So you're headed to Nashville and can't resist the urge to get in touch with your inner cowboy. Well, steer clear of Stogies Cigar Bar & Bistro in nearby Franklin. It definitely isn't the place.
There are no big-haired, crop-topped, poured-into-faded-denims types at this nightspot. Here, the air is sweetened by whiffs of spicy Coco Chanel and Padrons, not Final Net and Camel Lights. And there's not a single Stetson in sight. Consider it more Shania Twain swank, less Dolly Parton country.
Though Dolly, as friendly as she is endowed, has dropped in for dinner at Magnolias, the new restaurant downstairs. It's owned (along with Stogies) by one of Parton's fellow country divas, Barbara Mandrell. Set in the historic county seat of Franklin, which features rolling hills dotted with dainty magnolia trees, the bar is a haven for locals in need of a drink, and perhaps a smoke, after a long day at the office.
Stogies is cozy yet sophisticated with hardwood floors, dim track lighting, cocoa-colored walls and oversized leather chairs that beg patrons to sink in with a sigh. It's the kind of place where business associates can hunker down in a corner and seal a deal over a Dunhill Peravias ($13), or a couple can sneak a kiss while sipping a glass of Merlot.
Through ivory French doors, patrons can step through to the bar's large patio dotted with wrought-iron tables topped by hunter-green and gold-striped umbrellas. The towering maples and wooden railings drizzled with strings of white lights make it feel like an affluent friend's back yard, only larger. Tiki torches mask the aroma of cigars, appealing to those who don't light up.
Inside, the bar is well ventilated, leaving merely a hint of the sweet smell. The reasonably priced cigar list is extensive, though marred by too many no-name brands. A few exceptions are the Padron 1964 Anniversary Series Exclusivo ($10), the Ashton 858 ($9) and the Partagas Sabroso ($9.75).
Most nights, the musical flavor is--surprise--jazz. On my visit, the snappy "Steppin' Out with My Baby" drifted out into the parking lot, beckoning patrons upstairs. But as the night wore on, the keyboard player unfortunately led the duo in a direction more Lawrence Welk than Tony Bennett. A few older couples didn't seem to mind as they dipped and twirled ballroom-style.
Many regulars prefer Stogies on Wednesday nights, when a younger crowd is drawn to the hip-swaying, sultry sounds of The CliffNotes, a group featuring guitarist Cliff Richmond and a full band that meshes blues, jazz, Latin and reggae.
Patrons come in khakis or suits after work, loosening the tie a bit, kicking back and ordering chocolate Martinis (a little too watered down at $7.50), Cosmopolitans (a better choice at $7) or imported beers. Women in casual dresses and silk pantsuits down wine spritzers and Manhattans.
"I come here kind of regularly with my boyfriend, but tonight is girls night out," said Elaine LaGarce, 46, who brought two friends to celebrate her birthday over a bottle of Kendall-Jackson Chardonnay ($31) on a Saturday night.
"It's a Southern, outdoor place. The music is so relaxing and the service is great," LaGarce's friend, Bonnie Lattimer, 55, said. Her husband, left behind tonight, likes the selection of Vodka brands as well as the cigar offerings.
The food is a little pricey (a nothing-special salad at $8, a skimpy cheese and fruit platter at $9) but the spicy, Southern-fried chicken wings are worth the $12 and a modest portion of tender crab cake, one of the nightly specialties when I was there, is worth the $6.
As for dessert, the melt-on-your-tongue creme brulee and the chocolate brownie laced with a chocolate liquor sauce and partnered with ice cream (both $7) will bring you back a second time.
Those with heartier appetites should head downstairs. Magnolias is all Southern elegance, with white columns, sage walls and antique furniture. Fittingly, the food, according to chef and co-owner Richard Hamilton, offers "upscale Southern cuisine with a French and Creole twist." He invites dinner guests to sit at his table inside the kitchen and watch him work while feasting on a seven-course tasting menu ($75 a pop).
Though Stogies and Magnolias have healthy lives of their own, they do share customers.
"Stogies is classy. Good food, a little jazz, a patio and cigars," said Mike Bohannon, 28, while smoking a St. George Chivalry ($8).
"I had no intention of smoking a cigar until I came upstairs, saw the smoking lounge, the plush leather seats, and thought: 'Now this is the place to smoke a cigar!' "
Beth Warren is a reporter for The Tennessean, Nashville's daily newspaper.
Stogies Cigar Bars and Bistro
230 Franklin Road
Monday through Saturday, 4 p.m. to whenever