The Cohiba Atmosphere is probably unfamiliar to most American cigar smokers. It's a concept that neatly captures the future of cigars around the world—exclusive venues for people who love to smoke Cuban cigars. The Atmosphere is a series of upscale smoking lounges partly backed by Habanos S.A. where Cuban cigars are at the forefront. There are currently 10 Cohiba Atmospheres around the world, with three more scheduled to open in the near future.
"We call it a safe haven," says Norio Hattori, the person who oversees Cohiba Atmospheres for Pacific Cigar Co. Ltd., the distributor of Cuban cigars in the Asia-Pacific region. "But our goal is to capture the top tier of the smokers' market."
The first Cohiba Atmosphere was launched in Tokyo in 2007. Hong Kong followed later that year, and will celebrate its ninth anniversary in 2016. There are also clubs in Beijing, Cancún, Shanghai, Kuwait, Pudong, Buenos Aires, Bangkok, Antwerp and Prague. New ones will open this year in Hanoi and in Old Havana. Plans are being considered for one in Kowloon, across the harbor from Hong Kong.
The Cohiba Atmosphere sits at the top of the smoking venue pyramid that has been developed by Habanos S.A, the Cuban cigar monopoly, during the last 26 years since the first Casa del Habano opened in Cancún. The Atmospheres carry a full range of Habanos products, including all the major Cuban brands, and are not limited to Cohiba cigars. There also are currently 146 Casas del Habano, a tobacconist-style shop that Habanos now regulates tightly, demanding each one have a walk-in humidor, a bar and space for a small lounge where people can smoke. The Casas del Habano are open to the public. There are also more than 600 Habanos Specialists, cigar shops that do not have the same space requirements as the Casas del Habano but offer a full range of tobacco products.
The Cohiba Atmospheres operated by the Pacific Cigar Company are exclusive private clubs, and most of the other venues in the concept restrict membership or access in one way or another. Hattori says that the Hong Kong club, for instance, has just more than 200 members, but there is a waiting list of nearly 1,000 people. The 1,200-square-foot establishment offers a bar, an outdoor lounge and lockers to its members. Hattori adds that the humidor also stocks selected Nicaraguan, Dominican and Honduran cigars.
"We simply cannot smoke indoors any longer in Hong Kong," says Hattori. "We are able to offer a place for people to come smoke." Although the club cannot promote smoking in any shape or form (not even to use the word cigar in any promotional material), the Cohiba Atmosphere has become a popular venue for top luxury brands such as Aston Martin, Nikon and Rolls Royce to hold special events where smoking takes place. Hattori says they hold one event a month for their members, and the biggest problem is scheduling the brands that want to participate.
Hattori says the new Bangkok club takes the Cohiba Atmosphere concept to the next level, with a free-standing clubhouse, a former home, near the center of the city. The 3,000-square-foot property is the biggest Cohiba Atmosphere to date, and has an Italian restaurant and full bar, with a special section sponsored by Balvenie Scotch. There are 75 lockers.
The Bangkok club is also drawing a younger generation of smokers, Hattori says, who don't want to go to their father's clubs. "We are seeing a lot of competition between fathers and sons over their club," Hattori says.
This article first appeared in the April 5, 2016 issue of Cigar Insider.
[Updated on April 16: Cohiba Atmosphere dates and locations]