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Smoking in Peace

David Shaw
From the Print Edition:
Premier Issue, Autumn 92

(continued from page 5)

Most restaurateurs tend to invite cigar smokers to adjourn to the bar or lounge. Many cigar smokers don't want to move--in part as a matter of principle, in part because they're comfortable in the dining room itself and in part because many bars, even in good restaurants, are not terribly pleasant.

"People would love to smoke their cigars in the dining room, not the bar," says Joachim Splichal, chef-proprietor of Patina in Los Angeles, "but it's impossible here. Someone tried to light up once, and it was like that Hitchcock movie--The Birds. Someone at every table in the dining room got up and ran to complain to the lady at reception in two seconds."

But some restaurants, like Patina, have bars and lounge areas, rooms in which a cigar and a Cognac or an Armagnac or a Port can be a decidedly pleasant experience.

At Palio in New York, the downstairs bar is dominated by a striking, wrap-around mural depicting the annual horse race in Siena, Italy, for which the restaurant is named; it may be the best single thing in the entire restaurant. At Ernie's in San Francisco, the bar "looks like a place where you would smoke a cigar," as Steve Morey, the sommelier, puts it. The bar has a classic Old English look about it, with high ceilings, mahogany walls and original Gibson prints. At Biba, which may be the best restaurant in Boston, the earthtones in the bar--forest-green chairs and banquettes and a brick-red, antique French tile floor--provide a muted backdrop for the anything-but-muted crowd that has made the bar there the noisiest and most frenetic chic-by-yowl scene in Boston. Best of all, the bar menu is as reasonable as it is varied, with prices substantially lower than in the restaurant upstairs.

Restaurants in good hotels also tend to have nice lounges in which cigar smokers can indulge their love of the leaf without fear of character (or actual) assassination. Hotel restaurants, in general, tend to be more accommodating to cigar smokers than do non-hotel restaurants, largely because hotel managers understand the importance of pleasing their guests.

"Guests come to think they can have whatever they want since they're paying quite a bit for their hotel rooms," says Christina Clifton, dining room manager at the French Room in the Four Seasons Clift Hotel in San Francisco. "Besides, we have more space, more rooms to move them to if anyone complains."

Sara Brewer, dining room manager and sommelier in the John Hay Room at the Hay Adams Hotel in Washington, D.C., puts it a little differently: "We're an old, European-style hotel, and smoking a cigar is a part of the ambiance. We have some customers who've been coming here for 20 years and smoking a cigar in their favorite armchair in the corner of the lounge."

Some restaurants, both inside and outside hotels, now have special rooms for cigar smokers. Remi in Santa Monica has a small wine room where cigar smokers are invited to enjoy themselves and have a Cognac, grappa or Port after dinner. Chanterelle in New York has a "cigar and Cognac room"--complete with a sofa, comfortable chairs and a table--specifically included in the design for the restaurant because chef David Waltuck loves cigars. Like the wine room at Remi, this room holds about a dozen people--although as Waltuck's wife and partner, Karen, says, "People are so much more emotional about cigars than they were ten years ago that many cigar smokers don't think to use the room because they don't even carry their cigars with them any more."

Jivan Tabibian, managing partner of Remi, often goes outside to the patio of his restaurant to smoke a cigar, and even there, he's been harassed.

"People walking by will ask me to put out my cigar," he says in tones of wounded wonderment. Despite this experience--and despite the increasingly pervasive hostility most cigar smokers encounter--Tabibian is one of a growing number of restaurateurs and hoteliers nationwide who now host regular cigar dinners.

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