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Tobacco Center Smoke Shop~ West Los Angeles

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12215 Santa Monica Blvd. ~ West Los Angeles, CA ~90025 ~ 310-826-2899 (TACO Map)

9 times out of 10 it's the same song, different store. You go to spend those hard earned ducats for some new glass or a replacement piece for your car and you're hit with the same bad taste in your mouth; some surly greaseball yaps on his cellphone, ignoring you as you peruse a lame selection of cheap glass...cheap until he scrambles to invent a price on the spot based on how big a dumb-shit he thinks you are.

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But if that's the typical experience at a smoke shop, Jason of Tobacco Center Smoke Shop on Santa Monica Blvd. must be the Martha Stewart of bongware, or maybe more like Sam Malone in the way he draws in 'hood regulars for long chats over gourmet cigars, newfangled smoking gadgetry, and updates about the next wave of tobacco taxes. A beautifully chartered store that stocks everything to do with lighting up in neat, clean multi-colored lines, TCSS gives Willy Wonka's lab a run for its mouth-watering, festive appeal. Best of all, prices are clearly marked and very fair, with occasional free samples of the stock available.

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Jason is one of the coolest shopkeepers west of the 405, a mellow, smart, outgoing connoissuer who loves and is loved by the characters who frequent his business. Jason stocks the best of the best, from hand-rolled Cubo-Nicaraguan tobacco cigars from Lovo (discreetly believed to be the best cigars available); fruit-flavored hookah tobacco; the legal, trippy herb Salvia in various potencies; waterpipes, one hitters, and vaporizers of all designs and durability; candy-scented rolling papers; as well as smaller and bigger picture items from cigarettes to a gas-mask with a water pipe attached. Jason is just as likely to be explaining the path to obtaining legal marijuana to a newbie as he is to be discussing the history of Cuban cigar shapes with one of his seasoned distributors...

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As for cigars, Jaosn maintains that he can get you Nicaraguans that are better than Cubans, for less. We tried a Lovo, it was pure smoking pleasure, hand-wrapped in beautiful, fresh leaves, one of many handsome clones stacked neatly in the box.
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A smoke shop is apparently like a bar, not only pulling in those who appreciate a dram, but some of the more unqiue characters in town. At one point in our chilling session, a young man rolled through with a nitrous tank that appears permanently attached to him. Just looking to sit a spell, we thank the lords of dependancy that our habits don't involve as much strenuous effort as lugging a tank around. Though Jason clearly cannot allow NO2 balloons in the store, the whippit-head was treated with warmth just the same, and TACO made sure to sample the goods further down the block. That was some D.D.S.-grade nitrous, boyee!

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Saturday found the store in typically great spirits as 'Trampletime' made an appearance at the store. Coincidentally named Matt, Trampletime is a stunt man whose bread and butter is getting stepped, stomped, and jumped on. You can literally get at least 23 people standing on the Matt-meister, and he's going for a world record. I spent about 4 hours chilling with the crew, which included Miss Kitten, a bodacious dominatrix who looks like Betty Page with a burning cholita heart and more than a bit of back. She also owns the kickass EmbroidMe store next door.

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I'm no stranger to inflciting violence on my fellow man. Still, after spending so much time with Trampletime, who's the nicest guy in the world, it's hard to actually fulfill his wishes to hurt him, but a deal's a deal and soon enough I was one of a few Tobacco Center heroes putting my sneaker print on his bald head. Matt is one tough mu'fucka, as attested to by the many people he stacked up as well as Jason's mighty jumps onto his stomach. Trampletime never flinches, and usually encourages you to go harder.

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Like a West Coast Auggie from Jim Jarmusch's Smoke, Jason holds it down for the Westside's smoke scene. A visit there will no doubt result in many more as you befriend this local hero and he comes to suss out what he has that is perfect for your tastes.

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