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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 5)

Early next year, Jacobs will open another Shelly's Back Room on 13th and F streets in Washington, two blocks from the White House. It will be larger, with an additional retail tobacco operation. He also plans more Shelly's rooms in New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle.

A popular year-old D.C. nightspot is the Ozio Martini and Cigar Lounge on K Street. The lounge, managed by Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld, is intended as a retreat for politicians and professionals who love cigars. On any given night, the upscale clientele crowds into the 4,500-square-foot bar to savor cigars from Arturo Fuente, Don Tomas and Don Lino, among others. Prices range from $8 for a Montecruz Corona to $25 for a Dominican Cohiba Double Corona. While relaxing in the Art Nouveau-inspired ambience in swayback couches, guests are encouraged to try one of 13 different Martinis or one of 32 single malt Scotches, or select a tapas from the international menu.

Over the border in Virginia, amid the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, is the Oasis Winery, which recently opened its Cigar Smoking Lounge. The 1,600-square-foot cafe-lounge boasts 18 premium cigars, including Davidoffs, La Flor Dominicanas and Gilberto Olivas. Prices range from $3 to a whopping $48 a stick. Tareq Salahi, general manager of Oasis, which has been a family-owned operation since it opened in 1977, cleverly pairs cigars with Oasis wines. Guests can savor their cigars and wines in café chairs with armrests, while dining on a light repast that includes a grilled chicken sauté with oriental noodles, and beef tenderloin served chilled on a bed of greens. Guests can also tour the winery, where they can taste cabernets, barrel-fermented Chardonnays and Gewurztraminers.

Farther south in Atlanta, you'll find The Havana Club, located in the posh area of Buckhead. The creation of Steve Sharman, the 6,100-square-foot lounge is his Southern response to the cigar bars of New York and Los Angeles. Area business professionals congregate at the Havana Club to relax in overstuffed love seats and chairs, sample the Cuban fare and select a Cognac, Port or Scotch. But it's the cigars that are the major draw. Sharman has a retail store connected to the lounge that carries about 60 brands, including Don Pablo and cigars by Villazon and General Cigar Co. They retail for $7 to $25. Cigar girls serve the cigars on a tray. Private memberships are available for $300, $500 or $750, which allow access to the private Churchill Room, cigar discounts and lockers with plaques, depending on the level of membership. The Havana Club regularly hosts cigar and wine tastings. Look for new Havana Clubs opening in Nashville and Charlotte, North Carolina, within the next one to three years.

Texas has a few cigar bars as well. The Velvet Elvis, a popular Houston hangout since August 1994, has a cigar bar that was intended to be a private room but soon turned into something more. The decor in the Smoking Room is classified by general manager Suzy Melson as "American satire/cheesiness." Soft velvet and paisley silk couches and dim lighting give it an intimate atmosphere. Velvet paintings hang on the walls. The bar's cigar list includes Macanudos, Havana Classicos and Don Diegos, all priced moderately. Guests can sample Ports, Champagnes, beers and 30 different single malt Scotches, as well as American cuisine. There is also a large patio area where smoking is allowed. The Velvet Elvis has its own cigar society called the Velvet Fez Cigar and Pleasure Club. The 50 members of the club meet once a month. The owners expanded in March to Dallas, where it is known as the Velvet E. Other cities are being considered.

Dallas is also home to The Harder Bar. Since its July premiere, this informal lounge has become a cigar haven for the city's hippies, yuppies and college students alike. With its red brick exterior and blue interior, it exudes a feeling of relaxation, says owner Craig Vaught. Daisy's Lounge, named after Vaught's young daughter, is a cavernous den with brick walls emblazoned with murals of animals, flowers and the night sky. Cigar lovers can kick back in one of the many comfortable divans or club chairs and savor the flavors of moderately priced cigars such as the Santa Clara No. 6 or La Aurora Corona while sipping tequilas, Bourbons or whiskys. Vaught often bartends so that he can get to know the clientele.

The Rockies also have their cigar havens. Opened in February 1996, The Churchill Bar, located in the atrium lobby of Denver's Brown Palace Hotel, has a decidedly clubby ambience. Bookshelves line the walls and plush red leather chairs provide comfort for 35 guests. The Churchill Room offers premium spirits, wines and beers. Cigar lovers can hand-select from a choice of 70 cigars such as Thomas Hinds and Camorras, ranging from $5.50 to $20. Experienced waiters and waitresses will cut your cigar and light it with cedar strips.

Within The Churchill Bar the hotel has created a private Founder's Club open to cigar smokers who want the best, according to Churchill Bar general manager Fariborz Rouchi. For an initial $500 fee and $250 per year thereafter, members get their own engraved cigar box, 12 premium cigars, a three-cigar pocket case and other amenities. The 75 lockers sold out immediately, with 90 people on a waiting list, although the bar has no immediate plans to create more lockers.

Back east, a vast, 22,000-square-foot "social gallery" complex in Pittsburgh called Heaven houses a cigar bar (as well as Champagne, Martini and billiards bars). Opened in August, the 200-seat cigar lounge, overlooking the marble dance floor and underneath the 45-foot vaulted dome ceiling, is a haven for area professionals who have been eagerly awaiting a place to enjoy cigars. The ever-changing cigar list contains 10 to 13 brands, ranging from Arango Sportsmans for $2 to Astral Perficiones for $18. Co-owner Michael Schumacher believes that the cigar craze will continue, especially with new smokers such as young professionals, many of whom are women. The owners of Heaven are coordinating a weekly Cherub Club for cigar smoking men and women, complete with elected officers.

In Boston, the place is Oskar's. Owners Jeffrey Unger, Newman Flannigan and Ted Gracy intially envisioned a lounge that would simply offer premium cigars, but eventually settled upon a restaurant-cum-lounge, which was expected to open in October. Named after Jeffrey Unger's dog and housed in a former liquor store, Oskar's features a 250-square-foot Great Room where a large, cedar-lined humidor will house close to 50 brands of cigars. You'll be able to find such hard-to-find smokes as Moore and Bode, and La Gloria Cubana, at moderate prices ranging from $6 to $15. Wines and premium spirits are available by the glass. Comfort is key for the owners of Oskar's, as they try to create "exclusivity through value."

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