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Three-Star Heaven: Europe's Top Restaurants

Per Henrik-Mansson
From the Print Edition:
Groucho Marx, Spring 93

(continued from page 2)

At the Ritz, wine manager Georges Lepré says the bar is becoming a comfortable hangout for cigar lovers. "It is a paradise for the cigar crowd, a relaxed place to smoke, with views of the gardens and a piano."

With a good cigar taking about an hour to smoke comfortably, the dinner table has fallen out as a smoking venue for many cigar lovers, notes Lepré. Cigar consumption has followed the same downward curve as eaux-de-vie and hard liquor in the past five years, at least at the Ritz. The four-hour business lunch of yesteryear has also been replaced with shorter meals averaging about 90 minutes, says Lepré. "The new generation of executives spends much less time eating and consumes less of everything," he adds.

Still, it is more the business crowd at Hotel Le Crillon's restaurant, Les Ambassadeurs, in Paris that is likely to light up a cigar after the meal than the evening patrons, says Philippe Langlois, a maître d'hôtel. Customers can pick from a list of 17 Cuban and Dominican cigars. Davidoff s Dominican cigars sell well.

"It's like wine. There is a part of the clients which is very knowledgeable, and there is a part of the clients which goes for brand names. The name Davidoff is very famous, and the fact that it doesn't make Havanas anymore doesn't matter for some clients," says Langois. Cigar smokers are encouraged to light up in a large lounge, the Jardin d'Hiver, outside the restaurant. Langlois estimates that five percent of the clients smoke cigars, 15 percent, cigarettes and 90 percent drinks wine.

At Château Les Crayéres, Gérard Boyer's three-star restaurant in the Champagne capital of Reims, the staff has noticed a decrease in cigar smoking. "But some people who smoked cigarettes before now fall back to cigars, which is much better in terms of aromas," says Heil Wemer, the maître d'hôtel.

Boyer's list includes Montecristo No. 1 through No. 5, Romeo y Julieta Churchills, Partagas 8-9-8, Cohiba Coronas Especiales and Davidoff No. 1, to name a few from the two dozen cigars available.

In the past, Americans have outranked other clients complaining about a neighbor smoking during the meal, but lately French doctors, lawyers and businessmen have voiced their irritation with smokers. "Most smokers are polite. But it can happen that we get a difficult and stubborn client, who must change his table," says Wemer.

At Georges Blanc, the three-star Michelin restaurant in Vonnas, nonsmokers and cigar lovers coexist happily, thanks to a house rule that appears in fine print on the menu: "For the convenience of your neighbors, there is a salon-bar in the back for cigar smokers, at coffee time."

"People respect it," says Blanc. The new law about smoke-free space has encouraged even French clients to complain about smoke in the restaurant, something unheard of in the past, says Blanc, who doesn't smoke.

In advance of his time, Blanc divided up his restaurant in smoking and nonsmoking areas years ago, and the staff asks which area clients want when they make the reservation. The results: two-thirds pick the nonsmoking area, one-third the smoking area.

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