During my visit the other week to the Ybor City Cigar Heritage Festival, I took the time to swing over to the newest lounge in the area – Grand Cathedral Cigars. The lounge is the brain child of Angela Yue, who as some may know, is not new to owning and operating cigar lounges. She is the proprietor of Lord Puffer in San Diego, CA and the proprietor of Alchemist Tobacco, a hand crafted premium hookah tobacco company that uses only the finest French tobacco and ages it in bourbon barrels. So it is safe to say, Angela is not new to cigars or to running businesses and lounges.
So how did she come upon here latest project? She realized that the cigar business and tobacco in general is a difficult in the state of California. She has been successful but she knew the center of the cigar of universe in the USA is Florida and one of the main epicenters is Tampa. She started to look east and came upon a 115 year old church in Tampa Heights, just outside of Ybor City (Cigar City USA). She knew right there that his would be an awesome place to create a cigar lounge.
The history of the church started as the First Congregational Church in the area. The project to renovate it would not be easy, but Angela and her team took on the challenge. The building itslef was cited for code violation in the 1980s and was eventually condemned in the 1990 due to a fire that some homeless people lit which caused some major destruction. To make matters worse, the building was struck my lightning (act of God) in 1997 which collapsed a wall. This would have resulted in a compete tear down of the building, but in stepped William Muse, an architect, who purchased the structure and was able to stabilize the building in hopes of preserving the historic nature of the church. Muse later donated the building to Nick Cutro in 2005 who created the Renaissance Center for the Arts. for the community. Sadly that only lasted about a year. The building was then sold and renovated into an office space until Angela emerged on the scene.
With her vision and determination set, Angela embarked on a journey to transform the old church into a place to “worship cigars”.
If you did not know this was a cigar lounge, you may drive by it, thinking it was just a church, as the outside looks much the same as it did 115 years ago, with its brick walls, bell tower, and stained glass windows. But closer examination shows window above the two wooden doors in the front display A. Fuente, a nod to the famous cigar company. Fuente does not have a financial interest in the lounge but the branding is seen throughout, making this unofficially a Fuente lounge.
There is a large parking lot on the side of the building and even an auxiliary parking to handle the overflow for large events just down the street. The sign that points you to the auxiliary parking is the first real branding mark noticeable for the lounge.
The entrance to the lounge is in the rear off the main parking lot. As you walk over to the entrance you will walk past a huge out door patio with tables and chairs, umbrellas, and even a koi pound central feature.
As you enter the lounge you walk into the retail section that includes a checkout counter, accessories, humidors, shirts, hats and more. This is the only way in or out of the lounge so you will always pass the “gift shop” like you do at Disney.
Off to the right is the large walk-in humidor that is well stocked with plenty of Fuente, J.C. Newman, Oliva, Padron, Tatajue and other large brand cigars. There is also a display of the their house blends and a small but selective section of small brands. The humidor also stocks a number of vintage Fuente cigars including aged Opus X.
Once you have made your selection, you pay them at the checkout counter before entering the main part of the lounge. I will note that you should shop carefully as some cigars are priced higher than you would expect in Florida but with a close eye on price you can find something that will please your palate and meet your wallet constraints.
Now that you have your cigars of choice, you walk down the hallway past the glass walled humidor and into the center of the lounge. The space is expansive with ceilings that go up over two plus stories. There are second and even third story areas to gaze upon and the large church windows shine the outdoor light of the day upon the lounge. The walls are adorned with deer, elk heads and there is even a moose head. The décor reminds me of a hunting lodge. I learned the heads were provided by Oliva Tobacco Company.
There is plenty of leather seating areas spread throughout arranged for both small and large groups. There is also a number of flat screen televisions for your viewing pleasure.
The main floor has a large bar that offers a full liquor selection along with select beer cans and bottles, and fine wines. The bar was staffed with 4 bartenders the day I was there and I opted to have a Guinness as I sat at the bar. They only offer Guinness in the can but I am ok with that so long as the bartender is trained on how to pour it, which she was – pop the top and turn it upside down and let it pour into the glass making a perfect Guinness head. The staff was friendly but I will say I waited over 20 minutes to get my second drink, even though the bar was not full. I expect more eye contact and quicker service, especially when there are 4 bartenders to wait on you.
After I sat for a while I began to take in the rest of the décor before venturing around the establishment. There is an eclectic collection of interesting artifacts placed around the lounge. Like old fashioned type writers, a sewing machine, old photos, and newspaper articles and ads, and even a late 19th century Graphotype machine which was used to emboss letters on metal plates. I am an engineering geek and this stuff just makes me smile.
As explored a little more, I walked up the a stair case to the second floor seating area that overlooks the first floor which includes a gran piano that I understand is used for certain occasions. My adventure took me down and up small flights of stairs and through some hallways that were adorned with other historical wall hangings.
I was not able to enter the private lounge but I understand it has lockers and a quiet seating area for members only. The membership is quite steep in price ($2,500/year for the Gold Membership and $5,000/year for the Platinum Membership). the memberships do offer access to the second level facilities, a private members only bar, numerous flat screen TV’s, and 10% discount on all tabs (excluding discounted items / boxes). I would imagine this would be worth the price if you did it as a corporate membership as it does allow you to bring additional guests in with you (2 for gold, 4 for platinum). I also understand that membership gives you 24/7 access to the members only area. There is also a private party room located in the bell tower.
All in all, the 8,100- square foot Grand Cathedral Cigar Lounge is most certainly a destination place to visit when you are in the Tampa, FL area. It has ample parking and plenty of space to relax and enjoy a cigar, especially if you are a member. Even if you just stopped, the non-membership area is laid out well enough to sit and enjoy a fine cigar and a beverage.
Location, Contact, Hours of Operation
The Grand Cathedral Cigar Lounge is located at 2201 N. Florida Ave. in Tampa Heights.
Hours of Operation
- Monday 10am – 10pm*
- Tuesday 10am – 10pm*
- Wednesday 10am – 10pm*
- Thursday 10am – 11pm**
- Friday 10am – 11pm**
- Saturday 10am – 11pm**
- Sunday 10am – 10pm*
- * (All guests inside the gate before 10pm will have an additional hour to finish cigars)
- ** (All guests inside the gate before 11pm will have an additional hour to finish cigars)
Phone; (858) 829-7249