New meaning has been given to the phrase, "Being on top of the world." Today, in New York City, that means being a member of the Grand Havana Room, the East Coast counterpart of the now-famous cigar-smoking hideaway in Beverly Hills. The club, which includes an 800-locker humidor room, a restaurant, a bar and a screening room, opened in late April on the former premises of the venerable New York institution, Top of the Sixes.
You can't begin to describe the club without starting with the view. The club occupies 17,000 square feet on the 39th floor of a building at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 52nd Street, at the epicenter of midtown Manhattan. Seen through floor-to-ceiling windows, the views cover nearly all points of the compass. To the south, you can see the spires of St. Patrick's Cathedral and the imposing Rockfeller Center. To the east, the stunning tower of architect Philip Johnson's AT&T Building (now owned by Sony) and the sharply angled roof of Citicorp Center are visible. And, to the north, you get glimpses of Central Park and the Trump Tower. Anyone would be hard-pressed to choose between the daytime view that emcompasses the soaring facades of steel, concrete and glass, or the nighttime vista of towering walls of light.
But the real attractions of the club are inside. It begins with the mahagony paneling, blue velvet curtains and thick leather armchairs in a variety of understated earth tones. There is an air of quiet elegance that is masculine but extremely modern and welcoming. Throughout the club, there are also touches of wood--arched doorways and window valences--that are original to the Top of the Sixes, and add a feeling of Old World stateliness.
The humidor room is one of the largest in the Western Hemisphere. In it, you can find lockers with names such as Tom Selleck, Mel Gibson and Arnold Schwarzenegger as well as New York names such as the Daily News. Unlike the Beverly Hills club, which is dominated by Hollywood, the New York club has a broader range of business types, from advertising, publishing, fashion and finance as well as entertainment. The room, enclosed in glass with an interior constructed entirely of Spanish cedar, dominates the club. It is situated just inside the entrance and runs down one side of the hallway leading to the bar, lounge and dining room.
The small retail outlet at the entrance is reserved for members or guests. It has a good, although small, selection of top brand-name cigars, including Arturo Fuente, Macanudo, Partagas, Ashton, Fonseca and Savinelli, as well as Dominican versions of Cohiba and Montecristo. Extensive choices of humidors and accessories are displayed in handsome cases.
Grand Havana New York also includes an excellent dining room. The kitchen is manned by John Gray, the former chef at the Ritz-Carlton Cançun. Gray has transported his mastery of Mexican spices and Latin cuisine to New York, but he hasn't forgotten the standards. A recent lunch included a crispy salmon on a bed of seasoned tomatoes and a marinated skirt steak on broccoli rabe with some chimichurri sauce. Dinner menus include appetizer classics such as duck proscuitto, escargot and grilled Portobellos, but also offer a white bean and lentil soup with habanero-garlic oil. Main courses run a gamut from pan-roasted turbot to chipotle chile duck to swordfish marinated in achiote, a spice common in Mexico's Yucatan region.
The wine list is small, but well chosen. There is a strong selection of California whites and reds, with some affordable offerings of Clos du Bois Briarcrest Cabernet, Duckhorn Cabernet, Acacia Reserve Carneros Pinot and prestige labels of Joseph Phelps Insignia and Niebaum Coppola's Rubicon. Chardonnays include Ferrari Carano, Acacia, Matanzas Creek and Chateau St. Jean.
The strategy for the New York location is a bit different than the one for Beverly Hills, which is a much smaller space. The owners, Harry and Stan Shuster and their partners, hope to establish the club as an East Coast outpost for the entertainment industry. The screening room will be set up in the near future with full 35mm movie capability. And there are already accomodations for members to stage events in the room. With a Grand Havana operating in Washington, D.C., as well, the basic premise of the club remains intact--to provide a private place for cigar smokers to get away from the rush and clamor of the day, and know they will not be hassled.
According to George Jilio, the general manger of all Grand Havana Rooms, the New York venue already has more than 300 members, and the roster is filling up quickly. The individual membership fee is a one-time $3,000 and $200 a month; corporate memberships are $7,500 and $500 a month, and there is a shared membership with a $1,500 per person payment and $150 a month.
As in Beverly Hills, it's not enough to just know where the Grand Havana Room is located. The phone number is unlisted, and the hostess asks for your membership affiliation. Find a friend who is a member, and wrangle an invitation. It is places like Grand Havana Room, along with its soul mates such as Club Macanudo and the Bar and Books operations in New York, that will keep the cigar boom alive and well.
Grand Havana Room
666 Fifth Avenue