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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 3)

DePalma plans on opening another Fumatore around Thanksgiving on Miami's famous South Beach, with John Salley slated to oversee the club, and in Washington, D.C., in the spring.

A hot Chicago nightspot called Drink has become a hot cigar place as well with a tri-tiered cigar room called Smoke at Drink. On any given weekend night, young professionals crowd onto the lower level of the 10,000-square-foot club to sit and relax in funky leather and upholstered couches and chairs. Murals circa 1950 line the brick walls. Twenty-somethings gravitate toward the club's well-stocked, seven-foot, cedar-lined glass humidor, where Drink's resident cigar guru, Arlen, holds court, selling cigars to his subjects. Owners Scott DeGraff and Michael Morton created this room more than two years ago in response to the demand from regular patrons.

"People would come in and smoke cigars and many of the customers would come in asking for them and I would start bringing in five of them with me and passing them out," DeGraff says. "We had this great room, so we said, Let's turn it into a cigar bar. We sell a massive amount of cigars. It is not just a matter of a small cigar bar that carries five or 10 varieties; we have the kind [of selection] that the cigar vendors in Chicago come in and ask, 'How are you carrying this?'"

Those hard-to-come-by brands include Arturo Fuentes, La Gloria Cubanas and Davidoffs. Prices for cigars range from $5 to $30. The bar offers assorted Armagnacs and Scotches as well as other liquors.

DeGraff and Morton own a Drink sibling in Las Vegas, which is 18,000 square feet and also does "tremendous business in cigar sales." This January, the owners plan on relocating their site to a former fish packing factory near the Kennedy Expressway, just one block away. It will be twice as large as the present Chicago site and will include an additional 10,000-square-foot roof deck. Of course, the cigar friendliness won't change.

In an industrial section of Chicago is another cigar haven, called Green Dolphin Street. The brainchild of owner Michael Nahabedian, it is a restaurant, club and cigar scene, all rolled into a 6,000-square-foot space. Although smoking is not allowed in the dining room, there is a separate bar and jazz room where guests can choose a cigar from the well-stocked 5,000-cigar humidor. Although the list keeps changing, one can regularly acquire Punch, Davidoff and José Martí, among other marques. Prices can get a little steep. They run from $6 for a José Martí corona to $25 for a Partagas Signature Series. The atmosphere at Green Dolphin Street is fun and bustling. Jazz bands play on most nights and diners often get up and dance.

Another Chicagoland cigar bar is Jilly's. Jilly's is the namesake of one of Frank Sinatra's best friends and bodyguards; Old Blue Eyes even calls it his "favorite bistro." Jilly's clientele is slightly older than its area competitors'. You can choose from more than 27 single malt Scotches, 15 brands of Champagne and more than 42 types of cigars, which manager Steve Miller acquires through Chicago's Iwan Ries tobacco shop, one of the country's oldest. Prices are as varied as the cigars. You could pay anywhere from $3 for a Wolf Brothers Crooks to $50 for a Davidoff Aniversario No. 1.

Jilly's also features a one-of-a-kind offering: a cigar grab bag. Customers pay $5 and pick a cigar from the bag; they could come away with a cigar worth more than $5 retail. Jilly's employs cigar girls, who, dressed in matching black-and-white outfits, can help you cut and light your cigar. If the bar scene is too subdued for you, you can go next door to Jilly's Retro, a disco where you can dance the night away.

Harry's Velvet Room in downtown Chicago is a bustling lounge and restaurant that caters to cigar smokers. Dion and Jeanne Antic have owned and operated this plush 1,700-square-foot, two-level operation since its opening in November 1994. Smokers from around Chicago gather here to savor cigars from a moderately priced ($4 to $15) list, which often includes Davidoffs and Avos. Dion Antic says people return to Harry's because of its style and ambience, which, with plush furniture and dim lights, is decidedly intimate and inviting. Martinis are a hit here as are single malts and Cognacs.

Just outside of metropolitan Chicago in the town of Aurora lies The Cognac Cigar Bar, part of Walter Payton's Roundhouse Complex, a multilevel 72,000-square-foot entertainment center owned by the National Football League Hall of Famer and former Chicago Bear running back. Opened in May, the club hosts people between their 20s and 50s who come to choose from more than 50 different cigars, including Dunhills and Astrals. The list is moderately priced; cigars range from $7 (H. Upmann Churchill) to $20 (Don Tito pyramid). Guests can handpick a cigar from the room's glass humidor or ask a cocktail waitress for a smoke on the bar's cigar list. Co-owner Mark Alberts met Payton several years ago when he did some consulting for the legend's nightclub operations. Now, Payton visits the bar at least twice a week to ensure that the complex named after him is running smoothly.


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