After six days on safari in the eastern part of South Africa and smelling the, um, “natural” aromas of the wild and all its creatures, arriving at Katzy’s Live in Johannesburg was a pleasure. Located in The Firs, an indoor gallery of high-end shops and restaurants, Katzy’s Live is the city’s premier cigar lounge, the kind of establishment that used to be more easily found in the United States of the 1990s.
Johannesburg sits in the middle of the province of Gauteng (Dutch for “place of gold”) and was founded in 1886 after the precious metal was discovered there. Rosebank is a modern suburb on the north side of Johannesburg, an affluent and growing commercial and residential enclave. In the Rosebank Mall, local stores sell African wares alongside poppier brands such as Krispy Kreme, KFC, Burger King and Nike. Between the mall and the Hyatt Regency hotel is Katzy’s Live, and the resemblance to the American cigar bar, dark woods and all, is not accidental.
Katzy’s Live—the “live” refers to the jazz acts that play on stage Wednesday through Saturday nights—has decorated its walls with Cigar Aficionado covers. The message is clear: Light up, but also drink up. Take a seat in the true lounge, next to the stage, with overstuffed leather couches and chairs and select from an impressive lineup of spirits including American whiskies like Woodford Reserve Double Oaked.
“Katzy’s was born out of an idea that we had after visiting a piano lounge-cigar bar in downtown Chicago back in 2004,” explained Saul Mervis, one of the owners of Katzy’s and The Grillhouse, a reputable steak restaurant next door. “Our idea was to create a comfortable environment for the discerning guest to start their evening with a good whiskey or cocktail, and then to end their evening after dinner at The Grillhouse with a nightcap—typically a good Cognac—and a cigar.”
Katzy’s offers the menu from The Grillhouse, so lunch was an aficionado’s dream. First, a coil of freshly warmed, crusty bread is served. Start with the king prawns, three giant exemplars served with drawn butter and lemon for 169 South African rand (about $14). With the exchange rate at about 12 South African rand to the U.S. dollar, prices are reasonable throughout South Africa. The grilled halloumi cheese in lemon and herbs ($6.60) was perfectly browned, while the nicely grilled grass-fed rib eye ($19.60) was 14 ounces and very shareable for lunch. We had crispy fries with it and added some excellent fried onion strings. Dessert was out of the question, but a double espresso and Cuban cigars made for an excellent finish.
We ordered a Montecristo No. 5 (about $22) and a Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robusto (about $31) for a quick smoke. The cigars in the humidor, most of them Cuban, are not inexpensive, but not out of line for lounge prices. A Partagás Serie E No. 2 was set at about $46 and a Cohiba Behike BHK 56 would run you about $128 here. In between are the Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2; Partagás Serie D No. 4 and No. 5; Partagás Serie P No. 2; Montecristo No. 2, Petit Edmundo, Edmundo and Open Eagle; Cohiba Siglo II, VI and Robusto; a Romeo y Julieta Churchill, Petit Churchill, Short Churchill; and H. Upmann Magnum 46 among others. The well-stocked humidor held the cigars beautifully and they smoked well. If you want to take your own, you’re more than welcome, as Katzy’s does not impose a cutting charge. The whole idea is that you enjoy yourself.
Mervis explained that in 2009, Katzy’s relocated to where it is now as a result of demand and expanded.
“This move was also driven by the fact that smoking laws became much stricter, requiring us to create a separate smoking environment with its own entrance and [restrooms], as well as independent air handling units,” Mervis said.
Current laws allow 25 percent of the space to permit smoking.
“Cigars are a massive part of what we do,” Mervis said. “We pride ourselves in stocking a large selection to suit all tastes, and we’ve quickly developed into one of the largest sellers of cigars countrywide.”
If you get a chance to visit, do yourself a favor and sample some of South Africa’s superb wines made near Cape Town. Pinotage is South Africa’s signature varietal, a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsaut. Even though Pinotage is a cousin of Pinot Noir, the result is similar to Shiraz. Or perhaps maybe a local brandy? Breathe in the wonderful vapors and take a long puff of your cigar. Leave the smell of the safari for next time.
Rosebank, Johannesburg, South Africa
The Firs / Hyatt Shopping Centre
011 880 3945
Open Monday through Wednesday: Noon until midnight
Thursday and Friday: Noon until late
Saturday: 6:30 p.m. until late
Public holidays: Please phone to confirm
There is no cover charge from Monday through Wednesday, but Thursday through Saturday the cover charge is 150 rand per person.