One step into the earth-tone interior of Mahogany on Walnut and you realize that this is not your average 1990s cigar bar. You'll find no throbbing Gen-X dance music, no pierced cocktail waitress, no 20-somethings packed together like sardines. This is the genuine article, a throwback to the time when smoking lounges provided enough room to sit back and cross your legs, enough taste to stock several of your favorite cigars, and just enough trickling jazz to protect the privacy of your conversation.
This, then, is your father's cigar bar, and so much the better for it.
"I wanted to create a classic gentlemen's club," explains owner Tom Piazza, who opened the second-floor lounge last October. "The new cigar bars are a complete contradiction; cigars are about taking some time to relax, not about getting hyped up."
Ironically, when that notion first struck Piazza, he was tending bar at a fashionable Manhattan nightclub. But it was his immersion in the pomp of urbana that inspired his vision of a warmer, more sophisticated smoking environment. From behind the bar in New York, Piazza shared his idea with one of his regular patrons, interior designer Michelle Wenitsky.
"We both were really interested in a unique, old-world design," recalls Wenitsky, whom Piazza hired to execute the design after he'd chosen the site in Center City, Philadelphia. True to Piazza's vision, Wenitsky infused the space with a comfortable, distinguished feel. Her peach-colored wallpaper, 11-foot windows and mahogany Venetian blinds give the front room a London country club cool, while the deep wainscotting and striped duo-tone olive wallpaper give the back room a distinct Gone With The Wind aura. The front dining room is graced with the requisite portrait of Winston Churchill, and in the rear lounge, Wenitsky's wall of 112 personal mahogany humidors, adorned with brass nameplates, transforms the pragmatic into the exquisite.
Even the lounge's second-floor location enhances Piazza's vision. A flight of stairs leads from the sidewalk of Philly's bustling "restaurant row" to the more subdued, genteel lounge. "It's not usually a great thing to be up a flight of stairs," Piazza admits. "But in our case it helps, because we wanted to give it more of an exclusive feel."
Perhaps the best testimony to Mahogany's integrity, though, is the cigar menu. At least five varieties of Ashton, priced from a $10 Magnum to a $14 Cabinet Selection No. 7 are always available (the renowned brand is owned and distributed by Holt's Cigar Holdings Inc., whose retail store is one floor below Mahogany). In addition, aficionado Piazza stocks a $21 Fuente Fuente OpusX Double Corona, a $13 Padron Anniversario Exclusivo and a $9 Sosa Pyramid. Bahias, Cohibas (Dominican), Davidoffs and Macanudos also grace the list.
The drink menu is no slouch, either, with a selection of 40 single malts and more than a dozen microbrews, including a chocolate Fuller's E.S.B. In addition, Mahogany's appetizer menu offers Beluga caviar, pate and a small filet of beef.
Mahogany is not without its flaws. The television above the bar detracts from the atmosphere, especially when tuned to ESPN, and the floral-patterned bar stools feel more appropriate for a salon waiting room than a distinguished gentlemen's club. The requisite Indian statuette, while impeccably carved, is disjointedly modernistic.
Yet some of the bar's quirks enhance its personality. Piazza's collection of Cigar Aficionado magazines is dispersed among the tables of the front room, so that the wait staff refers to each table by the cover model of its issue, as in, "Hey, Joey, can you fix me a Margarita for Demi Moore? Oh, and I need a couple Montesino Robustos for Danny DeVito's table." Similarly, although the air cleaning system is so efficient that it's hard to keep a match lit, the air remains clean and cool, being recycled an incredible 15 times per hour.
"People want a place to relax and escape," shrugs Piazza, who says he draws 35 percent of his business from regulars. "And this place isn't even stressful to me."
Mahogany on Walnut
1524 Walnut St.
Center City, Philadelphia
Open Monday-Friday noon-2 a.m.(lunch and dinner)
Open Saturday 5 p.m.-2 a.m. (dinner only)