by Austen Humphrey
With a name like The Briar and The Burley one would think that the B&M tobacconist in Bloomington, IN would be pretty darn pipe-friendly. I have not found this to be the case. Now, in fairness, I get it, rent in downtown B-town is extremely high and they need to cater to the demand of their customer base who happen to prefer cigars.
As a store for browsing through, the place is great. They sell all sorts of leather goods like luggage, briefcases and belts. It is also the only place in town that sells old-school straight razors and shaving kits. Also, if you need a $300 pen, this is your store. There is a “car corner” specializing in Ferrari and Porsche gear and accessories – they even have a Ferrari in the store!
When you walk in the front door you are transported to a time gone by. The smell of hand-tooled leather combined with various tobaccos will never get old for me, and I find this combination of scents to be very comforting; instant relaxation.
As far as tobacco goes, they have a huge cigar humidor containing a couple hundred different makes and styles. Something for everyone; however, my experience as a pipe smoker who has tried to dabble in cigars, if you don’t know what you are looking for, you won’t find it because they will not help you, the beginner. It is very intimidating to see so many cigars and not know where to begin, and then to be made to feel “less than” for not knowing. So I stay away from the cigars even though I am interested in them. The staff seems well versed in all things cigar, but they also seem uninterested in sharing that information in a “these are the basics” teaching kind of way.
For the pipe smoker they have also have a very large selection of pipes. A ton of meerschaums, and possibly a thousand or so briars in the glass cases. Their pipe tobacco selection, however, is fairly dismal as far as I’m concerned – consisting of maybe six or eight bulk blends and a selection of fifteen to twenty tinned blends (mostly Petersons and Dunhills). All of the items for the pipe smoker, be it tobacco or pipe, are priced well above MSRP, although what is most disappointing to me about the store is that as well versed as the staff is in cigars, they are as poorly versed in pipes. This surprised me given the store’s name. One employee actually interrupted my trying to start a conversation saying, “Yeah, I don’t know much about pipe tobacco,” and then turned and walked away to talk to someone at the humidor. Disappointing indeed.
On the positive side, they do have a bulk blend Bourbon Cavendish that I do enjoy and the price is not bad if you buy it by the pound. So I do stop in every couple of months to refill my jars and to sit in their lounge to enjoy a smoke and read the paper or whatever book I’m in the middle of. Having a lounge is great because you can’t smoke indoors anywhere else in Bloomington, but the couches are very old, so old in fact that they are not particularly comfortable, and the leather is fake (also surprising given the quality of the leather goods they sell).
My overall assessment, in the end, is that the store has potential to be a little slice of heaven on Earth, but it falls well short of that. I want so very much to love the place, but the quality of staff combined with overpricing everything that I might think about buying keeps me from becoming a regular customer.
If you are ever in Bloomington and find yourself in need of a cigar, by all means, go to The Briar and The Burley and have a smoke in the lounge. But if you are in Bloomington and want to enjoy a pipe, I hope you brought something with you.