In a handsome space behind an Italian restaurant in the Sukhumvit district of Thailand's capital city, Whisgars offers a welcome alternative to the vulgar side of Bangkok nightlife. Leather club chairs are arranged to facilitate good conversation. Black and white prints by Thai photojournalist Sopon Chienwittayakun are framed on the brick walls. There's not a bar girl or toy boy in sight. "This is a proper place," says founder Hillman Lentz of the spot he opened in May 2013. "Elegant, nice and simple."
Californian Lentz and co-founder Eddy Guerra are seeking to educate their clientele about the pleasures of the world's best non-Cuban cigars, and they mean business. The oversized, laminated menu offers an impressive five-dozen varieties, from the milder Nicaraguan Bugatti Epicure Natural to the full-bodied Gran Habano Corojo No. 5 Pyramid. Right in between is what Lentz considers his favorite, the 20th Anniversary Perdomo Robusto. Other cigars include brands by EPC Cigar, Oliva, Tatuaje and My Father.
The liquor selection holds its own with 180 different whiskies. When I confessed that I'm a gin guy, I was offered a glass of Dictador Columbian gin, whose tangerine tones came as such a revelation it made me feel I was cheating on my favorite Junipero brand distilled in my hometown of San Francisco.
Whisgars's parent company, ChindAsia Capital Partners, handles their own importing. Their plan is to open a Whisgars in every major city of Asia, starting with a second location in Bangkok coming soon. The Whisgars guys make it a priority to train their staff, encouraging even those who don't indulge to sample, so they'll understand what it is that they are selling.
They have also partnered with William Grant & Sons Distillers to open a William Grant room on the club's second level for special tasting events, including monthly dinners paired with single-cask whiskies.
Lentz says he accepts the challenge to inspire some Asian clients who, when asked what they like to smoke, reflexively respond "Cuban," without being able to name a favorite cigar. Guerra, whose parents were tobacco farmers in Cuba, opines about the lack of quality control and soil management after the island's revolution. "Tobacco is like a weed," he says, "it takes all of the nutrients out of the soil."
Whisgars's clientele includes local businessmen, wealthy young Thais and older travelers. Off the main bar area are humidified lockers available for annual rental. Members receive invitations for private gatherings with cigarmakers. On Friday nights, Keith Nolan's combo Love Gone Wrong plays blues. Saturday is jazz night.
Sukhumvit 23 (in the back of Guisto restaurant)
Bangkok, Thailand 10110
+66 2 661 3220
Every day: 2 p.m. to 2 a.m., kitchen opens 5:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.