Perhaps no name better fits an establishment than Civil Cigar Lounge. Civility, a commodity in seemingly short supply on most days in the nation’s capital, is in abundance at this upper-northwest cigar store, bar and restaurant.
First, as should be the case, this is a cigar store. Premium cigars—and by that, I mean the best of the best—are displayed in the retail section in cedar trays that remind one of the those used by cigar rollers, except that these are inside glass cases. The troughs are lined with works of smokeable art from Fuente, Ashton, La Flor Dominicana, Tatuaje and Padrón, among others. And sure, your credit card is beginning to sweat a little bit because you want every one of these cigars and you know it. Just buy one, maybe an Illusione Epernay, and make your way to door number two, walking past the leather-tufted cigar lockers.
The bar and lounge at Civil are eye-popping, as is the entire place, including the restrooms, the walls of which are black-and-white images of smoke moving through the air. Look closely at the wallpaper in the private rooms and you’ll notice the repetition of skulls. No detail is overlooked, including the glass wall behind the bar that gleams a soft red behind light wood slats holding the bottles of liquor.
Civil benefits from the use of “P.E.D.’s,” in this case, Puff Enhancing Décor, Design and Determination.
Civil is the realization of a dream many years in the making for John Anderson and Matt Krimm, the owners of Washington D.C.’s oldest cigar store, W. Curtis Draper. The determination was evident in just getting the lounge open in a DC neighborhood famous for having a neighborhood council that is less NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) than NOPE (Not On Planet Earth) in its attitude towards things like business development and smoking.
Civil is an expansion of the experience in smoking a cigar at Draper’s in D.C., across the street from the Treasury building. If you’ve done that, you won’t be surprised about the approach at Civil.
“It’s all about customer service,” explains Anderson. “We put in a system that changes 100 percent of the air every two minutes so that you’re not sitting in much smoke at all. Matt put a wine list together that is just amazing.” And obviously, they have the free world’s best cigars, ranging in price from about $5 to $30, with no markup for the privilege of smoking in the lounge.
Tall leather stools line the bar-top. Instead of the usual overstuffed leather chairs that you see in many tobacco shops that these days are necessarily doubling as lounges in many parts of the nation, Civil’s seating is comprised mainly of high-back burgundy leather chairs facing one another so that you’ll be able to commune with your friends. Order a Smoked Manhattan (Knob Creek Bourbon, Luxardo cherries instead of the traditional—and awful—maraschino, and a spray of Balcones smoked corn whiskey) and enjoy that Illusione.
The spirits list at Civil is too long to list, but has a single-malt selection from A (Aberlour) to Y (Yamakazi), a rum selection from A (Angostura) to Z (Zaya) and a bourbon list that is truly reverent.
Finally, the food. This is perhaps the most ambitious part of Civil’s offerings. Civil’s unique menu is prepared by Range, the latest creation of Chef Bryan Voltaggio, a massive restaurant that is essentially next door to Civil.
On the night I visited with friends, we sat at a table that has a wooden top like that of a humidor. We started with a selection of hams, mostly local offerings, and a cheese plate, both superb with a crunchy French bread and various mustards. Next came a yellowfin tuna tartare, served with a little soy, avocado and rice crackers. Nice, but be careful with this if you’re already smoking. You might find it a little mild.
Three pizzas then came out, a bit undercooked for my taste, though two were nicely topped. One was a sausage and rapini pie, the other a margherita. The third pizza, with sliced meatball or meatloaf and slices of potato, apparently has not made the final menu. Good call. The tagliatelle (what they call fettuccine in northern Italy) with a lamb ragu was easily the best dish of the night, but maybe not something you want to tackle on a cigar-filled night.
The current menu’s large plates, I think, better represent the kind of food we big eaters like: a burger, roasted chicken and steak.
“The menu will evolve, explained co-owner Anderson. “Bryan’s menu is still a work in progress at the restaurant and we are really happy to be able to have Range be our kitchen.”
In truth, Civil is itself an evolution. Anderson, for example, explained that he hopes soon the cigars on the menu will be offered from a sort of dessert cart where the individual smokes will be physically present rather than just names on a menu so that a guest can see and touch just what he or she is choosing.
What will not change at Civil is the fact that this is a place for cigar lovers. Civil is an elegant and thoughtful homage to the leaf and to all of us who respect the craft and enjoy cigars. The owners of Civil have long respected their customers and now they’ve been able to build a Washington monument to them.
Civil Cigar Lounge
5335 Wisconsin Avenue, NW
Washington D.C. 20015
Civil Retail Hours
Sunday 12 p.m.-6 p.m
Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Civil Lounge Hours
Sunday-Thursday 4 p.m.-2 a.m.
Friday & Saturday 4 p.m.-3 a.m.
The lounge has WiFi
Lockers: 125 of them for $1,000 a year