Where to Smoke

Ashton Cigar Bar, Philadelphia

Oct 7, 2013 | By Alejandro Benes
Ashton Cigar Bar, Philadelphia

Philadelphia is one of my favorite cities in the world. I could not have said that even five years ago, but now Center City, the revitalized and constantly improving downtown area, is a beehive of activity virtually all day. There's good reason for that. People are moving back in. New restaurants with chefs who have grown up locally and some who have returned to open their own places make for a culinary wonderland. The musical and live theater offerings have generally been strong, not to mention the excellent art museums and top-ranked universities.

If the Philadelphia that a cigar lover could enjoy was missing anything, it was cigar bars, and the purported brotherly love. Up until 2007, there might have been a few restaurants and patios where one could enjoy a cigar. The antismoking law took effect that year and basically banned smoking everywhere indoors, and a lot of the outdoors. One exception was always the bar above Holt's Cigar Co., the city's preeminent cigar store owned by Robert Levin, the same man who established the Ashton cigar brand.

Until last year, the bar was called Mahogany on Walnut. That's now gone. In the same space, but expanded, above Holt's (which has its own area for smokers) now is the Ashton Cigar Bar. The bar (as well as the building) is owned by Holt's and is a galactic improvement over what was there before.

"It was a natural," says Levin. "People need a place to smoke. The people before weren't doing the job, so we took it over. We want this to be the signature for our brand."

The space is now sleek, modern and warm at the same time. Floors and walls of different exotic woods complement distressed brick walls. Get to the top of the stairs and you'll see a bar topped with Venetian Carrara marble (the one with the veins). What's behind the bar is even more alluring: 200 whiskies, 300 spirits, 20 specialty craft cocktails, 6 draught beers, 20 bottled beers and more than 50 wines. And so little time!

The best-selling cocktail so far is the Ashton Martini. This is a signature concoction of "Grey Goose Vodka or Bombay Sapphire Gin served ice-cold, seasoned with Balvenie 12-Year Old Doublewood Scotch and garnished with sharp provolone stuffed olives." Yes, now bring me my cheesesteak, please.

The food menu is a work in progress, presently offering only cold dishes like a cheese and salumi plate and mixed nuts. The bar will not get a full kitchen, but there's talk of partnering with local restaurants to get food delivered should a guest want.

In the back is one of the most complete and impressive humidors in any cigar bar in the world with more than 200 different smokes. As you might imagine, there's a lot of Ashton, San Cristobal and La Aroma de Cuba. Further, some of the free world's finest are available, from Alec Bradley to Tatuaje; with La Flor Dominicana, My Father and Padrón in between. Prices are only slightly more than in retail stores. (See the current list and prices at www.ashtoncigarbar.com)

"We act like a private club," Levin says, "but we're open to the public."

You probably won't have the chance to see the roof, but if you did, you'd see the technology that makes the air in the lounge clear. Nearly the entire roof is covered with huge air exchangers.

Levin is a stickler for details. As he shows off the humidor, he notes the need for more light on a couple of shelves so that patrons can see the cigars. Levin explains that building the Ashton Cigar Bar was a labor of love, but labor it was.

"This took a year to build after we got all the permits," Levin says, "and it took a year for the city to sign off."

The décor is simple, but elegant. Black leather with red accents is featured in the lounge's comfortable chairs and sofas, with Ashton cigar ashtrays on every coffee table. The stools at the bar are red leather and comfortable enough to watch the entire game on the two TVs on the wall. Dress is business casual, a little more casual during the day than on the weekends. The bar is most crowded from Thursday through the weekend.

The Ashton Cigar Bar accomplishes more than you could expect in a city that is so unfriendly to smokers. It's right downtown and easy to get to after a night out to dinner or a show. The best thing about the bar, though, is that you're going to feel the love that went into making this a state-of-the art destination for that moment you have available to relax and enjoy that spectacular cigar you might not even have met yet.

Ashton Cigar Bar
1522 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19102
(267) 350-0000
Monday through Friday: 4 p.m. - 2 a.m.
Saturday through Sunday: 12 p.m. - 2 a.m.

"BJ MARCHESE/PHILADELPHIA I visited the Ashton cigar lounge last week with my wife.both my wife and i had a great time.wow!!! what a beautiful place .You must try this place .you wont be sorry..." —January 28, 2014 19:41 PM
"Agree that Ashton fills a need and is certainly nice and clean and inviting. I was more just sticking up for Mahogany than anything else. I have already frequented Ashton several times and had a great time each occasion. They certainly did not overlook any detail. Cheers to that!" —October 9, 2013 19:34 PM
"Hey, Eric Schwenk, I appreciate your comments and your passion, however, while that which I wrote is my opinion, it is not "just my opinion." As you'll note, "galactic improvement" is in quotation marks. I am not the one who said that. That was said by one friend at a gathering of several others who shared the opinion that over the years Mahogany just wore out. I share that view. Mr. Levin's view is that Mahogany was not doing the job and I put that in as an explanation, vague as it might be, for why what was became what is. So, in 1998, Mahogany was something from what I -- Wil Hyton -- observed. In 2008 and other times prior to and after that, it was not that same something that I observed in 1998. That Mahogany filled a need is unquestionable. That Ashton Cigar Bar fills a need is clear. While you and I would perhaps quibble over what's better, what's there now is great. Thanks for reading all the words!!!" —October 9, 2013 18:38 PM
"Congratulations! Looks great. love to have one here !!! in Staten island NY. " —October 9, 2013 18:27 PM
"Looks terrific! All the best of luck!! Looking forward to seeing it in person!" —October 9, 2013 10:17 AM
"Even though I'm a long-time Holt's customer, I had no previous experience with Mahogany, so tonight I'll be comparing notes with my son (who does) when I meet him at Ashton. I'm "one up" on him in that regard, in that I've been to Ashton several times since it opened last month. We tend to be on opposite schedules, so I've been at Ashton shortly after opening till dinner. Each time it has been comfortably empty -- meaning I get to pick the soft seat that I want! Sitting there observing the other customers, it is quite clear that they are enjoying themselves. The wait-staff are very pleasant and even managed to figure out with the bartender what I was talking about when I asked -- "Do you have that other Rum drink from Brazil that isn't a Mojito." The answer was, "No, we don't have the makings for a Caipirinha." (i.e. no cachaça). But the "Mi Amor Mojito" was quite tasty, even if I did keep getting the Mint stalk in my eye! (too lazy to take it out. lol.) (It was unseasonably warm on my last visit so a tribute to Papa seemed appropriate.) Tonight it will be back to my personal passion -- single malt Scotch! " —October 8, 2013 11:20 AM
"Ashton Cigar Bar is definitely needed in the city and its cigar and drink menu is substantial, reasonably priced, and diverse. It has lots of seating and is bright and open. However, I take issue with a couple comments made in your article. One, to say it is a "galactic improvement" over Mahogany is just your opinion and not one shared by everyone, including many regulars who loyally frequented the bar until the owners of Holt's abruptly did not renew the lease. Two, Mr. Levin's comment that [Mahogany] was "not doing the job" is just simply not true. Anyone who went to Mahogany regularly or even once or twice knows that it was packed almost every night, with a waiting list to get a seat on most nights. The feel was totally different and, lest you forget, one that Cigar Aficianado enjoyed as well: http://www.cigaraficionado.com/webfeatures/show/id/1664/p/1 Newer doesn't always mean better. I think Tom Piazza, owner of Mahogany, did a great job with the old bar and I personally loved the old English library feel, as did almost everyone whom I have spoken with recently. Ashton is nice as well and has a better air purification system and a more extensive cigar list with better prices. We should acknowledge both Mahogany and Ashton as being top-notch cigar bars who provided Philly with its only escape from the anti-smoking laws, but there is no need to bash Mahogany just because they were replaced by another name, especially considering people loved the old bar. Just ask Mr. Hylton, who called it the "genuine article" in CA's 1998 review." —October 8, 2013 09:19 AM
"Congratulations! Looks great and inviting. Peter" —October 7, 2013 19:09 PM

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