The sprawling size of the roof deck is what probably makes 230 Fifth a more cigar-friendly environment than most rooftop venues. Although cigar smokers yearn for the outdoors as much as the next person, often times the open air is not big enough for cigar smokers, cigarette smokers and nonsmokers alike. Lovers of the premium hand-rolled leaf are usually the ones who fear the short end of the stick. Atop the 20th floor of the New York Market Center building at the 230 Fifth rooftop gardens, however, there is room enough for everyone.
When you step off the elevator you walk not into the open air but rather a massive lounge room, big enough for 600 of your closest friends, with floor-to-ceiling windows and ostentatious décor that you might expect from a creator whose past ventures include the famed Roxy and Palladium nightclubs. Walk up a floating staircase and you will find our airy, cigar-friendly destination.
During a recent trip on a mild Friday evening, my friends and I made the climb. We strolled out on the deck and arranged ourselves around a cluster of wood and metal benches, tables and chairs situated among the groups of young professionals and hip urbanites. We contemplated finding a far-flung corner of the massive 14,000-square-foot place in which to light up -- fearing that we might attract the loathing of our fellow happy hour patrons, but it wasn't necessary. We sat down and the ashtrays were at the ready. There was a brief hesitation with the absence of cigar ashtrays, but inhibitions were soon abated when one of the gorgeous cocktail waitresses, scantily clad in black, seemed almost pleased that we were smoking cigars.
I sat with my back to a row of bushes, which line the perimeter of the entire space. I lit up and took in the 360-degree view of the skyline where towering among other structures were the multihued apex of Empire State Building and the golden cornice of the New York Life Building. The look of the place is casual chic, but the feel is more party happy hour than sophisticated lounge. Interspersed among the numerous seating options and lush vegetation, were palm trees and statues of exotic animals. A zebra stoically kept our group company.
Booze is not on the superpremium side, but you can get the basics in single-malt Scotch, Bourbon and rum. I ordered a Maker's Mark and soda to go with my cigar. Bottle service is also available, including reasonably-priced wines (as opposed to cocktails that go for around $10 and above). Since there isn't a cigar menu, we brought our own smokes. No one blinked an eye at our wafting smoke trails either, not even when the space started to get crowded later in the evening. Because the patio is high up and open, a nice breeze carries the smoke out into the twilight sky. As night crept in, the lights came on and the crowd started to thicken.
The light fare available is decent as well. It's a place for small food -- as most lounges are -- that can be characterized as modish pub grub. The sliders are topped with a tangy chili sauce and the pot stickers, called steamed wontons, are stuffed with shrimp and pork and come bathed in a chili vinaigrette. You can also get chicken wings that trade buffalo breading for a Malaysian oyster barbecue sauce. You get the idea. There are more ample dishes available, such as, a poached sea bass in coconut broth or a short rib, which is slow cooked with coconut milk and Malaysian herbs, but we decided to stay light and leave room for more cocktails.
Try to get in early and during the week. Rumor has it that a massive line forms on weekend nights in the nondescript lobby downstairs. We did not experience this firsthand, but the long stretch of red ropes leading to elevators could have done crowd control at Space Mountain -- a telltale sign that the rumors could be true. Also, be sure to pay attention to the numbered addresses on the buildings when approaching. Other than the 230 Fifth Avenue sign, nothing significant distinguishes the entrance from those of the myriad of other office buildings in the area that do not sport roof decks. But that speakeasy sort of vibe is something to which we cigar smokers are getting more and more accustomed, even if it's in the wide open.
New York Market Center building
230 Fifth Avenue, 20th Floor, PH
New York, NY 10001