I love cigar dinners. Always have. Whether it's a black-tie affair with vintage wines and four-star cuisine, a business casual meal at a steakhouse, or a casual get together, let me smoke a cigar at the dinner table and I'm likely to be happy.
But today's anti-smoking regulations make it tough to host a cigar dinner. Few restaurants around the United States and in other parts of the world allow smoking, which nixes many cigar dinners. So throwing one nowadays takes a little creativity.
Recently I attended the Alec Bradley New York cigar dinner at Cigar Inn on Second Avenue in Manhattan, where Alan Rubin gave the crowd a sneak peek at his new Alec Bradley New York cigar.
Was New York ready for a cigar dinner?
"It was sold out in less than two hours," Billy Fakih, who owns the store with his brothers Gus and Bass, told me the other day.
Cigar Inn is a cigar shop. For the evening they transformed the space into a restaurant, bringing in tables and chairs, and waiters brought in a three-course meal of salad, shrimp with pasta, and steak au poivre. Throw in some wine and a cigar-friendly atmosphere and you have a recipe for a fun evening.
"It's not dinner where you eat for a half and hour," says Billy. "This goes on three, four hours. It creates friendship."
I didn't stay the entire night, but I had a great time catching up with Alan, George Sosa and Barry Blonder of Alec Bradley, my fellow Cigar Aficionado co-workers (Marvin Shanken and Gordon Mott even paid a visit) plus the staff of Cigar Inn and the 200 or so cigar lovers who were in attendence.
Cigar Inn is hardly the only New York City cigar shop that turns into an eatery on special occasion. De La Concha does the same trick, changing its Sixth Avenue store into a restaurant for cigar dinners. I've attended ones for Padrón and Rocky Patel cigars, and they're fantastic. Davidoff on Madison Avenue has done plenty in the past, usually with hearty porterhouse steaks from Rothmann's. And the Grand Havana Room and Club Macanudo do them on a regular basis.
Cigar dinners were everywhere during the 1990s cigar boom, of course (some 400 in 1993 alone). They were brought to the forefront in the mid-1980s by Henry Schielein at the Ritz-Carlton in Boston. (You can read about him and the 1990s cigar dinner movement in this story from our archives by Gordon Mott.)
"Food, cigars, drinks and friendship," says Billy. "It's the perfect match."
I have to agree. But what's your take? Have you been to a cigar dinner lately?