More than a year after the remodeling and opening of the third floor, patrons of Ruth's Chris Steak House in Baltimore can still go up the small elevator and be greeted by a blackboard listing the day's high and low temperatures. In Havana. When the door opens, the first view is of Erte-designed Cognac bottles in what was originally conceived as a dessert room. Instead, it's a cigar lounge called, no surprise, the Havana Club. Dessert, light dinner fare and appetizers such as Beluga caviar are available, but guests can also dance, shoot pool, watch TV, have a drink, and of course, smoke a cigar. "We wanted it to be like the most comfortable part of your house," says general manager Scott St. Blanc.
It's a nightspot-cum-living room that has helped Baltimore's near-the-waterfront club scene move up to a more elegant perch. On weekend nights the front door has up to a two-hour line of people waiting to get in to dance to the sounds of Latin and swing under a revolving mirror ball. Other nights it's easier to appreciate that this is a serious cigar parlor.
"When we opened," says owner Steve de Castro, "the lockers were immediately sold out. I had to have more built to meet the demand. It's just going great." (De Castro opened his second Ruth's Chris in Raleigh, North Carolina, last November with a second, larger Havana Club slated to open next to it later this summer.)
There are now 210 lockers flanking the leather chairs and cloth-covered sofas, including two J.C. Pendergast leather chairs at the end of the bar that qualify as premium seating--because you can sink deep into them and because the entire room is visible from that location. With a little imagination, you could be in Old Havana or the Latin Quarter of New Orleans for an evening.
The food is pretty much what you'll find at more than 60 other Ruth's Chris restaurants. Dinner salads, such as the asparagus and hearts of palm combination, will easily satisfy a party of four. Follow that with a 12-ounce hunk of top-grade yellowfin tuna--Cajun-spiced and blackened--split between two and there will be plenty of room for ample spoonfuls of garlic mashed potatoes. Of course, there are dry-aged steaks big enough to make Oprah Winfrey testify. Sharing one will make it substantially easier to repair upstairs for some berries or bread pudding or a dessert-like chocolate Martini.
The best thing to do at the Havana Club? After an Orioles win at Camden Yards, select your favorite cigar from the amply stocked humidor--the selection includes Davidoffs, Macanudos, Arturo Fuentes and Montecristos--and rejoice in the fact that baseball season is back and there's a great place to celebrate after the game.
Alejandro Benes is a Washington, D.C.-based writer and business executive.
The Havana Club at Ruth's Chris Steak House
600 East Water Street
Phone (410) 468-0022
Dinner about $50 with wine and dessert
Cigars from $6.50 to $25. Humidor lockers rent for $400 a year.