Cigars in Sydney.
Let me paint you a picture. You're sitting on the biggest ottoman you've ever seen, under high ceilings with exposed wooden beams. The mist of cigar smoke rises into the atmosphere. The low hum of conversation, coupled with the smooth sound of Miles Davis, provides modest background noise above the clinking of exquisitely made Martinis. An attentive and, dare I say it, gorgeous waitress sashays across the floor with your rum blazer in hand. Aah, the life! At this point nothing else seems important except whether to go for the Cohiba Esplendido at a cool $93 Australian ($U.S.71) or the more egalitarian Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 at A$36 ($28).
Welcome to Hemmesphere, the fourth-floor private lounge that is the flagship bar of the behemoth Establishment Hotel complex, located in the heart of Sydney. Well, it's not quite private unless you believe the hype. If you have the right shoes, the right-colored Amex, or are famous, then it's "please sir, follow me," as you're ushered to one of many oversized lounges that beg you to stay around for that little bit longer. You will, I promise.
For those with no interest in star spotting, then it's down to the serious business of drinking some of the finest liquor in town. From an innovative selection of amazing cocktails (spiked with everything from elderflower cordial and dates to blood orange and cilantro), an eclectic mix of international beers and an enviable wine list, through to a solid range of premium spirits, it's about nothing but the best. Much of it is displayed in a beautiful glass liquor cabinet that sits proudly (almost boasting) in the center of the room.
Also in the vicinity is the bar's humidor that houses a fine (and pricey) selection of cigars, including Cohibas and Montecristos.
But what to drink? If a salty Lagavulin or heady Louis XIII is too much (in taste and price, respectively), then bar manager Julian Serna recommends a refreshing Mojito (Cuban rum, lime, mint, sugar and soda) or one of three cocktails specifically recommended as ideal cigar matches. The brandy or rum blazers -- served warm -- are sublime winter tipples, while the Hemmes Tea is my pick for something a little left-field. Glenfiddich 12-year-old is served long over crushed ice with orange peel-infused lapsang souchong tea, Peychaud bitters and apple juice.
Or if you're feeling flush (which most of the clientele are), why not purchase a Hennessy XO box, which for A$1,000 ($767), comes with a bottle of the Cognac, five cigars stored inside a built-in humidor, and your name engraved on the outside. They'll even keep it under lock and key when you leave. Eventually.
Naren Young is a freelance journalist based in Sydney who specializes in spirits and cocktails. He travels the world extensively commentating on global drink trends and has judged numerous international cocktail competitions.
252 George Street, Level 4
Phone: +61 2 9240 3040