aware of? Any hidden gems?

The first thing you wanna do it book up a reservation at a place called La Maison in Midtown. It’s an urban bed and breakfast run by my wife. It’s in the downtown area right behind Spec’s. It’s a beautiful place. Four-star quality urban bed and breakfast. We were ranked number two in the country — I think two years in a row — by the Washington Post and the Huffington Post. So you wanna stay there first.

Then tour the universities. We have the University of Houston, Texas Southern University, Rice University, Houston Baptist. You wanna tour the different colleges around here.

And if you’re here on business?

You wanna go to the Greater Houston Partnership and talk about business opportunities in Houston if you’re a corporation thinking of relocating here. Houston is a very diverse city; we have all kinds of things going on here. With low tax rates. We’re noticing not that New York is doing a lot of advertising. They’re talking about their taxes, trying to lure our corporations out of here. It ain’t gonna happen.

It’s kind of silly for New York to be talking low taxes.

Absolutely! In Texas! Man!

(To Cigar Snob’s Ivan Ocampo, who was taking pictures) Don’t forget the boots! You gotta get the boots in there.

What are some things people might not expect to learn about Houston if they’re visiting?

It’s a great place to live. People are friendly. It’s very affordable. The selling price that you would sell your home for in Florida or California, you can buy two or three here in Houston with more acreage. The public school system is great. The universities are superb, and the food is great here. We have a lot of great eateries. But La Maison in Midtown is where you need to stay.