A Portrait in Design

Restaurant Architect Adam Tihany Captures Personality in His Work, Redefining the Spaces in Which We Live

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"Cigar smoking," he says, "is a personal experience, a personal moment, a time of relaxation and reflection. I don't need to share the length of my cigar with other people, to sit in a room and discuss it with all the other people smoking cigars. I don't frequent the cigar clubs, because I don't find them interesting. Smoking a cigar is a time to reflect, a private time, a time to think, a time to work."

He has, he says, 26 humidors--"ten of them in the United States. My mother keeps a stock of cigars for me in Israel, which is the best place to buy Cuban cigars."

Tihany makes one exception to his rule on privacy and cigars. About two years ago, he and 14 friends--intensely successful men from Italy, France, Israel, England, Scotland, Singapore and the United States who work in television, movies, medicine, finance, the hotel business and other professions--formed a group they call the Cigar Clan. Once a year they meet for two days. Oh, do they meet.

"We just enjoy each other's company," Tihany says, "and it's rare that we find time to take two days off and get away. It's a sophisticated retreat. So our charter calls for us to meet in a different place each year. One member is the host, and he has to outdo the year before. This year it's Monte Carlo. One year we're going to Israel--we're going to get together in the Sinai Desert in black tie in a Bedouin tent, with chamber music and helicopters above."

In 1997, the get-together, the first, was in Scotland, at the One Devonshire Gardens hotel in Glasgow. It included many tastings of single-malt Scotch, box after box of Cuban cigars, a visit to a distillery, bagpipes and a formal dinner. The menu included Cuvée Dom Perignon '88, Beluga caviar en gelée with asparagus cream, roulade of foie gras with Sauternes, Schlossberg Grand Cru Riesling '93 (Domaine Weinbach Cuvée Ste. Catherine, Alsace), home-smoked lobster with herb butter, Château Latour '81 and fillet of veal, roasted kidney and sweetbreads with morels and Madeira sauce.

"This year in Monte Carlo we had a James Bond theme, with a gala dinner at Alain Ducasse's restaurant, followed by nine silver convertible Mercedes going on a road rally through the hills of Provence to St. Paul and the La Colombe d'Or restaurant. Next year we meet in Havana."

Tihany's love for cigars has also led him to design the new Freyboy cigar store. The New York City shop is small, only 700 square feet, but Tihany talks of it with the same excitement he musters for his major restaurant projects. "It's a completely different look for a cigar shop," he says. "It's very contemporary. No more of that fuzzy English wood paneling and leather couches. It's really cutting edge. The tiles on the floor are smoke-colored. We tried to bring cigar smoking to the year 2000 in one brush stroke. I really believe in cigar smoking. I really enjoy it. I think it should be here to stay."

The tiles are indeed the creation of a true cigar aficionado--photographs of seemingly endless permutations of gray and white smoke, wafting, not in the air, but on the shining floor. At one end of the room is a large walk-in humidor, the cigars all on open display behind a glass wall; at the other end, behind a nine-screen video display of movies and cigar-themed quotes, is a smoking room with starkly modern and comfortable high-tech black chairs, white tables, black laptop computers and white computer mice, where patrons can light up, relax and browse the Internet at their leisure. "It's a place where a commuter can take a break at the start of the workday or at the end," Tihany says.

Tihany's other hobby is cooking. With his partner, Antonucci, and the food writer Florence Fabricant he has written Venetian Taste, a cookbook geared to the Venetian theme of Remi.

"I am by no stretch of the imagination a great chef," he says, "but I can cook a decent meal for as many as 12 people, something simple. One of my favorites is a penne with fresh tomato, basil and mozzarella. I've been cooking as long as I've been smoking cigars. I find it very relaxing. I'm an instinctive cook--I cook by instinct, not education. I have a very interesting taste memory. I can taste something, go home and reproduce it without ever having the recipe. And I also have a very keen sense of what kind of food sells, what people like. Francesco and I do a tasting of new dishes for Remi four times a year, and I can usually say by taste whether or not a dish will do well. When it comes to that, I'm pretty much on the money."

Tihany and his wife of three years, Marnie Mass-- "It's my third and last marriage," he says--have an apartment in Greenwich Village, down the block from his office, and a house in the suburbs. They stay in the city during the week and go to their country home on the weekend, in time for Sabbath dinner Friday night, which they share with Tihany's son and daughter from his second marriage--Bram, 17, and Sarah, 13. "The kids are our lives," he says. "Everything we do is geared to them." The talent for design runs in the family. "Bram is a fine artist," Tihany says. "He designed some of the china for Le Cirque."

Tihany has accomplished much in his 51 years, but, he says, there is much more he would like to do. "My life's ambition," he says after one final puff on his cigar, "is that every great city in the world will have one great hotel or restaurant designed by me.

"I'll have to live at least a few years more to fullfill this goal," he says with a laugh. "But that's what I really want." And knowing Adam Tihany, he's not just blowing smoke.

Mervyn Rothstein is an editor at The New York Times and a frequent contributor to Cigar Aficionado and Wine Spectator.

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