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Smokin' U S A

In The 1920s There Were Speakeasies. In The 1990s There Are Cigar Lounges
Shandana A. Durrani
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96

During Prohibition's heyday, people ventured to speakeasies to consume alcohol, albeit illegally, because society didn't approve of public imbibing. Today, although it isn't illegal to smoke, many cigar lovers are relegated to their homes or special events to enjoy their cigars. But not anymore.

Due to the increased popularity of cigars and stringent anti-smoking regulations in cities around the country, many establishments have answered cigar smokers' prayers with the latest offshoot of the cigar craze: cigar smoking lounges.

In the past, cigar lovers could only indulge at smoker events or late at night in restaurants. Today there are places designed, developed and marketed specifically with the cigar smoker in mind, places with names such as the Grand Havana Room, Fumatore, The Churchill Bar, The Havana Tea Room and Cigar House, The Humidor, etc. Each cigar bar wants to be the preeminent place to smoke, providing cigars acquired mostly through retail tobacconists.tobacconists. Each bar stresses the importance of premium liquors such as single malt Scotches and Cognacs. Each lounge wants upscale and professional customers. And each has a unique personality.

The cigar lounge in the United States has become a phenomenon, with dozens opening in the past year and many more in the works. These lounges are appealing to a diverse and growing clientele, with longtime aficionados rubbing elbows with younger, more recent cigar converts. What follows is a representative listing of these new cigar havens.

With its restrictive smoking laws and large cigar following, New York City has proven fertile territory for these establishments, making it the hottest cigar lounge scene in the United States. Chicago is a natural second choice as new venues are opening almost monthly. From Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., Denver to Miami, cigar lounges are increasingly becoming the social outlet of choice for cigar lovers across the country.

In New York City, for example, six cigar bars opened this summer alone. Compare that to 1995, when only two cigar bars dotted the entire metropolitan landscape. These new lounges are as diverse as the neighborhoods in which they are located. The posh Upper East Side is home to the city's preeminent cigar lounge: Club Macanudo. Club Mac, as it is commonly known, is owned and operated by the General Cigar Co., makers of Macanudo and Partagas. Since its grand opening in May (see our review of Club Macanudo on page 499), crowds have been vying for entrance into this large, plush, wood-paneled mecca, which can seat 125 people comfortably in leather couches and chairs. Over the course of an average evening, about 500 people will pay a visit. Though Club Mac seeks an upscale clientele (jackets are required in the evening), the emphasis remains elegantly informal, catering to the cigar lover.

"Every inch of space in here is dedicated to cigar smoking," says Philip Darrow, manager of Club Macanudo. "If we chose to allow someone in simply because they were a person of great stature or they were a famous actor or someone like that, that would destroy our credibility with the people we built this place for, which is the cigar smoking man or woman who comes in here on a daily basis. That's really our clientele."

And the clientele seems content. Guests can choose from a limited food menu and a wide array of liquors, including single malt Scotches and Cognacs. They can pair their drinks with 100 marques of cigars, including General Cigar's Macanudo, Partagas and Canaria D'Oro, as well as brands from other manufacturers such as Ashton, Fonseca and Dunhill. The club also leases 500 humidor lockers, which were quickly snatched up by eager aficionados. Available for $600 a year, each Spanish cedar-lined unit holds up to 200 cigars. Because of these and other amenities, Darrow believes that Club Mac is New York's first true cigar bar.

But don't tell that to the proprietors of The Cigar Bar at Beekman Bar & Books. Rajmar Holdings Ltd., the owner of the Bar & Books chain, created The Cigar Bar at its midtown Beekman Bar & Books location almost two years ago. It's a small, cozy room at the back of Beekman with soft leather couches and bar stools and stained mahogany walls. It looks much like a gentlemen's club or someone's personal library or den. Co-owner Mark Grossich considers his four Bar & Books locations (Beekman, Hudson, Lexington and the new Carnegie) as upscale cocktail lounges that place a heavy emphasis on cigars.

"We have, relatively quietly, been the leaders in this whole thing for some time now. Club Mac has obviously taken center stage briefly in New York because they are new and different, and like everything new and different in town people tend to clamor to check it all out," Grossich says. "Obviously we have checked it out as well, and it is an interesting place; they serve cigars, we serve cigars. But we don't see them as a direct competitor because we are so much more than a cigar club. I think it is fair to say that our staff is trained better and differently."

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