ESPN has just cut away from the Yankees-Red Sox game to show Barry Bonds at bat for the second time that night against San Diego pitcher Jake Peavy. The first time up, Peavy hit Bonds in the right shoulder. This time, the pitch is on the outer half of the plate and Bonds swings. Hard. The ball is sailing to left-center and then the fans are scrambling. No kayakers in McCovey Cove, but it's No. 700 and the bleacher bums in San Francisco are fighting for the ball. At the Grand Havana Room in Beverly Hills, a buzz of appreciation circulates, but only when ESPN cuts back to the Bronx do the members of this exclusive private cigar club begin to pay a lot of attention.
It's a special night at the Grand Havana Room. Every night is special if you're a member or guest. This is what cigar smoking always should have been, and now must be in greater Los Angeles. If you're not smoking here, you're likely hard-pressed to be smoking anywhere indoors in a public space in L.A. Tonight, we are guests of the club's owners. We have settled into plush velour couches and been asked what we'd like to drink. A Zacapa dark rum for me to go with a remarkably strong LG (Litto Gomez) Diez cigar. My friend is having a Diet Coke and no smoke. Menus are dropped off and the stars are in place for a great evening.
Grand Havana is nearly 10 years old. Founded in April 1995, the Beverly Hills club (there is also one in New York City) has always been an oasis for the rich, the famous, the lover of cigars in a city and state where smoking has been public enemy number one for some time. Strongly supported by the industry, the club -- there is a long waiting list for membership now, which is advertised as "by invitation only" on the company web site -- has always offered the best available cigars on the market. There is a small cigar store downstairs. The room offers a virtually a full line of Tatuaje cigars, the line started by Pete Johnson, Grand Havana's cigar buyer. Members have their humidors and many carry the name of Hollywood's, and now Sacramento's, A-list. "Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger," the small gold plaque on the blond wood door inside the club's 350-locker humidor room says of the longtime member. Kristy Swanson, the star of the original movie Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, has a locker. So does Meat Loaf, Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Hulk Hogan, Oscar de la Hoya, Joe Pesci, Andy Garcia and many other recognizable figures from the worlds of entertainment, sports, politics and money.
The door to the back room is opening and closing as card players set up for the evening's game. They used to be marathons (not always friendly ones) and are now featured in a movie, Blowing Smoke, made by James Orr, whose name is on one of the lockers. We pay little mind to that as we are greeted by Sammy, the club's sushi chef. I don't remember sushi being on the menu during my previous visits, but we're persuaded by Sammy to let him make us a plate. In a word, it's amazing.
Sammy tells us that he's had to create alternatives to traditional sushi here because "the movie stars are on special diets." So, on request, he uses no rice and wraps his artwork in soy paper. Our favorite was a red snapper with avocado drizzled with sweet soy sauce. Sushi and cigars. Who knew?
The rest of the menu is less unusual for a cigar club. Shrimp cocktails, vegetable egg rolls, chicken skewers, chicken dumplings with Asian mignonette and racks of baby lamb round out the snack menu. Our favorite of these were the shrimp and the dumplings.
Grand Havana shares a kitchen with the restaurant occupying the ground floor of the building at North Cañon and Dayton Way. By my very unscientific count, Luce pronounced (loo-cheh) is the fourth restaurant in that space. The street is a little off the beaten path and the corner is just up the block from Mastro's Steak House and Spago. Tough row to hoe. The business the restaurant gets from the club has to help and you won't be disappointed with the quality. If you get in.
Tonight, we're having a very relaxing time. The Red Sox, down 2-1, are up in the ninth facing Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. The Sox fan in front of us is silent as his friend, a Yankees fan, is already celebrating. The rest of the room seems resigned to the "cursed" outcome. But this is no longer automatic. The Red Sox get men on first and second and pinch-run for both. Now Orlando Cabrera, the former Expos shortstop who took Nomar Garciaparra's place, is at the plate. He singles and the score is tied. Up comes Boston center fielder Johnny Damon. Someone comments that Damon, with his very long hair and beard, is likely to take this year's honors for most closely resembling Charles Manson. But Damon can hit: a short single to right field and the Sox take a 3-2 lead. The Bombers do nothing in the bottom of the ninth. Blown save, blown game. The crowd at Grand Havana has awakened and cheers. The Yankees fan in front of us can only say, "It's not supposed to happen this way." Maybe. Maybe not. But the room is using the occasion to light up victory cigars, just happy that Grand Havana is still here so they can light 'em up at all.
Grand Havana Room Beverly Hills
301 N. Canon Dr.
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
Phone: (310) 446-4925
Corporate membership: $10,000 initiation fee, plus monthly humidor rental of $750.
Individual membership: $3,000 initiation fee, plus monthly humidor rental of $200.