Though cigar smoking ought to be synonymous with Las Vegas, the city has become increasingly unfriendly to us lovers of Montes, Fuentes and Cohibas. Increasing numbers of blackjack tables seem to be deemed nonsmoking, while others, where you get attitude before the end of your cigar is clipped, might as well be. And forget about lighting up at a poker table or anywhere in the room. All of that adds up to make the September 13 opening of the Hard Rock's Poker Lounge (a combination card room and bar) a step in the right direction.
While it's verboten to smoke at the tables there, adjacent to the poker room is the bar, which provides a welcome addition to the Vegas cigar scene. Picking up on the macho decor of the poker room, it's all wood-toned walls and tobacco-brown leather.
Though the drink selection is simply OK (the top shelf offers Macallan 12 year, but not the 18), people-watching here is second to none: parades of attractive women, wearing only-in-Vegas outfits that sometimes seem incomplete, continually pass by.
The open-walled bar is a cozy room, outfitted with comfortable club chairs that provide perfect perches from which to enjoy a cigar after dinner, or while waiting for a seat at the Texas Hold'em table. Flat-screen TVs play sporting events around the clock and a sports-betting kiosk keeps you in action all night long.
The poker room itself, which is the raison d'etre for the Lounge, elevates the breed. After all, even the nicest poker rooms in Vegas tend to feel a bit utilitarian.
Not so at the Hard Rock, where the clubby design is well conceived (albeit with iconic photos of Billy Bob Thornton, Willie Nelson and David Bowie hanging on the shiny wood-paneled walls) and the room is laid out to provide plenty of space between tables. This latter feature adds a relaxed sense of airiness, and the whole place is illuminated via ceiling-high light fixtures in the shape of drums.
That the low-stakes no-limit games in this new room seem to attract lots of tourists, who are less than great players, doesn't hurt either.