When a business does many little things well, they often add up to a big success. That philosophy is practiced to a T at Jamie’s Cigar Bar & Restaurant in Clifton, New Jersey.
The music, remaining sweetly in the background, is not a cacophonous assault on your ears. Thus, conversation is possible. The rooms are dimly lit, creating a kind of just-us intimacy for couples and groups. A crystal ashtray containing a cigar cutter and matches sits on your table, welcoming you. The wait staff is friendly and genuine, without being obsequious; eager to serve without pestering. The bartender, Louie Fattell, didn’t learn mixology yesterday, so he doesn’t go fetching for one of those how-to books when you order a Brandy Alexander.
While you wait for dinner to be served, meander over to the barroom, where your eyes naturally drift upward to the ornate coffered ceiling. Adorning a wall ahead of you is a picture frame with mounted cigars, including Romeo y Julieta and Montecristo, Ashton and Dunhill. The effect is to create a sort of cigar art, with premium smokes poking proudly through glass.
“Bourbons and Scotches are our biggest draws,” Fattell says, gesturing behind him toward a row of refined Scotches. He hands me a wine menu that goes on for pages.
Asked about all the venue’s decorative touches, manager Donna Veneziano says “I treat it almost like it’s my house.” While creative control belongs to this 35-year manager and habitue of restaurants near and far, she’s quick to give credit. “Jim Finkle owns Jamie’s. He is a dear friend of mine, so when he asks me to take it over, I just treat it like it’s mine.” Finkle opened his place in 2004, two years prior to the restaurant smoking ban in New Jersey. The coffered ceiling and fieldstone accents owe to his knowing eye. Donna’s friendly takeover included offering the most popular brands for customers.
The cigar menu offers smokes catering to a range of tastes from mild to full bodied. Chief among them are the Padrón Serie 1926 No. 9 and Davidoff Nicaragua Box Pressed Toro, H. Upmann 1844 Reserve, Avo XO and Rocky Patel Decade Robusto. Veneziano then rattles off the house favorites, which include Padrón 3000, Arturo Fuente Hemingway, Ashton Virgin Sun Grown, Montecristo Classic and Padrón 1964 Anniversary Series.
“You are allowed to bring your own cigars, and we don’t charge a cutting fee,” adds Veneziano.
Off the main dining room is a deck, where an evening breeze rustles the greenery as people dine.
After your curiosity is satisfied and your peripatetic tour has ended, food is artfully presented. My wife had the chicken parmesan sandwich, and I had the thin-sliced steak sandwich. Both sandwiches arrived with homemade potato chips and the servings appear large enough to satisfy you and the hungriest person on the planet combined. A waiter arrives, changing the channel from a Women’s World Cup soccer match to a Yankee game.
Other offerings include veal saltimbocca and chicken oreganato. One regular in earshot could be heard saying, “The filet mignon is the best I’ve had.” Veneziano sees him all the time. “There are so many regulars here. They feel like it’s their own little club. They’ve all met each other here. They all work together now."
“It’s like the corner gathering place,” she said. “And they all have that cigar in common. No matter if you came by yourself and are just sitting at the bar, and you end up talking to the guy next to you that was smoking a cigar—they just have that in common.”
Cigars bond us. Baseball has often been touted for its “bleacher democracy” and the same is true of cigars. In no time, strangers sitting in adjacent chairs trade impressions of their favorite brands, before moving the discussion along to a solution of the world’s problems.
Alas, Jamie’s Cigar Bar & Restaurant is holistic. Catering to every desire of the epicure, it is at once dignified and clubby.
Jamie’s Cigar Bar & Restaurant
915 Bloomfield Avenue
Clifton, NJ 07012
Open Monday through Friday: 11:30 a.m. to midnight
Saturdays: 4 p.m. to midnight
Sundays: Open only during football season