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Where to Smoke

Where To Smoke: Soho Cigar Bar, New York City

Feb 9, 2017 | By Blake Droesch
Where To Smoke: Soho Cigar Bar, New York City
Soho Cigar Bar has been serving up cigars and spirits on Watts Street since 1998, but it was known as Circa Tabac until 2014.

At Soho Cigar Bar, you can't help but feel pangs of nostalgia for old New York. But this downtown cigar and cocktail lounge is anything but stuck in the past.

From the candle-lit cocktail tables laden with ashtrays to the portrait of the Rat Pack adorning the lounge, the ambiance is that of a classic bygone-era cigar haunt—the clientele, however, is not. On a recent visit early Friday evening, two couples sat beneath dim lights sipping Martinis, while a small party celebrated a birthday at one of the more intimate booths in the back of the lounge. A bearded young professional, sitting at the bar, plucked away on his Macbook while puffing on a cigar.

The crowd here seems younger, more diverse; different from the folks you'd expect to meet frequenting the city's waning lot of cigar-friendly establishments. This isn't just a nod to the bar's location in New York's ultra-trendy SoHo neighborhood. It's the result of a conscious effort put forth by proprietor Lee Ringelheim to bring premium cigars and libations to the city's mainstream nightlife.

"The message has been the same since the beginning," says Ringelheim. "I want to make cigars and whiskey approachable for anyone."

Soho Cigar Bar
Soho Cigar Bar's main lounge area, noted for its Art Deco-inspired decor.

At Soho Cigar Bar, the cigar menu is broken down into easy-to-understand categories, such as full, sweet, spicy and light. The whiskey, which is stacked several shelves high above the bar, is categorized in a similar fashion, and varies in style and price.

There's also an extensive list of flights and cigar pairings. Looking to better familiarize yourself with peaty Scotch? Order up a flight of Laphroaig 10 year, Bunnahabhain 12 year and Talisker 10 year for just $30. Want a taste of the very best? Try a flight of Dalmore 25 year, Macallan 25 year and Balvenie 30 year. It will cost you north of $200, but keep in mind, this is still Manhattan.

Ringelheim opened the establishment in 1998 under the name Circa Tabac. In 2014, he briefly closed for renovation and reopened as Soho Cigar Bar. The project included a state-of-the-art ventilation system—and it's one of the best in the city.

"Money wasn't a consideration when I put it in," he says. Ringelheim knew a solid ventilation system would help attract non-smokers who still wanted to enjoy the selection of libations or sip a cocktail among cigar-smoking friends. "We ended up installing twice as many [ventilation systems] than what's required."

Soho Cigar Bar
Soho's bar houses an extensive selection of spirits. The menu offers whiskey flights, as well as pairing recommendations.

Soho also strives to offer competitive prices. Ringelheim says his menu is about 30 percent cheaper than his Manhattan competition. For cigars brought from outside, there's a one-time cutting fee of $10, but if you spend more than $25 on food or alcohol, they'll waive the fee.

The menu offers cigars from well-known brands like Arturo Fuente, AVO, Nat Sherman and Alec Bradley, but almost half of the cigar sales come from Soho's house brand. Ringelheim says his smokes are produced at an undisclosed rolling gallery somewhere within in the confines of the Five Boroughs. Maybe the mystery is the allure. Either way, the cigars are quite successful. He says he sells about 1,500 a month.

Soho Cigar Bar operates primarily as a cocktail bar, but it can also be a good place to watch the game. There is a kitchen, that offers a small menu of appetizers and flatbread pizzas. And remember that portrait of the Rat Pack? On game day, Frank, Dean and Sammy—along with several other pieces of artwork—fold open to reveal large-screen televisions.

Soho Cigar Bar
32 Watts St.
New York, NY 10013
(212) 941-1781
Monday through Wednesday: 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Thursday through Saturday: 5 p.m. to 3 a.m.
Sunday: 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.

"I would not go as far as saying this is a young person's cigar bar. I took my daughter there before the holiday. We sat next to a couple of guys my age (old) and enjoyed a great conversation with our Cigars and Whiskey. This place is fantastic and I plan to go back. I agree with the comments above, I live in Boston that has one old cigar bar did we let this happen??????????????" —February 24, 2017 12:30 PM
"Dirty and overpriced when I was there." —February 19, 2017 17:27 PM
"I agree 100% with the commenter above. I'll add that the menu is a lot more than flatbread pizzas. It's a moderately priced menu of well prepared small plates, that are a perfect match for the liquor and cigar smoker's needs. Always been computer lately delighted with any food I've ordered there in the last 5 years. I'll also praise the servers and bartenders. Great folks who seem to always make me feel welcome even though I only manage to get there a few times a year. " —February 14, 2017 17:57 PM
""I know the dirty secret of why and how the no smoking con went down. It doesn't matter. What matters is that there's still a joint–Circa Tabac–where I can go, set myself down, order a drink, and light up. One last breath of life in this dying hick town mall that used to be Manhattan. A real bar with real ashtrays and real people. I used to call it the last bar in New York. Now that London and even Paris have folded, I call it the last bar period. And that's what it is: a bar that is as bars once were and as bars should be. The last of them. See you there, baby, see you there."—Nick Tosches" —February 9, 2017 12:34 PM

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