Enter Fidel's and you go back to the 1997 days of cigar disco in the United States. You wouldn't have been surprised to walk into a cigar bar with this type of décor in New York during the heady days of the cigar boom, though you probably wouldn't have found a club named Fidel's in the continental 48. Of course, you certainly wouldn't have found a selection of some of Cuba's best-known cigar brands.
The cigar selection, especially for Americans, is the big draw at Fidel's. If you're spending a week or more in what is arguably Australia's culture capital, you might have the opportunity to sample the list in alphabetical order.
Start with Bolivar, either the Belicoso Fino or the robusto-sized Royal Corona. Move to many different Cohibas, then El Rey del Mundo Choix Supreme, Fonseca, H. Upmann -- either the No. 2 or the all-night sucker, the Sir Winston -- Hoyo de Monterrey and so on down to Vegas Robaina. The prices are not kind, though Americans will benefit from a declining Aussie dollar, recently pegged at about U.S.50 cents. That makes the price of a Partagas Serie D No. 4 Au$44, a mere $22 per stick. A Fuente Fuente OpusX Robusto, however, is no bargain at Au$130 ($65).
If the cigar you choose was made well, you're not going to be disappointed, because Fidel's manager, Angelo Giannakopoulos, takes great pride in proper maintenance and presentation and the club itself.
"Fidel's revived the cigar business in Melbourne," Giannakopoulos claims. "We get a lot of businessmen, hotel guests, gamblers and celebrities."
Those hotel guests and gamblers come down to Fidel's from the Crown Hotel and Casino, reputed to be the largest in the world outside the United States. It's a toned-down version of Vegas with no attempt made at re-creating the Great Barrier Reef or the Outback. "Survivor" here means you left the tables with enough to pay the airfare back home or for a couple of lovely Armagnacs, particularly the 1978 La Courtoisie Bas or even the 1983. Check to see if the bar is having a Calvados tasting while you're in town.
If you are with friends, try to get into one of three private rooms at the club. The only requirement is that the group have a minimum size of six that spends at least Au$600 (U.S.$300) during the evening. Even if you stay out in the lounge, you'll be treated well by the staff and will be comfortable in the large leather club chairs.
The crowd tends to be upscale and the dress is something called "smart casual," something short of a suit but more than a pair of khakis. Most folks are dressed as if they just came from the theater or any of a dozen high-end eateries around town. The place gets going after dinner and runs hot until late at night.
If there's one quibble with Fidel's, it's the ashtrays. They are not made for cigars, but if that's the biggest problem with the lounge, you've no reason not to drop in.
Alejandro Benes spends much of his time smoking cigars around the world while alleging to pursue business opportunities.
Lower Shopping Promenade,
Crown Entertainment Complex 8 Whitman Street Southbank
Melbourne 3006 Australia
(011) (61) (3) 9292-6885
Open seven days a week from 5 p.m. until 1 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on weekends. Serves a full bar with some outstanding Australian wines and international spirits, plus a snack menu.