Every now and then—lately more often—I have a couple of hours between meetings in and around the west side of Los Angeles. This usually happens late in the afternoon, as the regular workday ends and before overtime begins. I catch up on email. I go to my favorite espresso bar. I might even take a book and sit in a park and read for a while. I will do almost anything other than drive the 30-plus miles back to my office, which would almost certainly exceed the "free" time. The only bonus of staying in the car would be to enjoy a cigar as that is one of the few legal smoking venues remaining in most of California.
Recently, though, as I went with my cousin to pick up his custom-made suits in Beverly Hills and then walk down what is colloquially known as Little Santa Monica Boulevard to buy cupcakes for $3.25 each, I rediscovered the Buena Vista Cigar Club & Lounge.
This—or the place next door, or the place next door and this—used to be Hamilton's, the over-the-top cigar bar to which the seemingly un-aging actor and cigar lover George Hamilton lent his name. Buena Vista is considerably unlike what Hamilton's used to be. If anything, you probably would not expect to find Buena Vista in Beverly Hills at all. Fortunately, Rigo Hernandez and his wife, Jackie, personally make sure that everyone has the drink and cigar they want and that the TV is tuned to whatever is the most important baseball game of the day, during the season, of course.
The bar is not full, but the four other people there are passionate about the Dodgers as they face the Giants. One Yankees fan is wondering whether he should now switch his allegiance to the National League locals since Joe Torre is managing here.
Behind the bar at Buena Vista is a photo of Rigo Hernandez with the caption "The Cigar King." Rigo, who took his first cigar puff when he was five years old, used to be a marketing executive in Cuba for what is now Habanos S.A., the state entity that controls the cigar business on the island. He would travel the world promoting the virtues of Cuban cigars and later, after deciding that perhaps life outside of Cuba could have its own virtues, hooked up with Thomas Hinds Tobacconist, a Canadian company that used to have a shop in Beverly Hills just down the street from where Buena Vista is now. To make an already kind of long story a little shorter, Rigo ended up coming to California and opened up Buena Vista in 2000, after the demise of Hamilton's.
Brad Penny is throwing what look to the Giants like baby aspirin. Not looking good for the Barry Bonds free Gigantes. While all this goes on, I am talking to Jackie about whether my gang could play dominoes at Buena Vista. She not only is agreeable, but eager to sit in. You can take the Cuban out of Cuba, but etcetera, etcetera.
To be able to stay in business, Buena Vista must have no employees—only Jackie and Rigo work here—and it must maintain a certain percentage of revenues from tobacco sales. The bar has a relatively good selection of cigars, but all they ask is that if you're going to smoke, that you buy a cigar. Whether you smoke that one or the one you brought, is up to you. Buena Vista has a fairly good selection of Scotches and wines. The rum choices are adequate and include Pyrat XO, Zacapa 15-year-old, Botran and an eight-year-old Flor de Caña.
The downstairs room at Buena Vista holds about 30 people; the upstairs about the same. The decor is early whatever. A rack of antlers, some stuffed ducks, old skis and a bunch of photos populate the walls. As you venture to the "loft," the pictures tend to concentrate on baseball.
You are not going to confuse Buena Vista with the private cigar club a few blocks to the east, but then again, everybody can get in here. All that is required is that you find the cigar-store wooden Indian on the sidewalk.
Alejandro Benes lives and plays and waits in traffic in Southern California.
Buena Vista Cigar Club & Lounge
9715 South Santa Monica Boulevard (aka Little Santa Monica)
Beverly Hills, California 310-273-8100
Hours: Monday to Friday, 4 p.m. to 2a.m.; Saturday, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. (sometimes there's live music)
Food: You can order food delivered from local restaurants nearby.
Cigars: Many of the usual suspects and sometimes some reserve editions by request.