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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 4)

At the Grand Havana Room in Beverly Hills, California, you could say that things are running smoothly. Since its grand opening more than a year ago, this private cigar club has been jam-packed with the movers and shakers of Hollywood. The lounge offers 400 lockers, all of which are rented, many by celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mel Gibson. Two hundred people are on waiting lists to get lockers, although owners Stan Shuster and Joey Pantoliano have no plans to build more.

"We like to think of ourselves as the first true high-end cigar place. We have been written up all over the world. We are recognized as the premier cigar place," proclaims Shuster. "I don't know what really separates us other than we are the first one and we are the Walt Disney of the cigar world."

Because of the success of the flagship club, Shuster and Pantoliano plan to open two other Grand Havana Rooms. One is an 8,000-square-foot club in Washington, D.C., and the other is a 16,000-square-foot complex in Manhattan, at the 39th-floor location formerly occupied by the famous Top of the Sixes restaurant. Pantoliano and Shuster are considering going international with the concept.

Another successful private cigar club in California is Havana Studios in Burbank. The brainchild of Nick Nikkah and his son, Edward, Havana Studios is a 4,000-square-foot club that caters particularly to people in the entertainment industry. Members can enjoy drinks at the club's bar and choose cigars from an impressive list that includes Avos, Diamond Crowns and Buteras. Cigars range from $1 to $17 in the adjacent retail cigar store. Havana Studios has 135 private lockers, all but a few of which have been sold; there are no immediate plans to build more. There is a billiards room and a conference room for business meetings. The Nikkahs plan on expanding the Havana Studios concept to other cities, including San Francisco next year and Chicago down the road.

In Pasadena, John Derian and three other owners created The Humidor as a place for those he calls typical cigar smokers. Housed in a historic brick building, this 1,700-square-foot club and store features a lounge with wood-burning fireplaces and old English furniture. Leather chairs and custom-made draperies create an atmosphere similar to an English men's club. Private membership furthers the comparison. There are three tiers of membership: the Humidor Club ($750 annually), the Churchill Society ($1,500) and the Corporate Humidor Club ($2,500). Each member gets his or her own personalized humidified cigar locker, from the club's 120, and can select from more than 50 cigar varieties, including El Rey del Mundos, Diamond Crowns and the Griffin's. Prices range from $2.50 for Henry Clays to $25 for a Partagas 150. Members also enjoy once-a-month Cognac and Port events.

In a region synonymous with handmade cigars, the hottest cigar scene in Florida is at the Cuba Club at the Forge on Miami's South Beach. Proprietor Shareef Malnik created the lounge this January as a celebration of everything Cuban. The 150-seat members-only club caters to serious cigar smokers who pay $4,000 for a 12-year "vault" membership with locker and $1,500 for a lifetime membership, without a locker. Depending on the membership, members are entitled to private humidified lockers, access to the club, access to special events such as parties featuring celebrities, special vacation packages and a 20 percent discount on Pan Am Airbridge, which can take members to sunny destinations such as the Bahamas and Key West. Fuente Fuente Opus X, Davidoff, Licenciados and La Flor Dominicana are just a few of the brands in the Cuba Club's large humidor, with prices ranging from $5 to $25. Cigar girls work the room, helping cut and light cigars. The bartenders can serve you a choice of wines, Ports and spirits. You can sit back and relax in leather and mohair couches and enjoy the "dramatic" atmosphere, according to Malnik.

Orlando has its own cigar club as well, called Art's. Opened five months ago, owner Art Zimand's 3,400-square-foot lounge and retail operation has 84 private and 20 corporate cigar lockers for lease. There are three tiers of membership: the Robusto ($100) allows you access to the club and free capuccino, espresso and soft drinks; the Churchill ($195) gives you the same privileges as the Robusto but with the added bonus of discounts on non-tobacco and alcohol-related merchandise; and the Presidente ($345) provides the aforementioned amenities but with a humidified locker. Members can relax in the Club Room's soft leather chairs, sip coffee or liquor and choose a cigar from the club's 500-square-foot humidor that houses premium brands. For the professional there is also a conference room equipped with computer, copier, fax and scanner.

The nation's capital has seen a boom in cigar lounges. While club owners in other cities are planning on opening branches in Washington, the area already boasts two very popular cigar lounges.

The D.C. suburb of Rockville, Maryland, houses the 500-square-foot Shelly's Back Room in Shelly's Woodroast restaurant. Opened in November 1995, Shelly's Back Room is the creation of entrepreneur and cigar collector Sheldon Jacobs, who designed it for cigar lovers like himself who desire a place to kick back their feet and relax (in cloth-covered divans or wooden chairs at the bar) and sip Scotches or Cognacs.

Two large humidors at Shelly's serve different purposes: one offers single cigars for sale, ranging from $5 to $16; the other is a communal humidor available for rent to people who need to store a box of cigars, but don't want private lockers. Jacobs built 72 private lockers, which sold out in two months. Available for $400 a year, each locker gets a personalized plaque.


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