Photo/Peter Frank Edwards
Cigar aficionados are turning basements, attics and far grander spaces into cigar lounges all their own
From the Print Edition:
Laurence Fishburne, May/June 2013
Richard Greco was building his dream home in Savannah, Georgia, when a smoking ban shut his local cigar bar. Greco loves cigars, and didn’t want to smoke outside, so he reworked his original plan and added something special to the design: a man cave.
Greco now puffs his cigars in a room that’s better than most cigar bars, a 2,600-square-foot area that includes two humidified cigar cabinets, a home theater (complete with a popcorn machine), pool table, golf simulator, office and a 15-foot-long bar. The entire space is cigar-friendly, attended to by a pair of smoke eaters that clear the air and keep the aroma of burning cigars out of the main house.
“I thought, well, I’m building a new house,” says Greco. “I might as well build a man cave.”
He is hardly alone. Cigar lovers are always looking for a great place to enjoy a cigar, and as smoking bans eliminate smoking havens, more and more often, that place is in their homes, often in a room dubbed the man cave.
At its heart a man cave is a room where one can get away, either in isolation or with a group of friends. They invariably feature comfortable seating (think couches) and nearly always have some form of television. Bars are common, to ensure a proper adult libation can be on hand. Poker tables and pool tables are quite at home in man caves, and for the cigar lover humidified storage is a must. Air cleaners and ventilation are always a good idea.
Man caves are rooms where decorations that would be quite out of favor in the main living space are ideal. That poster-sized, signed photo of your favorite NFL linebacker, glowering at a downed opponent? The mounted lunker bass you caught on a fly rod on your last fishing trip? Photos of you and your buddies on a golf vacation? Signed baseballs, old cigar boxes, and the poster from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly? All make ideal decorations for your man cave.
The term man cave has been around for 20 years, but it was only recently that it became a common term. Today there are websites and books dedicated to the subject, endless products emblazoned with the phrase and even a cable television show hosted by former NFL defensive terror Tony Siragusa dedicated to the subject. Last year the phrase was immortalized when it was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Webster’s cites 1992 as the first reference of the phrase, and defines a man cave as “a room or space (as in a basement) designed according to the taste of the man of the house to be used as his personal area for hobbies and leisure activities.”
Some prefer a more genteel label. “Everybody calls it a man cave—I call it a gentleman’s room,” says Vincent Sciarretta, the owner of VAS Construction Inc. in Darien, Connecticut. Sciarretta’s 300-square-foot smoking sanctuary, which is decorated in cherry millwork and solid fieldstone cut from his backyard, was born of opportunity: he and his wife had decided to expand their Wilton, Connecticut, home by building out to make a grand dining room for entertaining family and friends. When Sciarretta’s wife Denise suggested that it would make sense to add a large walk-in closet above the new dining room, he saw his opening.
“In my mind, I had an idea for a basement,” he says. “I got all my guys, my whole staff down here.” Sciarretta’s team labored in secrecy until a delivery truck pulled up with two massive refrigerated wine cases and headed for the basement, giving his wife a hint of his grand plans.
The Sciarretta man cave is built around wine and cigars, two of Sciarrettas passions. A custom-carved wooden door leads from the basement proper into the room, which features storage for 400 bottles of wine, most of them Italian reds. There’s a hammered copper sink, a large-screen television with full theater sound, and a humidified cabinet that can hold some eight boxes of cigars, each displayed on an angle in a style fit for a cigar shop. On a recent visit, it was filled with cigars by Montecristo, Padrón and Rocky Patel. A leather sofa and two leather chairs face the television, and behind the sofa sits an antique backgammon table. A gas-powered fireplace that doesn’t require venting adds charm, giving it a look that is somewhat reminiscent of a Vail ski lodge.
The room is decorated with sports memorabilia, including a seat from the old Yankee Stadium signed by Mariano Rivera and a New York Jets jersey signed by Joe Namath. A trio of Samurai swords in black scabbards sit in front of the fireplace.
“I wanted a little bit of everything,” says the 48-year-old, who estimates the total project value, including furnishings, at more than $100,000. “You don’t have to leave this room.” Despite its comforts, Sciarretta doesn’t tend to go into his cave alone, and probably uses it every other week. “I’m all about family and friends, the more the merrier,” he says, pointing to framed photos of his father, friends and relatives in the room. When he and his wife entertain, at some point the guys end up downstairs puffing cigars. A door in the back exits to the backyard, allowing entry and exit without walking through the house proper.
The room is made for cigar smoking, so Sciarretta had his workers insulate the room to the joists with plastic sheeting, sealing it from floor to ceiling and back. They added insulation, then sheetrock, then the wood paneling over that in an effort to keep the smoke from seeping upstairs into the living quarters. There is also a smoke eater embedded in the ceiling, but when there are several cigar smokers going at once Sciarretta will crack open one of the room’s slim windows.
Keeping the smoke away from the upstairs is key to most man caves, as the typical married cigar aficionado doesn’t have a green light to smoke in the rest of the house.
“When I tried to smoke cigars in my house, my wife would have a conniption,” says Greco. When the 53-year-old embarked on his quest to make a palatial man cave, he carefully researched smoke eaters by talking to engineers and bartenders.
Greco originally had a more modest plan, just a simple smoking room with couches and a built-in humidor. But when the Savannah No Smoking Act was passed in 2010, he made his plans far grander.
Greco’s smoking room occupies the space above his five-car garage, and when the smoking ban loomed large, he decided he needed a bigger space to smoke. “We made the decision to modify my office to allow smoking at anytime,” he says.
Greco spent $10,000 on the filtration system alone, and $2,000 each on the Vigilant brand humidification cabinets that keep his cigars humidified. (In a genius move, his humidors are fed automatically by the house’s water system, so there is no need to check on water supply.) His go-to smoke is an Ashton Cabinet, either the No. 2 or the No. 8.
The room, which doubles as his office, is designed for entertaining, and the Grecos have had up to 100 guests in the room easily. Professional bartenders man the bar, which is outfitted with a commercial sink and dishwasher.
“I don’t smoke all the time,” he says. “I just like to be able to smoke when I want to.”
Tim Ozgener, the former president of C.A.O. International Inc., added a man cave to his Nashville, Tennessee, home soon after his family sold their cigar company in 2007. “My wife’s an interior designer,” Ozgener says of Arnita, who helped him with the room. “I said, the one area I want to do is have this man cave for myself.”
Ozgener’s man cave is a 1,200-square-foot room with dark furnishings, leather chairs and sofas and a pool table. The most dramatic feature is a wall of cigars behind glass, with LED lit boxes showcasing some of Ozgener’s creations when he was at working in the cigar business, such as C.A.O. Brazilia and C.A.O. Italia. Color-coordinated drawers are filled with cigars. The look was inspired by window displays he saw on New York City’s Fifth Avenue.
Ozgener had taken a particular pride in the design of cigar boxes and had found himself frustrated when retailers would remove the lids to make them fit better on cigar store shelves. So he sought to have a display done his way. “I wanted to make my man cave, or in-home humidor, into how I would like to display cigars and retail cigars if I had my own store. I wanted to create an environment that honored and showcased the beauty of the packaging.”
In between are half wheels of cigars, each containing 50 smokes, for display purposes. “I always loved walking into aging rooms in the factories of Central America and looking at the shelves of cigars aging. It reminded me of stacks of books in a library, only they smelled a whole lot better,” says the 43-year-old. The sitting area is a nod to his Turkish and Armenian heritage, with a carpet from his father’s house, an antique Turkish copper table, plus a wine cellar with walls of real stone, a liquor/highball cabinet and an LCD television.
Two smoke eaters clean the air in the room, which Ozgener sees as a way to not only enjoy the cigars, but to enlighten others. “Whenever people come to visit me they think cigars, and maybe they think cigars are just some sort of crude, stinky, annoying substance that should be outlawed. Therefore, when they come into this space I want to open their minds about cigars, I want them to be awakened.”
“I wanted to create the ultimate man cave,” he stresses.
The man cave trend is hardly limited to the United States. Rune Jensen of Esbjerg, Denmark, has one in his home, a three-story abode built before the Second World War. When he moved in, the basement had a storage room that was decorated only by pipes and a large number of immense spiders. He and his girlfriend evicted the arachnids, and put in a false wall to hide the plumbing. The space became a guest room, a development they immediately regretted.
For less than $2,000 in decorations (spent mostly at Amazon and IKEA, with the occasional trip to a thrift shop) they transformed the room into a beautiful cigar lounge that seems plucked from a 1950s jazz club, with its floral wallpaper, stacks of hardcover books, vinyl records and no shortage of libations, including single-malt Scotches, bourbon and rum. Cigars are kept in a three-drawer pyramid humidor.
“I wanted something cozy, where I could enjoy a whisky and a cigar with my friends,” says Jensen, a nostalgic 33-year-old, who decorated the room to harken to the days of “Mad Men” and “Boardwalk Empire,” among his favorite television shows. However, unlike most man caves, this one has no television set, an intended omission. “The room is designed with engaging in mind, that is why there are no disturbing elements like a TV,” he says. There is a turntable for all that vinyl, which plays old jazz with a scratchy sound Jensen finds appealing.
“Before dinner we might have a predinner drink in there, and after dinner we move downstairs to have a drink and talk for rest of the evening,” he says. “We only smoke in the basement in our house, as my girlfriend is a nonsmoker. Mostly I use it for when I have male friends over. We sit and talk, listening to jazz, smoke cigars and drink whisky or rum until the early morning hours. Those are the times I enjoy it the most.”
Sometimes a man cave isn’t even in the house. Nicholas Melillo, the executive director of tobaccos and production for Drew Estate, the huge Nicaraguan cigar company famous for making Liga Privada, Acid and a host of other cigars, recently bought a home for his parents in Southbury, Connecticut. Melillo plans on visiting often, especially when he travels to Connecticut cigar country to look at tobacco, so he is building a post-and-beam barn in the backyard to serve as his man cave/guest room.
“The home is a perfect size for my parents but a bit small when I come over, and nowhere to smoke in the winter,” Melillo says. The barn, which will be heated by a wood-burning stove, has about 400 square feet of space and a loft bedroom.
Melillo, a bit of a collector of cigar items, has the decorations planned out even before the man cave is complete. “There will be three beautiful cigar store Indians, a large cabinet humidor, my great-grandfather’s 1905 humidor, framed 1880 tobacco encyclopedia articles, old maps, my cigar aficionado collection and a bunch of other cool things,” he says. He’s also going to outfit the man cave with miniature statues of legendary cigar lovers Mark Twain and Groucho Marx and a bust of Sir Winston Churchill.
Melillo is following in the family tradition. As a young boy, his father made a smoking cave of his own, albeit a more modest endeavor, using a prefabricated shed. “I wanted to make something similar, but a step up. I especially wanted to make something so when my grandfather visits we can enjoy a cigar in the wintertime.” The barn was scheduled to be finished about the time this issue went to press.
Canadian David Cleary has been smoking cigars since 2000, but like many cigar smokers he is relegated to the deck, which is fine during the summer but troublesome when the mercury dips. “Living in Canada, it can be difficult to enjoy a fine cigar outdoors in the winter months,” he says. Cleary toughed it out, but yearned for something warmer. With most of his deck covered by a galvanized roof, he enclosed a 15-by-15-foot area with plywood and a vapor barrier, adding a bistro set for seating, a small refrigerator, a halogen lamp, and a small charcoal Weber grill. Total investment? Less than $1,000.
“It’s nothing fancy, yet my friends and I thoroughly enjoy it, and it sure serves its purpose,” he says. He’s puffed away in temperatures approaching zero. The shelter is temporary. He puts it up in November and takes it down in March, when temperatures are mild enough to allow open-air smoking once again.
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