In the heart of American tobacco country, Raleigh once boasted an impressive number of cigar lounges, but changing legal requirements have made it tough for many to survive. Thanks to a creative approach, a loyal and supportive local clientele, visiting business travelers, and a great location, Havana Deluxe is the exception, and it keeps going strong after more than 20 years.
Not far from the Tar Heel State’s capitol, Havana Deluxe has been a fixture on the main drag in the hip restaurant and nightlife neighborhood of Glenwood since before it was hip. As the thriving food and beverage scene sprung up around it, the quiet, escapist enclave became an after-work magnet for employees of the hospitably industry. In turn, when visitors eating out all across the city ask their server where to go for a smoke or after-dinner drink, the recommendation is invariably Havana Deluxe.
“It’s our best advertising,” says owner Michael Reid.
The entrance is in a small parking lot set just far enough off Glenwood Avenue to give it a back-alley speakeasy look, especially since the door is a bit industrial and a step down, like entering a warehouse basement. A sign reminds visitors that the establishment is only for members and their guests, a regulatory formality.
“We get a lot of visitors who come from New York, Los Angeles or Chicago—places with fancy private clubs—and they see the sign and ask if we sell day passes,” says Reid. “When I tell them that the annual membership here is five bucks, they say ‘Oh great. We’ll take six of those.’ ”
As soon as you enter you walk past three empty barrels that Reid handpicked at the Kentucky distilleries Old Forester, Elijah Craig and Woodford Reserve. The bar has purchased hundreds of bottles of private-label, single-cask whiskies from these whiskey brands, all available inside. Additionally, Havana Deluxe offers an extensive slate of domestic whiskies, including a full range of boutique selections from Utah’s High West and Vermont’s WhistlePig, as well as all the famous Bourbon houses and local specialties like Raleigh’s own Lone Rider Bourbon.
“We do our best to try to keep a bottle of every whisky we can get locally, and a lot of our guests really enjoy them with cigars,” says Reid. There are more than 150 choices, including a good selection of single-malt Scotches as well as fine rums and a dozen craft beers on tap.
The bar, with about 10 stools and several high-top tables, each topped with a simple ashtray and large box of Diamond wood matches, runs down one side, with a classic barback of bottle-packed shelves. The rest of the large space is simply furnished with worn, but comfy, couches and a couple of frequently used dartboards. A newly installed set of Purifan air cleaners whir overhead like ceiling fans, in addition to a larger commercial filtration system, its ductwork visible against the high industrial ceilings.
Havana Deluxe is dark, even at midday, with a classic neighborhood pub-meets-basement recreation room vibe. With just two TVs in a relatively large space, you can catch a game, but it’s a “bar-bar” and not a sports bar, with no food and no menus, save for the lengthy lists of spirits and cigars.
There are usually about 30 cigars options, ranging from $5 to $35, in the refrigerator-sized double door glass humidor next to the bar.
Some of the smokes you’ll find include the Rocky Patel The Edge Lite Toro ($11), La Gloria Cubana Serie R No. 6 at $15, Punch Rothschild Double Maduro ($6) and Oliva Serie V Special V Figurado ($12). Higher priced options such as Don Carlos God of Fire ($30) and Edición de Aniversario ($35) round out the cigar options, while the all-around best seller is the Fuente Short Story ($10).
“We also sell a lot of the Casa Blanco Robusto. It’s mild, sweet and not a lot of money. When we get them, the Fuente Fuente OpusX Lost City go really fast because a group of businessmen will come in and order seven or eight at a time,” says Reid. Most major brands are represented, including Partagas, Romeo y Julieta, Ashton and Macanudo.
437 Glenwood Avenue
Raleigh, NC 27603
Open Monday through Friday: 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Saturday and Sunday: 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.