Situated on rue Saint-Honoré, across from the Comédie-Française and just around the corner from the Louvre, the shop is currently celebrating its tercentenary, at a venerable age that probably makes it the oldest tobacconist in the world, far older than James J. Fox of London (founded some 225 years ago), Hajenius of Amsterdam (founded in 1914) and far, far older than Nat Sherman of New York (1930).
Established in 1716, À la Civette has moved several times over the course of its history but always remained on rue Saint-Honoré. In 1876, the owners invested in a plot of land where once stood a hospital for soldiers who had returned blind from the Fifth Crusade in Egypt. Today, history remains alive in the basement of the shop, where cigars are stored in what was once the chapel of the celebrated hospice des Quinze-Vingt (named for its 300 beds).
“The original business did not thrive when it first opened, but then one day, the Duchesse de Chartres, who smoked a pipe, came in to buy tobacco. She liked it so much that the word spread, and Civette’s tobacco became famous. Soon the Parisians were beating down the door to get in, and our fame remains undiminished,” explains Dorothée Spriet, who has managed the shop since 2004. Her father, Norbert Weisz, a close friend of Zino Davidoff, had acquired the business in 1996. Dr. Ernst Schneider, head of the Davidoff Group, had always dreamed of having a tobacconist’s shop in Paris, but the law did not permit a brand like Davidoff to own one.
The name Civette refers to civet cats native to Africa and Asia. Their anal glands produce a highly fragrant secretion that has long been used commercially in perfume and even for adding fragrance to tobacco. The animal is visibly present on the shop sign and the door handles, and in France the word “civette” has become synonymous with “tobacconist who sells cigars.” When someone wants to buy some, they say they’re going to a “civette.” Today, Dorothée Spriet’s regular customers include Michael Jordan as well as members of the Constitutional Council, which is housed only a few feet away under the arcades of the gardens of the Palais-Royal. Because of the wide range of cigars in the walk-in humidor (70% Cuban, 30% from other countries) and the selection of pipe tobacco, À la Civette is one of the busiest tobacconists in Paris despite a hyper-hygienic atmosphere that might put off some tobacco enthusiasts.
The tercentenary is being celebrated throughout the year with a series of soirées but also with the launch of an anniversary cigar created by Christian Eiroa (“a very round torpedo made in Honduras”), packaged in boxes of ten, and a limited-edition pipe to be made by Chacom. Not to mention the humidors, cigar cutters and torch lighters with the Civette logo, the little rodent that continues to guard rue Saint-Honoré today.