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
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Not far away, in the heart of Tribeca, a new lounge called City Wine & Cigar Co. has been taking shape. Co-owners Chris Smith and Avra Jain consulted with hot restaurateur Drew Neiporent to create a wine and cigar bar and storage facility, which was set to open in November. Located on the ground floor of the historic former Dietz Lantern factory, City Wine & Cigar plans three smoking lounges for cigar lovers. The 8,000-square-foot establishment will have 400 private lockers for lease with annual and monthly dues. The Cigar Pub, an 800-square-foot retail store, will sell a full range of premium cigars such as Davidoff and Avo. Trained cigar girls will mill around the rooms, serving cigars. You'll have your choice of three bars: the Wine Bar, which is the largest, a private bar in the rear and a spirit bar in the Cigar Pub.
For those seeking an alcohol-free cigar environment, there is the Havana Tea Room and Cigar House on East 78th Street. Mark Nasser, co-owner and manager, created this quaint, Cuban-themed cigar bar without the bar. (The owners have twice petitioned for a liquor license but have been denied.) And therein lies the charm. With its casual and inviting atmosphere, Havana is a welcome alternative to the bar scene. Cigar lovers can choose a cleverly displayed smoke from Havana's glass humidor. Recent choices included Arturo Fuente Fumas and Montecruz Chicos. Savor your selection over a cup of Darjeeling tea or espresso and let the smoke waft up to the palm leaf-covered ceiling fans. The waiters and waitresses, attired in Cuban guayaberra shirts, serve Cuban sandwiches, cheeses and desserts. Be warned: if you come with your own cigars, expect a $3 clipping fee to be tacked onto your bill.
If Manhattan is not to your liking, you can hop over the river to Cigargoyles, a cigar bar opened in September by William Mandile. The two-story bar in Brooklyn Heights is slightly Gothic in appearance; expect to see "cigargoyles" as well as cigar girls around the bar. At street level there is a traditional pub-style bar with marble-tiled floors and wooden tables and chairs. Guests can dine on grilled-based Continental fare and choose from a wide array of beers, Ports, single malts and wines. A large cedar-lined, walk-in humidor contains selections from such brands as Arturo Fuente, Baccarat and Punch, at moderate markups. The lower level houses a dark, cavernous lounge with shell granite and sheet rock walls with faux fresco finishes, lined with leather couches and chairs. During the summer, the outdoor garden is turned into a café, with seating for 75 people. The owners anticipate a lot of business, especially from area professionals who have embraced Cigargoyles as their local cigar haven.
Whippany, New Jersey, is an unexpected place to find a cigar bar equal to the better spots in Manhattan. But the El Rey del Mundo Bar is just that. It is the social point of the huge J.R. Tobacco Outlet, a store that boasts an enormous cigar shop with enough cigar memorabilia to fill a museum. The bar area is small and cozy, with brass-trimmed mahogany shelves, an embossed tin ceiling and cigar box art adorning the walls. El Rey del Mundo may be small (seating is limited to 32) but its cigar selection is unparalleled. If none of the 27 selections on the bar menu suit your palate, you can walk a few paces into the grandiose store and pick out any one of more than 450 types of cigars, both by the box and in singles. Try the extremely rare Partagas Limited Reserve Royale ($17) or the 10-inch-long, 66 ring Casa Blanca Jeroboam $7).
The drink selection is adequate, with wines, Cognacs, Ports, beers and excellent espresso. The Outlet also sports a liquor shop, and you can purchase and consume any bottle from the shop at the bar; there's a $10 corkage fee. J.R Cigar owner Lew Rothman plans to add a cigar lounge and a museum, featuring table service and an expanded drinks menu by January 1.
Cigar bars, of course, aren't limited to the New York area. In Chicago, lounges are sprouting up right and left. Fumatore, a cigar club between the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park sections of Chicago, is fast becoming a favorite hangout for cigar smokers. Founder and principal owner John DePalma created this haven in response to the city's anti-smoking legislation.
"What really pushed me over the edge was when I was sitting in the bleachers in Wrigley Field and I went to light a cigar with my buddies and they said that I couldn't smoke there," DePalma says. "Fumatore is a neighborhood cigar club. I think the more Club Macanudos, Grand Havana Rooms and other clubs there are just reinforces the concept. It will become a staple sooner or later."
Designed much like an old European club, the 5,600-square-foot bar boasts 300 private lockers, 250 of which were rented within two months of Fumatore's grand opening in March. Renters include Fumatore investor and former Chicago Bulls center John Salley, talk show host Jerry Springer and the Caribbean Cigar Co. Members pay a $500 (individual) or $2,500 (corporate) initiation fee, and they must spend $800 (individual) or $3,000 (corporate) at Fumatore per year to retain their private humidor and other privileges.
Membership has its privileges, according to DePalma. Members have full use of the club's private salons for business and sporting purposes, which come equipped with a fax, a computer and satellite TVs. They can also dine or lounge in the special, plush Fumatore booths, each emblazoned with a giant cigar band on the outside, such as Montecristo, Cohiba and Diana Silvius.
But Fumatore is not a private club. People who don't own lockers are free to dine on Cuban food in Cafe Cubano on the first floor, or climb a flight of stairs to the Fumatore Club where on weekends they can dance the night away to salsa beats. They can choose from a wide array of drinks, including Scotches and Cognacs. And of course, they can purchase either of the two brands that are on the limited Fumatore cigar list: the Fumatore house cigar, a Dominican that comes in five sizes, or the Profesor Sila from the Canary Islands. They are reasonably priced, between $5 and $10.50.
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