If, for some reason, you have to be in Las Vegas, be glad that George Hamilton had the foresight to create a getaway. He could have called it "Escape from New York, New York," after the megamonstrous hotel in which Hamilton's cigar lounge and retail store are located. Hamiltons even has an unmarked entrance that allows patrons to avoid entering the hotel, but if you use that door you'll miss the display case in the corridor containing, among other tributes, photos of George Hamilton escorting Elizabeth Taylor as she is popping out of her dress, Hamilton escorting Joan Collins as she is popping out of her dress, and Hamilton with Elvis. This is the first clue that this bar is not taking itself too seriously.
The casino-weary can sit in the main room and allow themselves to be transported by the two faux windows framing the Manhattan skyline as photographed from the Rainbow Room high atop 30 Rock. On any given night you might hear the Darcus Speed quartet banging out an Anita Baker or Gladys Knight tune or James Dickson playing his mellifluous jazz piano.
If you really want a change, ask to be seated in the "Club Car," the private back room decorated to resemble an elegant rail car. The red velour banquettes evoke the elegance of a time long ago and the one-way glass--ostensibly the windows of the train--offer guests a bird's-eye view of the New York-New York Hotel casino floor. A balcony off the main room has a similar view, but it comes with the noise of slot machines.
A cigar bar in a town where you can smoke everywhere might seem redundant, but sommelier John Ross says Hamiltons occupies a niche for those passionate about cigars. "While other places in town do allow cigar smoking and there are several restaurants that are cigar-friendly," Ross notes, "their main business is not about cigars. Here, that is our main business and it is our main focus."
That is seen in the attention to detail, evidenced by a cigar menu with 15 Hamiltons brands and double-guillotine cigar cutters carried by all the servers. The lounge has the usual "specialty" Martinis found in many cigar bars, but the club's list of 10 pays homage to Hollywood with the "Lancaster"--Martell l'Or Cognac, a hint of Marie Brizard Anisette and a twist--named after Burt Lancaster, and with the "Zorro"--Stolichnaya raspberry vodka with a splash of Chambord--for Hamilton's starring role in Zorro, The Gay Blade, a takeoff of the classic. Another play on a Hamilton movie--Love at First Bite--began last Halloween when the bar began serving a wine called "Transylvania," Romania's own Vampire Cabernet Sauvignon by the glass.
The retail store is joined with the lounge by a small humidor room and offers all the kitsch you would need to remember your visit to Hamiltons, including a choice of baseball caps. One bears the name of the place; another simply says "Tan Master" on the front, acknowledging the owner's reputation (immortalized by "Doonesbury") for worshipping the sun. A clue to how this was accomplished can be bought for $18.50: George Hamilton's Constant Color Auto-Bronzer, "for a lasting tan that develops within three to five hours." --Alejandro Benes
Alejandro Benes is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and business executive.
at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino
3790 Las Vegas Boulevard
Phone (702) 740-6400
Cigars from $9 to $21.
Humidor lockers rent from $1,800 to $2,500 a year.