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70 East 42nd Street
Barclay Rex 1 Cigar Shops Midtown East

Vincent Nastri opened his first tobacco shop in 1910 on Barclay and Church Street. His long history attests to the fact that commitment, knowledge and passion can withstand the test of time if shared properly with customers and family members. His business flourished for over fifty years downtown, where Mr. Nastri crafted his own line of pipes. Then his son and grandson (Vincent Nastri II and III) opened additional shops uptown. Since 1985, the tobacconist has thrived on 42nd Street.

Charles, one of the managers at Barclay Rex, welcomed us and was eager to explain the ins and outs of the store at length, starting with an ode to the past. “In old-time photographs of New York,” he explained, “there’s always a tobacconist on the corner. So this is a place from another era.” Those tobacconists, once ubiquitous, have now been disappearing with Barclay-Rex and its down the street neighbor Nat Sherman being the exception. But the community here remains strong, with business driven by a combination of passersby and regulars who stop in to spend hours smoking stogies and shooting the breeze.

Today, cigars are the big draw, and Barclay Rex offers the top of the line brands along side their own, signature cigar. The tobacco, itself, comes from a combination of larger cigar-makers – Davidoff, Fuentes, Padrón, Ashton – and boutique growers. Spending a bit of time people watching, it was fascinating listening to the chatter among cigar aficionados. As Charles perfectly phrased it, "people smoke cigars to feel like a big-shot for a half an hour.”

As if on cue, while Charles was telling us how the tobacco draws a crowd both professional and artistic, a man walked in wearing platform shoes, face paint, a metallic jacket and carrying a cane, as if to prove the point Charles was trying to make. This gentleman mused: “what do I like about cigars? That’s like asking me what I like about breathing. I can’t imagine life without cigars.” Clearly, the tobacco at Barclay Rex is a proxy for something more. As he and Charles began to reminisce about chords noodled and shows played, I took a last deep breath and slipped back out into the bustle of 42nd.

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Barclay Rex 1 Cigar Shops Midtown East
Barclay Rex 2 Cigar Shops Midtown East
Barclay Rex 3 Cigar Shops Midtown East
Barclay Rex 4 Cigar Shops Midtown East
Barclay Rex 5 Cigar Shops Midtown East
Barclay Rex 6 Cigar Shops Midtown East
Barclay Rex 7 Cigar Shops Midtown East
Barclay Rex 8 Cigar Shops Midtown East

More places on 42nd Street

Lost Gem
Chez Josephine 1 Brunch French undefined

Chez Josephine

Manuel Uzhca's story reads like a fairytale. He came to New York from Ecuador when he was seventeen with absolutely nothing to his name and spent time as a dishwasher in a number of restaurants. He met Jean-Claude Baker when both were working at Pronto, an Italian restaurant on the Upper East Side. In 2011, Jean-Claude offered Manuel the position of manager at Chez Josephine — little did Manuel know that only four years later, the restaurant would belong to him. Manuel still recalls the day that Jean-Claude asked him to bring in his passport. Confused by his request, Manuel chose not to comply. Jean-Claude teased Manuel by saying, “If you don't bring your passport, that means you don't want my restaurant. ” The next day, still perplexed, Manuel presented his passport. Jean-Claude marched the two of them to the bank and added Manuel's name to his account, giving him permission to sign checks for the restaurant. Shortly after, Jean-Claude announced that he was retiring, but Manuel did not take him seriously. Jean-Claude then told him that he was leaving and insisted, “I won't be back. ” Jean-Claude proceeded to his attorney's office, changed his will, and went off to the Hamptons. He called Manuel to make sure that everything was in order at the restaurant, and then, very sadly, Jean-Claude took his own life. “I did not believe I owned the place, not even when they showed me the will, ” Manuel declared. Jean-Claude was the last of the children adopted into singer-dancer Josephine Baker’s “Rainbow Tribe, ” created with a mission of racial harmony. He lived and performed with her for a time before making his way to New York and eventually opening this restaurant. It quickly became a haven for Broadway clientele, known for its charming and colorful ambiance as much as its haute cuisine. Since taking over in 2015, Manuel has continued running this famed French restaurant exactly how Jean-Claude left it — paying homage to Josephine Baker, who captured the Parisian imagination in the 1920s and did not let go for decades.