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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

(continued from page 1)

While Club Mac employees get in-house training, the staff at The Cigar Bar train at the Alfred Dunhill store in New York, where they learn the proper etiquette of cutting, lighting and serving cigars. The cigar list includes more than 10 selections, many of which are acquired through an exclusive contract with the local Dunhill store. Guests can choose from a Temple Hall No. 3 Maduro for $10 or a Macanudo Vintage No. 1 for $25. The Cigar Bar also has an extensive list of single barrel Bourbons, Ports and Cognacs, among other liquors, all at more than $9 a glass. A jacket (and no jeans), $25 minimum order and reservations are required, making the Cigar Bar a very exclusive establishment.

For those who want a great cigar with a great meal, The Cigar Room at the Grand Hyatt Hotel is the answer. This cigar haven was created more than a year ago as an answer to the strict anti-smoking laws which limit smoking in main dining areas of New York City restaurants to establishments with fewer than 35 seats.

At the 34-seat Cigar Room (See Cigar Aficionado, Summer 1996), the emphasis is on service, says Bill Rizzuto, the Grand Hyatt's executive assistant food and beverage manager. The wait staff is trained in cigar etiquette, and the restaurant's humidors offer a range of cigars such as Davidoffs, Ashtons and Punches with premium liquors, such as single barrel bourbons, single malt Scotches and Cognacs. Guests can enjoy a meal in the dining room or relax with a drink in a separate lounge area. The Cigar Room provides an understated and relaxed ambience.

Another relaxed and understated cigar bar is Aubette, in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan. Opened in March, it was created by managing partners David Baxley and designer Erin Silliday. Cigar and bar manager Paul Kulig oversees the cigar lounge to the rear of this sleek bar, with its soft leather couches and chairs and wood-burning fireplace. He stocks his humidors with an extensive and impressive selection. Recent selections included Santiago Cabanas, La Gloria Cubanas and Don Juans. If your favorite brand isn't available, the very cigar savvy and helpful Kulig will recommend a comparable alternative. Prices range from $4 to $35.

Near Union Square and the Flatiron district is Granville, a lounge/restaurant that caters to cigar smokers. Owned and operated by Billy Gilroy, Peter Fay, Chris Heyman and Granville Adams, since its opening in June it has become very popular with area professionals, according to Adams. Because of city restrictions, the upstairs lounge is the only place in Granville where one can indulge in a cigar. With its Oriental carpets and mahogany walls, the room resembles an old men's club. Guests can lounge on leather banquettes, choosing from a list of cigars that includes pre-Castros such as a 1961 Romeo y Julieta Supremo, which retails for $50.

Manhattan's west side houses cigar lounges as well. Within the Michelangelo Hotel on West 51st Street lies The Grotto, a 62-seat safe haven for cigar smokers. Romeo de Gobbi, proprietor of The Grotto and its sister restaurant upstairs, Limoncello, and former manager of Le Cirque, has created a comfortable and relaxed place with tan leather couches where cigar lovers can congregate, choose from a selection of premium liquors, dine on a light repast featuring tuna carpaccio and marinated salmon, and smoke cigars from an ever-changing list. The list includes choices from the Dominican Republic such as Fonsecas and Avos as well as some choice Honduran brands, including Flor de Florez. The Grotto marks up its cigars only 25 percent, with prices ranging from $6.50 to $16.50. Manager Kim Gregory oversees an eager and attentive staff.

Across town on 51st Street is Divine Bar, an attractive two-story lounge. Opened in June, the lounge's second floor features plush antique velvet couches and chairs, where people sit back and savor the flavors of their cigars and wine. Owners Shari Schneider and Michael Vitanza are new to the cigar business, but are eager to please their customers. Cigars range in price from $6 to $14, but due to shortages, the list changes frequently. Recent offerings included Macanudos and Partagas. The wine list is extensive and carefully selected, at competitive prices. It's a place with a decidedly downtown feel, in a midtown location.

If you don't want to venture uptown, the cigar scene is abuzz downtown as well. Webster Hall, a popular four-story nightclub, has its own fourth-floor cigar bar called The Havana Lounge. A 1,450-square-foot, roped-off section of the balcony, it is the brainchild of Greg Alprin, Michael Shine and Nick Orlando, three twenty-somethings who decided that New York needed a cigar bar in a nightclub setting. Opened in August, The Havana Lounge has become a popular hangout for people who want to dance and smoke at the same time. The noise from the main dance floor below can be deafening at times, but the well-worn couches are comfortable and the staff is attentive, if a bit inexperienced. The cigars are priced competitively, from $5 to $15 for a premium smoke. Don't expect to find the usual Webster Hall clientele in The Havana Lounge, however; Orlando, Alprin and Shine created the cigar bar for professionals, not club kids. But do expect to pay a cover of $10 to $15 to get into the club.

Ten blocks south of The Havana Lounge lies The Go-Go Room, a cigar bar in Béla restaurant. Opened in mid-August, The Go-Go Room, named for a turn-of-the-century cigar brand fron New York, is a small, dark lounge with leather divans and chairs. Jerri Banks, general manager and resident cigar expert, describes her lounge as comfortable and understated; you almost feel as if you are in someone's library. Cigar lovers can choose from a revolving list of about eight cigars, which recently included Padron Coronas and El Sublimado Churchills. Cigar buyers should beware, however: a couple of the cigars had astronomical markups (the El Sublimado Churchill was 150 percent above the suggested retail price).

In lower Manhattan, the owners and operators of Windows on the World run the self-proclaimed "Greatest Bar on Earth" and private Skybox, both of which are cigar smoker retreats. The bar is a large, colorful space, with breathtaking views of the city from 106 stories above the streets. Smokers can choose from a small and pricey cigar list that includes Partagas 150s and Avo XOs. Vintage Ports as well as Scotches and Bourbons are available by the glass. The bar is bustling and can be noisy at times. If you prefer a quieter and more private retreat, you can retire to the Skybox, an extremely small (25 seats) but extremely comfortable lounge, set a distance from the bar. Guests can sit back in brown leather and blue corduroy couches and enjoy the view. The Skybox is a private lounge during regular business hours and is open to the public only after 7 p.m.

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