During Prohibition's heyday, people ventured to speakeasies to consume alcohol, albeit illegally, because society didn't approve of public imbibing. Today, although it isn't illegal to smoke, many cigar lovers are relegated to their homes or special events to enjoy their cigars. But not anymore.
Due to the increased popularity of cigars and stringent anti-smoking regulations in cities around the country, many establishments have answered cigar smokers' prayers with the latest offshoot of the cigar craze: cigar smoking lounges.
In the past, cigar lovers could only indulge at smoker events or late at night in restaurants. Today there are places designed, developed and marketed specifically with the cigar smoker in mind, places with names such as the Grand Havana Room, Fumatore, The Churchill Bar, The Havana Tea Room and Cigar House, The Humidor, etc. Each cigar bar wants to be the preeminent place to smoke, providing cigars acquired mostly through retail tobacconists.tobacconists. Each bar stresses the importance of premium liquors such as single malt Scotches and Cognacs. Each lounge wants upscale and professional customers. And each has a unique personality.
The cigar lounge in the United States has become a phenomenon, with dozens opening in the past year and many more in the works. These lounges are appealing to a diverse and growing clientele, with longtime aficionados rubbing elbows with younger, more recent cigar converts. What follows is a representative listing of these new cigar havens.
With its restrictive smoking laws and large cigar following, New York City has proven fertile territory for these establishments, making it the hottest cigar lounge scene in the United States. Chicago is a natural second choice as new venues are opening almost monthly. From Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., Denver to Miami, cigar lounges are increasingly becoming the social outlet of choice for cigar lovers across the country.
In New York City, for example, six cigar bars opened this summer alone. Compare that to 1995, when only two cigar bars dotted the entire metropolitan landscape. These new lounges are as diverse as the neighborhoods in which they are located. The posh Upper East Side is home to the city's preeminent cigar lounge: Club Macanudo. Club Mac, as it is commonly known, is owned and operated by the General Cigar Co., makers of Macanudo and Partagas. Since its grand opening in May (see our review of Club Macanudo on page 499), crowds have been vying for entrance into this large, plush, wood-paneled mecca, which can seat 125 people comfortably in leather couches and chairs. Over the course of an average evening, about 500 people will pay a visit. Though Club Mac seeks an upscale clientele (jackets are required in the evening), the emphasis remains elegantly informal, catering to the cigar lover.
"Every inch of space in here is dedicated to cigar smoking," says Philip Darrow, manager of Club Macanudo. "If we chose to allow someone in simply because they were a person of great stature or they were a famous actor or someone like that, that would destroy our credibility with the people we built this place for, which is the cigar smoking man or woman who comes in here on a daily basis. That's really our clientele."
And the clientele seems content. Guests can choose from a limited food menu and a wide array of liquors, including single malt Scotches and Cognacs. They can pair their drinks with 100 marques of cigars, including General Cigar's Macanudo, Partagas and Canaria D'Oro, as well as brands from other manufacturers such as Ashton, Fonseca and Dunhill. The club also leases 500 humidor lockers, which were quickly snatched up by eager aficionados. Available for $600 a year, each Spanish cedar-lined unit holds up to 200 cigars. Because of these and other amenities, Darrow believes that Club Mac is New York's first true cigar bar.
But don't tell that to the proprietors of The Cigar Bar at Beekman Bar & Books. Rajmar Holdings Ltd., the owner of the Bar & Books chain, created The Cigar Bar at its midtown Beekman Bar & Books location almost two years ago. It's a small, cozy room at the back of Beekman with soft leather couches and bar stools and stained mahogany walls. It looks much like a gentlemen's club or someone's personal library or den. Co-owner Mark Grossich considers his four Bar & Books locations (Beekman, Hudson, Lexington and the new Carnegie) as upscale cocktail lounges that place a heavy emphasis on cigars.
"We have, relatively quietly, been the leaders in this whole thing for some time now. Club Mac has obviously taken center stage briefly in New York because they are new and different, and like everything new and different in town people tend to clamor to check it all out," Grossich says. "Obviously we have checked it out as well, and it is an interesting place; they serve cigars, we serve cigars. But we don't see them as a direct competitor because we are so much more than a cigar club. I think it is fair to say that our staff is trained better and differently."
While Club Mac employees get in-house training, the staff at The Cigar Bar train at the Alfred Dunhill store in New York, where they learn the proper etiquette of cutting, lighting and serving cigars. The cigar list includes more than 10 selections, many of which are acquired through an exclusive contract with the local Dunhill store. Guests can choose from a Temple Hall No. 3 Maduro for $10 or a Macanudo Vintage No. 1 for $25. The Cigar Bar also has an extensive list of single barrel Bourbons, Ports and Cognacs, among other liquors, all at more than $9 a glass. A jacket (and no jeans), $25 minimum order and reservations are required, making the Cigar Bar a very exclusive establishment.
For those who want a great cigar with a great meal, The Cigar Room at the Grand Hyatt Hotel is the answer. This cigar haven was created more than a year ago as an answer to the strict anti-smoking laws which limit smoking in main dining areas of New York City restaurants to establishments with fewer than 35 seats.
At the 34-seat Cigar Room (See Cigar Aficionado, Summer 1996), the emphasis is on service, says Bill Rizzuto, the Grand Hyatt's executive assistant food and beverage manager. The wait staff is trained in cigar etiquette, and the restaurant's humidors offer a range of cigars such as Davidoffs, Ashtons and Punches with premium liquors, such as single barrel bourbons, single malt Scotches and Cognacs. Guests can enjoy a meal in the dining room or relax with a drink in a separate lounge area. The Cigar Room provides an understated and relaxed ambience.
Another relaxed and understated cigar bar is Aubette, in the Murray Hill section of Manhattan. Opened in March, it was created by managing partners David Baxley and designer Erin Silliday. Cigar and bar manager Paul Kulig oversees the cigar lounge to the rear of this sleek bar, with its soft leather couches and chairs and wood-burning fireplace. He stocks his humidors with an extensive and impressive selection. Recent selections included Santiago Cabanas, La Gloria Cubanas and Don Juans. If your favorite brand isn't available, the very cigar savvy and helpful Kulig will recommend a comparable alternative. Prices range from $4 to $35.
Near Union Square and the Flatiron district is Granville, a lounge/restaurant that caters to cigar smokers. Owned and operated by Billy Gilroy, Peter Fay, Chris Heyman and Granville Adams, since its opening in June it has become very popular with area professionals, according to Adams. Because of city restrictions, the upstairs lounge is the only place in Granville where one can indulge in a cigar. With its Oriental carpets and mahogany walls, the room resembles an old men's club. Guests can lounge on leather banquettes, choosing from a list of cigars that includes pre-Castros such as a 1961 Romeo y Julieta Supremo, which retails for $50.
Manhattan's west side houses cigar lounges as well. Within the Michelangelo Hotel on West 51st Street lies The Grotto, a 62-seat safe haven for cigar smokers. Romeo de Gobbi, proprietor of The Grotto and its sister restaurant upstairs, Limoncello, and former manager of Le Cirque, has created a comfortable and relaxed place with tan leather couches where cigar lovers can congregate, choose from a selection of premium liquors, dine on a light repast featuring tuna carpaccio and marinated salmon, and smoke cigars from an ever-changing list. The list includes choices from the Dominican Republic such as Fonsecas and Avos as well as some choice Honduran brands, including Flor de Florez. The Grotto marks up its cigars only 25 percent, with prices ranging from $6.50 to $16.50. Manager Kim Gregory oversees an eager and attentive staff.
Across town on 51st Street is Divine Bar, an attractive two-story lounge. Opened in June, the lounge's second floor features plush antique velvet couches and chairs, where people sit back and savor the flavors of their cigars and wine. Owners Shari Schneider and Michael Vitanza are new to the cigar business, but are eager to please their customers. Cigars range in price from $6 to $14, but due to shortages, the list changes frequently. Recent offerings included Macanudos and Partagas. The wine list is extensive and carefully selected, at competitive prices. It's a place with a decidedly downtown feel, in a midtown location.
If you don't want to venture uptown, the cigar scene is abuzz downtown as well. Webster Hall, a popular four-story nightclub, has its own fourth-floor cigar bar called The Havana Lounge. A 1,450-square-foot, roped-off section of the balcony, it is the brainchild of Greg Alprin, Michael Shine and Nick Orlando, three twenty-somethings who decided that New York needed a cigar bar in a nightclub setting. Opened in August, The Havana Lounge has become a popular hangout for people who want to dance and smoke at the same time. The noise from the main dance floor below can be deafening at times, but the well-worn couches are comfortable and the staff is attentive, if a bit inexperienced. The cigars are priced competitively, from $5 to $15 for a premium smoke. Don't expect to find the usual Webster Hall clientele in The Havana Lounge, however; Orlando, Alprin and Shine created the cigar bar for professionals, not club kids. But do expect to pay a cover of $10 to $15 to get into the club.
Ten blocks south of The Havana Lounge lies The Go-Go Room, a cigar bar in Béla restaurant. Opened in mid-August, The Go-Go Room, named for a turn-of-the-century cigar brand fron New York, is a small, dark lounge with leather divans and chairs. Jerri Banks, general manager and resident cigar expert, describes her lounge as comfortable and understated; you almost feel as if you are in someone's library. Cigar lovers can choose from a revolving list of about eight cigars, which recently included Padron Coronas and El Sublimado Churchills. Cigar buyers should beware, however: a couple of the cigars had astronomical markups (the El Sublimado Churchill was 150 percent above the suggested retail price).
In lower Manhattan, the owners and operators of Windows on the World run the self-proclaimed "Greatest Bar on Earth" and private Skybox, both of which are cigar smoker retreats. The bar is a large, colorful space, with breathtaking views of the city from 106 stories above the streets. Smokers can choose from a small and pricey cigar list that includes Partagas 150s and Avo XOs. Vintage Ports as well as Scotches and Bourbons are available by the glass. The bar is bustling and can be noisy at times. If you prefer a quieter and more private retreat, you can retire to the Skybox, an extremely small (25 seats) but extremely comfortable lounge, set a distance from the bar. Guests can sit back in brown leather and blue corduroy couches and enjoy the view. The Skybox is a private lounge during regular business hours and is open to the public only after 7 p.m.
Not far away, in the heart of Tribeca, a new lounge called City Wine & Cigar Co. has been taking shape. Co-owners Chris Smith and Avra Jain consulted with hot restaurateur Drew Neiporent to create a wine and cigar bar and storage facility, which was set to open in November. Located on the ground floor of the historic former Dietz Lantern factory, City Wine & Cigar plans three smoking lounges for cigar lovers. The 8,000-square-foot establishment will have 400 private lockers for lease with annual and monthly dues. The Cigar Pub, an 800-square-foot retail store, will sell a full range of premium cigars such as Davidoff and Avo. Trained cigar girls will mill around the rooms, serving cigars. You'll have your choice of three bars: the Wine Bar, which is the largest, a private bar in the rear and a spirit bar in the Cigar Pub.
For those seeking an alcohol-free cigar environment, there is the Havana Tea Room and Cigar House on East 78th Street. Mark Nasser, co-owner and manager, created this quaint, Cuban-themed cigar bar without the bar. (The owners have twice petitioned for a liquor license but have been denied.) And therein lies the charm. With its casual and inviting atmosphere, Havana is a welcome alternative to the bar scene. Cigar lovers can choose a cleverly displayed smoke from Havana's glass humidor. Recent choices included Arturo Fuente Fumas and Montecruz Chicos. Savor your selection over a cup of Darjeeling tea or espresso and let the smoke waft up to the palm leaf-covered ceiling fans. The waiters and waitresses, attired in Cuban guayaberra shirts, serve Cuban sandwiches, cheeses and desserts. Be warned: if you come with your own cigars, expect a $3 clipping fee to be tacked onto your bill.
If Manhattan is not to your liking, you can hop over the river to Cigargoyles, a cigar bar opened in September by William Mandile. The two-story bar in Brooklyn Heights is slightly Gothic in appearance; expect to see "cigargoyles" as well as cigar girls around the bar. At street level there is a traditional pub-style bar with marble-tiled floors and wooden tables and chairs. Guests can dine on grilled-based Continental fare and choose from a wide array of beers, Ports, single malts and wines. A large cedar-lined, walk-in humidor contains selections from such brands as Arturo Fuente, Baccarat and Punch, at moderate markups. The lower level houses a dark, cavernous lounge with shell granite and sheet rock walls with faux fresco finishes, lined with leather couches and chairs. During the summer, the outdoor garden is turned into a café, with seating for 75 people. The owners anticipate a lot of business, especially from area professionals who have embraced Cigargoyles as their local cigar haven.
Whippany, New Jersey, is an unexpected place to find a cigar bar equal to the better spots in Manhattan. But the El Rey del Mundo Bar is just that. It is the social point of the huge J.R. Tobacco Outlet, a store that boasts an enormous cigar shop with enough cigar memorabilia to fill a museum. The bar area is small and cozy, with brass-trimmed mahogany shelves, an embossed tin ceiling and cigar box art adorning the walls. El Rey del Mundo may be small (seating is limited to 32) but its cigar selection is unparalleled. If none of the 27 selections on the bar menu suit your palate, you can walk a few paces into the grandiose store and pick out any one of more than 450 types of cigars, both by the box and in singles. Try the extremely rare Partagas Limited Reserve Royale ($17) or the 10-inch-long, 66 ring Casa Blanca Jeroboam $7).
The drink selection is adequate, with wines, Cognacs, Ports, beers and excellent espresso. The Outlet also sports a liquor shop, and you can purchase and consume any bottle from the shop at the bar; there's a $10 corkage fee. J.R Cigar owner Lew Rothman plans to add a cigar lounge and a museum, featuring table service and an expanded drinks menu by January 1.
Cigar bars, of course, aren't limited to the New York area. In Chicago, lounges are sprouting up right and left. Fumatore, a cigar club between the Gold Coast and Lincoln Park sections of Chicago, is fast becoming a favorite hangout for cigar smokers. Founder and principal owner John DePalma created this haven in response to the city's anti-smoking legislation.
"What really pushed me over the edge was when I was sitting in the bleachers in Wrigley Field and I went to light a cigar with my buddies and they said that I couldn't smoke there," DePalma says. "Fumatore is a neighborhood cigar club. I think the more Club Macanudos, Grand Havana Rooms and other clubs there are just reinforces the concept. It will become a staple sooner or later."
Designed much like an old European club, the 5,600-square-foot bar boasts 300 private lockers, 250 of which were rented within two months of Fumatore's grand opening in March. Renters include Fumatore investor and former Chicago Bulls center John Salley, talk show host Jerry Springer and the Caribbean Cigar Co. Members pay a $500 (individual) or $2,500 (corporate) initiation fee, and they must spend $800 (individual) or $3,000 (corporate) at Fumatore per year to retain their private humidor and other privileges.
Membership has its privileges, according to DePalma. Members have full use of the club's private salons for business and sporting purposes, which come equipped with a fax, a computer and satellite TVs. They can also dine or lounge in the special, plush Fumatore booths, each emblazoned with a giant cigar band on the outside, such as Montecristo, Cohiba and Diana Silvius.
But Fumatore is not a private club. People who don't own lockers are free to dine on Cuban food in Cafe Cubano on the first floor, or climb a flight of stairs to the Fumatore Club where on weekends they can dance the night away to salsa beats. They can choose from a wide array of drinks, including Scotches and Cognacs. And of course, they can purchase either of the two brands that are on the limited Fumatore cigar list: the Fumatore house cigar, a Dominican that comes in five sizes, or the Profesor Sila from the Canary Islands. They are reasonably priced, between $5 and $10.50.
DePalma plans on opening another Fumatore around Thanksgiving on Miami's famous South Beach, with John Salley slated to oversee the club, and in Washington, D.C., in the spring.
A hot Chicago nightspot called Drink has become a hot cigar place as well with a tri-tiered cigar room called Smoke at Drink. On any given weekend night, young professionals crowd onto the lower level of the 10,000-square-foot club to sit and relax in funky leather and upholstered couches and chairs. Murals circa 1950 line the brick walls. Twenty-somethings gravitate toward the club's well-stocked, seven-foot, cedar-lined glass humidor, where Drink's resident cigar guru, Arlen, holds court, selling cigars to his subjects. Owners Scott DeGraff and Michael Morton created this room more than two years ago in response to the demand from regular patrons.
"People would come in and smoke cigars and many of the customers would come in asking for them and I would start bringing in five of them with me and passing them out," DeGraff says. "We had this great room, so we said, Let's turn it into a cigar bar. We sell a massive amount of cigars. It is not just a matter of a small cigar bar that carries five or 10 varieties; we have the kind [of selection] that the cigar vendors in Chicago come in and ask, 'How are you carrying this?'"
Those hard-to-come-by brands include Arturo Fuentes, La Gloria Cubanas and Davidoffs. Prices for cigars range from $5 to $30. The bar offers assorted Armagnacs and Scotches as well as other liquors.
DeGraff and Morton own a Drink sibling in Las Vegas, which is 18,000 square feet and also does "tremendous business in cigar sales." This January, the owners plan on relocating their site to a former fish packing factory near the Kennedy Expressway, just one block away. It will be twice as large as the present Chicago site and will include an additional 10,000-square-foot roof deck. Of course, the cigar friendliness won't change.
In an industrial section of Chicago is another cigar haven, called Green Dolphin Street. The brainchild of owner Michael Nahabedian, it is a restaurant, club and cigar scene, all rolled into a 6,000-square-foot space. Although smoking is not allowed in the dining room, there is a separate bar and jazz room where guests can choose a cigar from the well-stocked 5,000-cigar humidor. Although the list keeps changing, one can regularly acquire Punch, Davidoff and José Martí, among other marques. Prices can get a little steep. They run from $6 for a José Martí corona to $25 for a Partagas Signature Series. The atmosphere at Green Dolphin Street is fun and bustling. Jazz bands play on most nights and diners often get up and dance.
Another Chicagoland cigar bar is Jilly's. Jilly's is the namesake of one of Frank Sinatra's best friends and bodyguards; Old Blue Eyes even calls it his "favorite bistro." Jilly's clientele is slightly older than its area competitors'. You can choose from more than 27 single malt Scotches, 15 brands of Champagne and more than 42 types of cigars, which manager Steve Miller acquires through Chicago's Iwan Ries tobacco shop, one of the country's oldest. Prices are as varied as the cigars. You could pay anywhere from $3 for a Wolf Brothers Crooks to $50 for a Davidoff Aniversario No. 1.
Jilly's also features a one-of-a-kind offering: a cigar grab bag. Customers pay $5 and pick a cigar from the bag; they could come away with a cigar worth more than $5 retail. Jilly's employs cigar girls, who, dressed in matching black-and-white outfits, can help you cut and light your cigar. If the bar scene is too subdued for you, you can go next door to Jilly's Retro, a disco where you can dance the night away.
Harry's Velvet Room in downtown Chicago is a bustling lounge and restaurant that caters to cigar smokers. Dion and Jeanne Antic have owned and operated this plush 1,700-square-foot, two-level operation since its opening in November 1994. Smokers from around Chicago gather here to savor cigars from a moderately priced ($4 to $15) list, which often includes Davidoffs and Avos. Dion Antic says people return to Harry's because of its style and ambience, which, with plush furniture and dim lights, is decidedly intimate and inviting. Martinis are a hit here as are single malts and Cognacs.
Just outside of metropolitan Chicago in the town of Aurora lies The Cognac Cigar Bar, part of Walter Payton's Roundhouse Complex, a multilevel 72,000-square-foot entertainment center owned by the National Football League Hall of Famer and former Chicago Bear running back. Opened in May, the club hosts people between their 20s and 50s who come to choose from more than 50 different cigars, including Dunhills and Astrals. The list is moderately priced; cigars range from $7 (H. Upmann Churchill) to $20 (Don Tito pyramid). Guests can handpick a cigar from the room's glass humidor or ask a cocktail waitress for a smoke on the bar's cigar list. Co-owner Mark Alberts met Payton several years ago when he did some consulting for the legend's nightclub operations. Now, Payton visits the bar at least twice a week to ensure that the complex named after him is running smoothly.
At the Grand Havana Room in Beverly Hills, California, you could say that things are running smoothly. Since its grand opening more than a year ago, this private cigar club has been jam-packed with the movers and shakers of Hollywood. The lounge offers 400 lockers, all of which are rented, many by celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mel Gibson. Two hundred people are on waiting lists to get lockers, although owners Stan Shuster and Joey Pantoliano have no plans to build more.
"We like to think of ourselves as the first true high-end cigar place. We have been written up all over the world. We are recognized as the premier cigar place," proclaims Shuster. "I don't know what really separates us other than we are the first one and we are the Walt Disney of the cigar world."
Because of the success of the flagship club, Shuster and Pantoliano plan to open two other Grand Havana Rooms. One is an 8,000-square-foot club in Washington, D.C., and the other is a 16,000-square-foot complex in Manhattan, at the 39th-floor location formerly occupied by the famous Top of the Sixes restaurant. Pantoliano and Shuster are considering going international with the concept.
Another successful private cigar club in California is Havana Studios in Burbank. The brainchild of Nick Nikkah and his son, Edward, Havana Studios is a 4,000-square-foot club that caters particularly to people in the entertainment industry. Members can enjoy drinks at the club's bar and choose cigars from an impressive list that includes Avos, Diamond Crowns and Buteras. Cigars range from $1 to $17 in the adjacent retail cigar store. Havana Studios has 135 private lockers, all but a few of which have been sold; there are no immediate plans to build more. There is a billiards room and a conference room for business meetings. The Nikkahs plan on expanding the Havana Studios concept to other cities, including San Francisco next year and Chicago down the road.
In Pasadena, John Derian and three other owners created The Humidor as a place for those he calls typical cigar smokers. Housed in a historic brick building, this 1,700-square-foot club and store features a lounge with wood-burning fireplaces and old English furniture. Leather chairs and custom-made draperies create an atmosphere similar to an English men's club. Private membership furthers the comparison. There are three tiers of membership: the Humidor Club ($750 annually), the Churchill Society ($1,500) and the Corporate Humidor Club ($2,500). Each member gets his or her own personalized humidified cigar locker, from the club's 120, and can select from more than 50 cigar varieties, including El Rey del Mundos, Diamond Crowns and the Griffin's. Prices range from $2.50 for Henry Clays to $25 for a Partagas 150. Members also enjoy once-a-month Cognac and Port events.
In a region synonymous with handmade cigars, the hottest cigar scene in Florida is at the Cuba Club at the Forge on Miami's South Beach. Proprietor Shareef Malnik created the lounge this January as a celebration of everything Cuban. The 150-seat members-only club caters to serious cigar smokers who pay $4,000 for a 12-year "vault" membership with locker and $1,500 for a lifetime membership, without a locker. Depending on the membership, members are entitled to private humidified lockers, access to the club, access to special events such as parties featuring celebrities, special vacation packages and a 20 percent discount on Pan Am Airbridge, which can take members to sunny destinations such as the Bahamas and Key West. Fuente Fuente Opus X, Davidoff, Licenciados and La Flor Dominicana are just a few of the brands in the Cuba Club's large humidor, with prices ranging from $5 to $25. Cigar girls work the room, helping cut and light cigars. The bartenders can serve you a choice of wines, Ports and spirits. You can sit back and relax in leather and mohair couches and enjoy the "dramatic" atmosphere, according to Malnik.
Orlando has its own cigar club as well, called Art's. Opened five months ago, owner Art Zimand's 3,400-square-foot lounge and retail operation has 84 private and 20 corporate cigar lockers for lease. There are three tiers of membership: the Robusto ($100) allows you access to the club and free capuccino, espresso and soft drinks; the Churchill ($195) gives you the same privileges as the Robusto but with the added bonus of discounts on non-tobacco and alcohol-related merchandise; and the Presidente ($345) provides the aforementioned amenities but with a humidified locker. Members can relax in the Club Room's soft leather chairs, sip coffee or liquor and choose a cigar from the club's 500-square-foot humidor that houses premium brands. For the professional there is also a conference room equipped with computer, copier, fax and scanner.
The nation's capital has seen a boom in cigar lounges. While club owners in other cities are planning on opening branches in Washington, the area already boasts two very popular cigar lounges.
The D.C. suburb of Rockville, Maryland, houses the 500-square-foot Shelly's Back Room in Shelly's Woodroast restaurant. Opened in November 1995, Shelly's Back Room is the creation of entrepreneur and cigar collector Sheldon Jacobs, who designed it for cigar lovers like himself who desire a place to kick back their feet and relax (in cloth-covered divans or wooden chairs at the bar) and sip Scotches or Cognacs.
Two large humidors at Shelly's serve different purposes: one offers single cigars for sale, ranging from $5 to $16; the other is a communal humidor available for rent to people who need to store a box of cigars, but don't want private lockers. Jacobs built 72 private lockers, which sold out in two months. Available for $400 a year, each locker gets a personalized plaque.
Early next year, Jacobs will open another Shelly's Back Room on 13th and F streets in Washington, two blocks from the White House. It will be larger, with an additional retail tobacco operation. He also plans more Shelly's rooms in New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle.
A popular year-old D.C. nightspot is the Ozio Martini and Cigar Lounge on K Street. The lounge, managed by Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld, is intended as a retreat for politicians and professionals who love cigars. On any given night, the upscale clientele crowds into the 4,500-square-foot bar to savor cigars from Arturo Fuente, Don Tomas and Don Lino, among others. Prices range from $8 for a Montecruz Corona to $25 for a Dominican Cohiba Double Corona. While relaxing in the Art Nouveau-inspired ambience in swayback couches, guests are encouraged to try one of 13 different Martinis or one of 32 single malt Scotches, or select a tapas from the international menu.
Over the border in Virginia, amid the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains, is the Oasis Winery, which recently opened its Cigar Smoking Lounge. The 1,600-square-foot cafe-lounge boasts 18 premium cigars, including Davidoffs, La Flor Dominicanas and Gilberto Olivas. Prices range from $3 to a whopping $48 a stick. Tareq Salahi, general manager of Oasis, which has been a family-owned operation since it opened in 1977, cleverly pairs cigars with Oasis wines. Guests can savor their cigars and wines in café chairs with armrests, while dining on a light repast that includes a grilled chicken sauté with oriental noodles, and beef tenderloin served chilled on a bed of greens. Guests can also tour the winery, where they can taste cabernets, barrel-fermented Chardonnays and Gewurztraminers.
Farther south in Atlanta, you'll find The Havana Club, located in the posh area of Buckhead. The creation of Steve Sharman, the 6,100-square-foot lounge is his Southern response to the cigar bars of New York and Los Angeles. Area business professionals congregate at the Havana Club to relax in overstuffed love seats and chairs, sample the Cuban fare and select a Cognac, Port or Scotch. But it's the cigars that are the major draw. Sharman has a retail store connected to the lounge that carries about 60 brands, including Don Pablo and cigars by Villazon and General Cigar Co. They retail for $7 to $25. Cigar girls serve the cigars on a tray. Private memberships are available for $300, $500 or $750, which allow access to the private Churchill Room, cigar discounts and lockers with plaques, depending on the level of membership. The Havana Club regularly hosts cigar and wine tastings. Look for new Havana Clubs opening in Nashville and Charlotte, North Carolina, within the next one to three years.
Texas has a few cigar bars as well. The Velvet Elvis, a popular Houston hangout since August 1994, has a cigar bar that was intended to be a private room but soon turned into something more. The decor in the Smoking Room is classified by general manager Suzy Melson as "American satire/cheesiness." Soft velvet and paisley silk couches and dim lighting give it an intimate atmosphere. Velvet paintings hang on the walls. The bar's cigar list includes Macanudos, Havana Classicos and Don Diegos, all priced moderately. Guests can sample Ports, Champagnes, beers and 30 different single malt Scotches, as well as American cuisine. There is also a large patio area where smoking is allowed. The Velvet Elvis has its own cigar society called the Velvet Fez Cigar and Pleasure Club. The 50 members of the club meet once a month. The owners expanded in March to Dallas, where it is known as the Velvet E. Other cities are being considered.
Dallas is also home to The Harder Bar. Since its July premiere, this informal lounge has become a cigar haven for the city's hippies, yuppies and college students alike. With its red brick exterior and blue interior, it exudes a feeling of relaxation, says owner Craig Vaught. Daisy's Lounge, named after Vaught's young daughter, is a cavernous den with brick walls emblazoned with murals of animals, flowers and the night sky. Cigar lovers can kick back in one of the many comfortable divans or club chairs and savor the flavors of moderately priced cigars such as the Santa Clara No. 6 or La Aurora Corona while sipping tequilas, Bourbons or whiskys. Vaught often bartends so that he can get to know the clientele.
The Rockies also have their cigar havens. Opened in February 1996, The Churchill Bar, located in the atrium lobby of Denver's Brown Palace Hotel, has a decidedly clubby ambience. Bookshelves line the walls and plush red leather chairs provide comfort for 35 guests. The Churchill Room offers premium spirits, wines and beers. Cigar lovers can hand-select from a choice of 70 cigars such as Thomas Hinds and Camorras, ranging from $5.50 to $20. Experienced waiters and waitresses will cut your cigar and light it with cedar strips.
Within The Churchill Bar the hotel has created a private Founder's Club open to cigar smokers who want the best, according to Churchill Bar general manager Fariborz Rouchi. For an initial $500 fee and $250 per year thereafter, members get their own engraved cigar box, 12 premium cigars, a three-cigar pocket case and other amenities. The 75 lockers sold out immediately, with 90 people on a waiting list, although the bar has no immediate plans to create more lockers.
Back east, a vast, 22,000-square-foot "social gallery" complex in Pittsburgh called Heaven houses a cigar bar (as well as Champagne, Martini and billiards bars). Opened in August, the 200-seat cigar lounge, overlooking the marble dance floor and underneath the 45-foot vaulted dome ceiling, is a haven for area professionals who have been eagerly awaiting a place to enjoy cigars. The ever-changing cigar list contains 10 to 13 brands, ranging from Arango Sportsmans for $2 to Astral Perficiones for $18. Co-owner Michael Schumacher believes that the cigar craze will continue, especially with new smokers such as young professionals, many of whom are women. The owners of Heaven are coordinating a weekly Cherub Club for cigar smoking men and women, complete with elected officers.
In Boston, the place is Oskar's. Owners Jeffrey Unger, Newman Flannigan and Ted Gracy intially envisioned a lounge that would simply offer premium cigars, but eventually settled upon a restaurant-cum-lounge, which was expected to open in October. Named after Jeffrey Unger's dog and housed in a former liquor store, Oskar's features a 250-square-foot Great Room where a large, cedar-lined humidor will house close to 50 brands of cigars. You'll be able to find such hard-to-find smokes as Moore and Bode, and La Gloria Cubana, at moderate prices ranging from $6 to $15. Wines and premium spirits are available by the glass. Comfort is key for the owners of Oskar's, as they try to create "exclusivity through value."
On the other coast, near Seattle, lies the International Cigar Store and Smoking Lounge. This retail/lounge complex opened almost two years ago to overwhelming success, according to owner Jeff Allen. Allen readily admits that he opened the club only for the money. Although he isn't a cigar smoker himself, he stocks more than 100 different cigars from Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, the Canary Islands and Germany. Prices range from $4.50 for an Hoyo de Monterrey Rothschild to $30 for the Louisville Slugger-sized, 18 inch by 66 ring Cuba Aliados General. The 2,800-square-foot lounge, with dark green leather seats and Italian chandeliers, offers a relaxing smoking environment. The bar features Ports, beers and coffees as well as light American fare. Cigar girls serve smokes on sterling silver platters and light cigars in several different ways. This past spring, Allen opened an International Cigar Store at the Sheraton Hotel in Tacoma; he claims that he will eventually open 240 lounges worldwide.
All the lounges surveyed for this article are having difficulty getting cigars, whether from tobacconists in their area or direct from manufacturers. Because most cigar distributors aren't opening new accounts with tobacconists or clubs, newcomers venturing into the market will find it virtually impossible to acquire top-of-the line brands.
Many of these clubs have installed state-of-the-art ventilation systems to make their cigar lounges accessible not only to cigar lovers, but to friends of cigar lovers as well. Owners of many of these lounges say they are trying to attract serious cigar smokers, not those grabbing onto the latest fad.
These are by no means the only cigar lounges around. Lounges are opening at an increasingly rapid rate, with more added every month. Recent openings noted shortly before this article went to press include Fumé and The Essex Supper Club, both in San Francisco; Harry's Martini and Cigar Bar in Toledo, Ohio; Churchill's in Cooper City, Florida; Stogie's Friends in Rogers, Arkansas, and Mos'quito, The Smoking Lounge at Gotham Comedy Club and The Cigar Room at Harrison James in New York City.
What's more, hundreds of cigar friendly bars (such as the Gingerman in New York City and Neon's in Cincinnati) and restaurants around the United States were not included in this article. To control the scope of this story, only establishments specifically designed for cigar smoking were included.
Cigar bars, lounges, clubs, whatever they are called, are a true reflection of the way cigar smokers are now being seen in a growing number of cities across the United States: They are a group that needs to be taken seriously, because they are here to stay.
Grand Havana Room
301 North Canon Drive
245 East Olive Avenue,
70 North Raymond Avenue
@ the Brown Palace Hotel
321 Seventeenth Street
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
1835 K Street N.W.
432 Forty First Street
1235 North Orange
247 Buckhead Avenue
The Cognac Cigar Bar at The Roundhouse
205 North Broadway
541 West Fulton
1723 North Halstead
Green Dolphin Street
2200 North Ashland
Harry's Velvet Room
534 North Clark
1007 North Rush Street
Shelly's Back Room at Shelly's Woodroast
1699 Rockville Pike
107 South Street
El Rey Del Mundo Bar
301 Route 10 East
7 Old Fulton Street
New York City
119 East 27th Street
The Cigar Bar at Beekman Bar & Books
889 First Avenue
The Cigar Room at The Grand Hyatt New York
Park Avenue at Grand Central
City Wine & Cigar Co.
62 Laight Street
26 East 63rd Street
244 East 51st Street
The Go-Go Room at Béla Restaurant
40 East 20th Street
Greatest Bar on Earth & Skybox
One World Trade Center,
777 7th Avenue
The Havana Lounge at Webster Hall
125 East 11th Street
Havana Tea Room and Cigar House
265 East 78th Street
The Cigar Lounge in Heaven
107 Sixth Street
The Harder Bar
1909 Greenville Avenue
3303 Richmond Avenue
The Cigar Smoking Lounge at Oasis Winery
14141 Hume Road
International Cigar Store
31840 Pacific Highway South
A Lounge Leader
The cigar lounge craze sweeping the nation is nothing new to one man in California. For more than 10 years, Nazareth Guluzian of Nazareth's Fine Cigars and Smoke Lounge in Beverly Hills has been offering a sanctuary for cigar smokers at his cigar shop.
With its all-cedar interior, leather chairs and relaxed atmosphere, Nazareth's 800-square-foot private smoking lounge is a haven for the who's who of Hollywood: from Schwarzenegger to Stallone to Cage. Guests can kick back and enjoy an espresso or tea while savoring a cigar from Nazareth's well-stocked humidor, which includes Montecristos, Avos and the store's signature brand, Romeo and Julieta, made exclusively for Guluzian.
"We upgraded [the cigar] until it became a quality cigar and we put my name on it," says Guluzian, who has been working with Romeo and Julieta since 1985. The cigar, which is known as Nazareth's Romeo and Julieta Cabinet Selection, comes in five different shapes: Churchill, corona, lonsdale, robusto and palma.
Guluzian began his tobacco career in 1979 with Alfred Dunhill of Beverly Hills. He is grateful to Dunhill for providing him with valuable retail experience and instilling his passion for cigars. He made the difficult decision to leave in 1985 because, he says, the store was moving towards clothing and accessories and away from tobacco.
Guluzian opened Nazareth's in 1985 when many tobacco shops were downsizing or closing. He added a smoking lounge to his store because he and his friends needed a private cigar sanctuary, away from anti-smoking zealots, where they could indulge in their mutual passion and socialize.
"I wanted to do something to comfort my friends and whoever smokes cigars, whoever is a connoisseur. I created that room to get everybody to gather and sit down and smoke and be away from the anti-smoking rules. They have the freedom to come in and relax and smoke a cigar."
A popular refuge, Nazareth's has attracted members of Beverly Hills' elite, who have reserved the 110 free private lockers that come with personal plaques and locks. To keep the locker, a member must purchase an average of two boxes of cigars a month from the store.
Most customers are buying more than two boxes. Nazareth's is one of the most respected tobacconists in the area and people keep coming back. Guluzian is quite content with its success. Although many public and private cigar clubs and bars are opening in greater Los Angeles and other cities around the nation, he believes that his lounge will endure.
"I don't feel that they are competition," he says. "I basically feel that they are more advertising, rather than competition. Most of the people that are opening right now are not experienced in the field. They smoke a few cigars that they like and they have money. That is all.
"It is not about having the place and the cigars. You have got to know more about it; it takes a while to learn about the brands and taste. Within a year or two they are going to realize that this is about passion and art and not about selling cigars and making money."
350 North Canon Drive,
Beverly Hills, California 90210