On a recently trip to Los Angeles, California, I searched around the place I was staying for “briar pipes” in Google Maps. Only two appeared—Kramer’s Pipe and Tobacco Shop and Tinder Box. While Kramer’s was a little closer, I hadn’t ever heard of it and assumed that Tinder Box would have a better selection of pipes and tobaccos. However, when I went to their site, Tinder Box just didn’t seem to…I don’t know…fit. It seemed rather corporate. Along with pipes and tobaccos, Tinder Box sells shaving supplies and beer steins and such things. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, it just wasn’t what I was looking for. So I checked out Kramer’s.
And, boy, am I glad I did!
Kramer’s was established in 1949 by Allen (Al) and Tina Kramer in Beverly Hills just off Little Santa Monica Blvd. between Camden and Rodeo drives. Al built all the knotty pine fixtures in the shop, including a walk-in humidor! As you can tell by the date, this was back in the heyday of Hollywood. Back then, Al could be seen hand blending his own tobaccos at the tobacco bar or repairing pipes and lighters in the front window. Some of their customers included Cecil B. DeMille, Cary Grant, Danny Kaye, Marlene Dietrich, Tony Curtis, Samuel Goldwyn, Fred MacMurray, James Arness, Buddy Ebsen, Normal Fell, Leonard Nimoy, Charles Bronson, Aaron Spelling, James Brolin, and the list goes on and on!
These personalized hand blended tobaccos were something Al was famous for. As far as I can tell, it all started with Father Dempsey, a local Catholic priest who became good friends with Al after coming into the community (Fr. Dempsey served at the Church of the Good Shepherd just around the corner from the shop). Apparently, Fr. Dempsey told Al if Al could create a comparable blend to the Dunhill blend he liked, Fr. Dempsey would buy Al’s tobacco instead. So, Al went to work. Father Dempsey poured out his tobacco on the tobacco bar and Al studied it, sorting out the different leaves but he couldn’t determine the proportions. They kept trying different variations until Fr. Dempsey said, “Stop right there! This is better than my old blend ever was.” Soon many of Fr. Dempsey’s friends and parishioners would come into Kramer’s asking for “Father Dempsey’s tobacco” and the name stuck. Al made special tobaccos for Cary Grant and Danny Kaye, too. All of these tobaccos and others are still available.
When I arrived I was met by Al and Tina’s daughter, Marsha, who now runs the place with her husband, Jim Keller, since her parents passed away. I’d watched a few YouTube video interviews with her and she’s such a hoot! We had a great conversation about pipes, tobaccos, old Hollywood, and how things have gotten harder, not only small business owners in general, but for tobacco shops in particular (especially in California). I purchased four ounces of tobacco—an ounce of Father Dempsey, an ounce of Extra Smooth, an ounce of Cary Grant’s Blend’s, and an ounce of Danny Kaye’s Blend—and a Fe.Ro pipe. Marsha told me that she’s now selling Kramer tobaccos at Smokingpipes.com!
As I’m finishing this post, I’m sitting outside smoking my Fe.Ro with a little Cary Grant’s Blend and feeling a little melancholy. While I’m glad that Smokingpipes.com now carries Kramer’s tobaccos, I’m not sure how long they’ll be able to. Marsha and Jim don’t have any children and she didn’t seem to know what would happen to the place after they’ve passed on. It’d be such a shame if Kramer’s closed its doors for good. I wish I lived in the area as I’d love to continue such a great tradition and a little piece of old Hollywood.
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC