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A Smoker's Guide to New York City

Despite not one but two smoking bans, you can still smoke in Manhattan—if you know where to go
Gregory Mottola
From the Print Edition:
Jay-Z, May/June 2009

(continued from page 2)

If the sensation of smoking from the top floor of a building sounds enticing, you can take the experience one step further by moving to the roof. In the warmer months, many New York City rooftops are transformed into some of the city's most stunning smoking areas, but you typically have to bring your own smokes. The lush and lively rooftop garden of 230 Fifth is a fantastic place to light up and watch the setting sun glint off the gilded spires of the New York Life Building, or, once night has fallen, the luminescent upper reaches of the Empire State Building. The Pen-Top Bar & Terrace at The Peninsula New York is a rooftop bar with a dual personality—half the bar is for smokers, the other half for nonsmokers. Cigars are permitted. Perhaps the finest aerie for Manhattan smokers is the rooftop at Aretsky's Patroon, on 46th Street, owned by cigar lover Ken Aretsky. The posh spot not only has light fare and specialty cocktails, but a cigar menu as well.

One does not need to smoke atop a skyscraper to have a fine smoking experience. There are plenty of cigar bars that offer an intimate, convivial air. Merchants NY Cigar Bar, located on First Avenue at East 62nd Street, hides a cigar lounge on the lower level of its restaurant and is another example of a cigar establishment that has had to stave off the city's bureaucracy. Not too long ago, the board of health tried to shut down Merchants on account of the cigar bar serving food, but after a court hearing, the judge threw out the case, so the dark cozy space remains cigar friendly. Cigarette and cocktail bar Circa Tabac, located in the SoHo section of the city, also welcomes cigar smokers into its European-inspired venue, assuming the cigar smoker can withstand the cigarette smoke.

The cigar-smoking sports enthusiast may find himself at a bit of a loss. While some Manhattan cigar haunts might air sporting events from time to time, a dedicated cigar sports bar is even more rarified than the cigar bar itself. In the Flatiron section of Manhattan, on West 25th Street, is a bar and lounge owned by hip-hop artist and cigar smoker Jay-Z called the 40/40 Club. Named for the rare baseball achievement when a player hits 40 home runs and steals 40 bases in a single season, 40/40 is basically a sleek, streamlined sports bar where framed jerseys and signed boxing gloves go hand in hand with ultra-mod furniture and flat-panel plasma televisions. There are many private rooms, and it wouldn't be unusual to find an NBA player in one shooting pool, or a channel-surfing R&B star reclining on a leather sofa in another. One room in particular, which also happens to be the most understated, holds two towers of high-end Cognacs and a pair of armoire-style humidors full of cigars catalogued by a cigar menu. Although not a sanctioned cigar bar by the city, 40/40's smoking policy is somewhat ambiguous—show up in the cigar room on the right night at the right hour, and you just might be able to light up.

Not every neighborhood-type cigar lounge wishes to continually wrestle with the New York political machine, so some have abandoned hopes of obtaining a liquor license and opened lounges with BYOB policies. Two Manhattan cigar shops, Fumée in Washington Heights and Velvet Cigar Lounge in the East Village, which is actually one part mini—cigar factory, allow visitors to bring their own liquor. Each is a perfect example of quaint, inviting BYOB cigar lounges that bring this gentlemanly pastime to the residents of transforming neighborhoods throughout the city.

Or not in a neighborhood at all. Larry Flynt's Hustler Club New York, a gentlemen's club on the far west side of nonresidential Manhattan, features a heated rooftop deck where cigars are sold and cigar smoking is encouraged. While the deck features full drink service, there is no topless dancing allowed in that particular area, due to the intricacies of the law, although they have nothing to do with the smoking ban. The club is licensed for only 10,000 square feet of "topless activity," every inch of which is used inside the building. Of course, clothed dancers will make their rounds upstairs in hopes of enticing the patrons to return downstairs when finished with their cigars. The rooftop is open from April to October.

Respect should be shown to all of these establishments. Their owners have chosen a politically incorrect vocation and learned to adapt to the city's draconian smoking laws. But most importantly, the cigar-smoking establishments have learned to fight back, battling for their livelihood and our lifestyle choice. A cutting fee is a small price to pay to ensure that places like this stay in business. There are still many forces who want to see every last cigar bar shut down, who see you lighting up in the window of a cigar store and seethe with anger at the very sight of your private pleasure. New Yorkers have not allowed legislation to ban their cigar bars into oblivion. To the contrary, they keep opening, guaranteeing that Manhattan not only remains a smoking city, but also a world-class cigar-smoking destination.

For a video on the best places to smoke in New York City, click here.

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