Starting back in 2018, Stogie Press began giving an award to the best cigar lounge Boston Jimmie visited in the year. We continued that in 2019, but once 2020 came upon us and the shutdowns happened and travel restrictions imposed, there was no way to get out and visit lounges and shops. The start of 2021 began to show promise with vaccines and the opening up of America. Boston Jimmie got back out and made up for lost time visiting shops around the country from the east coast to the west coast. Counting the two shops visited in 2020 before the shut down and those visited in 2021, Stogie Press visited a total of year we visited 9 lounges and each one was unique in their own way. Keep in mind, this award is only for lounges we have never visited before. It is always hard to select the best, but one must be the choice. In order to make the selection we came up with a few parameters that help score a lounge.
- Cleanliness – how clean the shop and air is
- Humidor size and selection – is there a fine selection of both big and small brands
- Inclusiveness/Ambiance – is it friendly, inviting, and interesting, do the patrons welcome newcomers
- Hours of Operation – is it open 7 days a week, does it have extended hours on the weekends
- Attentiveness – how attentive and knowledgeable is the staff
- Events – are there regular events at least monthly with special deals
- Membership Program – do they have one and is the cost vs benefits valuable to the consumer
- Bar Selection – does the lounge offer a wide selection of beverages for sale
Of course, not all of these are equally waited, so we scored each on a scale of 1 – 5 and then added weights to them based on what we feel is most important. As you can see the highest weights went to the humidor (we go to shops to buy cigars) and the cleanliness (we like clean and orderly shops)
- Humidor 40%
- Cleanliness 20%
- Attentiveness 10%
- Inclusiveness/Ambiance 10%
- Events 5%
- Hours of Operation 5%
- Bar Selection 5%
- Membership 5%
The total a lounge could score is 100.
Of the 9 lounges visited this year, here is our top 5 that should be on your list to visit if you are in the area.
#1 Executive Cigar Shop and Lounge – Sanford, FL
The Executive Cigar Shop and Lounge in Sanford, FL is a beautiful lounge that is expertly apportioned and sits just off Lake Monroe. The shop is an extension to the Executive Cigar Shop & Lounge in Melbourne, Fl but is independently owned and operated by three principals; Erica Everett, Alex Setzer, and Tom Darnell. The idea of a high end cigar lounge in Sanford, FL was the brainchild of Alex and Tom who were having lunch one day in downtown Sanford and they decided that it would be great to have an upscale cigar bar here.
An expansive 2 level outdoor patio wraps around the building with seating, drink service, and even a fire pit. The day I was there, they had a jazz sax player on the patio and that concept of outdoor music has been a staple for the lounge since its opening day.
Once you enter the lounge, you can’t help but feel like this is a place for any cigar enthusiast to relax and enjoy a fine premium cigar and let any worries of the day just fade away. The lounge is huge with plenty of comfortable leather couches and chairs. The walls are adorned with custom artwork and they have a polished cement floor. The lounge is impeccably clean and they reached deep in their pockets to install a ventilation system that followed the blueprint from the Melbourne location where they have no smoke eaters but rather an air filtration system built into the HVAC. The bathrooms are spotless and attended to regularly, ensuring a clean environment.
The centerpiece is the large bar that has a curved granite top and plenty of seats. The bar is back lit on the bottom making it that much more attractive. They offer a full selection of spirits, fine wine, and bottled beer, and a few taps. The bartenders are attentive, pleasant, and knowledgeable (not just in beverages but also in cigars). Like the sister lounge in Melbourne, FL, all staff are trained in cigar knowledge.
The large glass humidor is fully stocked with the finest premium cigars on the market. So finding something to meet your palate will not be an issue.
In addition to the shop and lounge that is open to the public, Executive Cigars Sanford offers a special VIP membership program that provides members exclusive 24/7 access to a “Members Only” Board Room. This special lounge has member lockers, a bar with complementary house beer and wine, VIP bathrooms, and an automatic membership in the shops Presidents Club. They also have super hi-speed internet in this area so if you need to get some work done and want to enjoy a cigar, you have a place to do it in a more quiet surrounding.
#2 Bar: Cigar Especial – Nashville, TN
Bar: Cigar Especial is located in what is known as the SoBro neighborhood of Nashville, TN which translates to South of Broadway. The lounge is housed in a 3 story red brick building. As you approach the building from 4th Street S. the entrance is through a grey door on the right side of the building. There is a dedicated parking lot for patrons, just a few yards down the street. Between the parking lot and the building there is an outdoor patio that looks to be a comfortable seating area with a wooden deck and a cigar leaf created with the deck wood in the center.
Upon entering the lounge, I was greeted by the new owner, Anthony (Tony) Block, who was operating as “Chief Cook and Bottle Washer” that day. With all his early Monday duties of ordering inventory, he took the time to give me the grand tour of his fine establishment.
Tony is a Chicago native and experienced businessman who has operated businesses around the world. He is also an avid horse racing fan and you will usually see daily races on one the many flat screen TV’s in the lounge. Tony explained to us that ‘his incarnation’ of the lounge has been operating since January of 2020, just a few months shy of 1 year. He pointed out that one of the first things he did was work on the ventilation, and based on my experience he did a great job. There are numerous smoke eaters on the main floor that have filters changed on a regular basis. There are also ceiling fans that help rise the smoke up along with a number of exhaust fans. All in all, the lounge area was virtually smoke free and based on the design I would say it would be quite clean even on a busy evening.
The large “L” shaped bar is placed at the back of the lounge. It has a polished marble top and comfortable chairs that can seat 10 easily. Tony added USB ports under the bar for easy charging of electronic devices. The bar is well stocked with spirits including some rare and hard to find bourbons. Each drink is carefully measured and mixed to perfection. I was told that the bartenders are properly trained mixologists.
The walk-in humidor, which is located on the other end of the main floor, under the second floor loft. Though not the largest I have been in, it is of ample size and showcases a fine selection of big box to boutique cigar brands. Bar: Cigar Especial is one of a few lounges, I have been to, that carry the full Byron Cigars line, including the famed Atabey cigar.
Outside the humidor, there are two standing cabinets. One contains the Drew Estate ACID and Taback Especial lines, so that they do not mingle the aroma with the main humidor. The second cabinet features select CAO and Cohiba Brands.
Walking up to the top floor is where the Members only private lounge is. Membership cost is $800.00/year but it is well worth it if you live in the area. You get 24/7 access to the private lounge through a key pad door lock. The outside entrance to this area is on top of the steel staircase outside.
Membership includes your own private humidor locker and you have access to free coffee and soft drinks/mixers. There is a fully operational kitchen that Tony uses to offer some of the finest cooking for his regular events.
The members only lounge is sectioned off into multiple sitting rooms, each with a unique theme, down a long hallway that runs along the back of the building. There is, what I would call, a living room complete with fire place, a music city room that includes an acoustic guitar, and board room with a large conference table. Each room has at least one “Rabbit Air” smoke eater to keep the area clean. There are large flat screen TVs in each room also.
The lounge was designed to have the vibe like an old cigar lounge where people can relax without a lot of loud music, enjoy craft cocktails and sip fine spirits, have conversation and puff away on premium cigars. He offers first class service to the most discerning consumer and prides himself in fitting your palate with memorable cigars.
#3 Smoke Rings 72 – Merritt Island Florida
Louis Riposta, the owner of the newly opened Smoke Rings 72 in Merritt Island, Florida had a dream that started with the acquisition of small cigar shop in the Merritt Island Shopping mall a number of years ago. The shop was quaint but it did not complete the dream. Louis took the time to search for a better location and planned to complete his dream of owing one of the best cigar lounges. With a bottoms up building renovation, throughout the 2020 pandemic, he finally made his dream come true in late 2020 with the gran re-opening of the new and expanded Smoke Rings 72 Cigar Shop and Lounge.
The new lounge is just 2 miles from the original location and is actually easier to get to, along with ample parking in front of the shop. This is key, as the mall location, on a busy day, would have you parking further away form the entrance, and unless you knew about the old shop you may not have ventured in. Now with a prime location and plenty of car traffic passing by, more cigar smokers will take notice. Located in a small strip mall, right on N. Courtney Parkway, access to the lounge is simple.
As you enter the lounge you will find yourself in the shop area staring straight back at the huge walk-in humidor. Let’s take a visit to the humidor which is impeccably clean, and has that sweet aroma of tobacco and Spanish cedar filling your nostrils. There are 100’s of facings of cigars resting on the shelves from classic boutique lines to the most popular big brands and everything in between. You should have no problem filling your needs and pleasing your palate with the selection at Smoke Rigs 72. Louis has been in the business for quite some time and understands the variety of palates that need to be pleased
A unique area in Smoke Rings 72, is the coffee and snack bar, located just outside of the lounge area. Here you can get a properly made cup of your favorite styles of coffee. They have a legit espresso machine and the staff are skilled at operating it. Not only is there coffee, they also have snacks, chips, candy bars, biscotti’s and gum. Heck, they even make shakes. This is coffee shop that allows cigar smoking, gee a novel concept.
The whole experience transforms in the lounge room. The shop was just a teaser to the lounge and bar area. Louis did an awesome job in this part of the establishment. It all starts with walking through a large red brick archway that takes you into an expansive area of leather seating, high ceilings, and chandeliers. It reminds me of a drawing room in a mansion, you instantly feel on top of the world when you enter. You can’t help but fixate your eyes on the pool table in the center of the lounge. This is no quarter play table you find in some local dive bar. It is a large table with leather pockets and a red felt top. There is no cost to play pool and on a busy night, there might be some patrons involved in a pickup tournament, but you are always welcome to challenge the winner(s).
The bar is expansive with a black lacquer top and mood lighting underneath. Numerous wooden stools surround the bar. Smoke Rings 72 has an extensive collection of bottle and draft beers, more than I can get into in this article, but trust me, if you like craft brew they will wet your whistle. The bar is also stocked with fine wines and champagne. Sorry folks, there is no liquor here, that requires a different license in the state of Florida. Lisa, the bar manager who was there the day I took the photos, is very knowledgeable about craft beer, so don’t be shy to ask her for a suggestion. If you are shy, there is a big screen TV above the bar that scrolls through the expansive selection.
If you want to up your game a bit, Smoke Rings 72 offers a 24/7 access, private lounge area on the other side of the shop, just in case you did not think there was enough space already. The lounge is for use by members and their guests and if you live or visit frequently in the area, you can ask the staff about membership. Just off to the right of the entrance, there is both an inside entrance to this area during business hours, and an outside entrance during the non-business hours. It is adorned with wood paneling, forest green walls, wrap around windows and comfortable leather seating. There is a small mini fridge for your use, private toilet, and individual cigar lockers. There is also two flat screen TVs.
#4 Grand Cathedral Cigars – Tampa Heights, Florida
The Grand Cathedral Cigar 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.
A massive renovation of an old brick church is the foundation of this lounge. 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.
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.
The large walk-in humidor that you come upon as soon as you enter, 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.
As 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.
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.
#5 Continental Cigar Club – Los Angeles California
Located in Los Angeles, California the Continental Cigar Club is the brainchild of TABAC Trading Company CEO, Patrick Potter and minority business partner Adam Duffy.
Opened in the middle of the 2020 pandemic, the Continental Cigar Club boasts a large walk in humidor with over 700 facings of the most popular large and small brands on the market along with a 24/7 members only lounge access. The doors officially opened on June 10 of 2020 and since they remain open 365 days/year you can be assured you can always fill your need for premium cigars. The Continental Cigar Club boasts “Cigars & Civility” on all their marketing and I have to say that is exactly my experience when I visited. I found all the patrons to be welcoming and friendly and the staff was extremely knowledgeable and helpful. They also declare “Folium De Amantes” which translates to who we are – The Leaf Lovers.
There are two entrances to the Continental Cigar Club. The main entrance brings you into the general public area where there are a few chairs to sit and enjoy your cigar along with chairs just outside the door. The second entrance further down the building is the “member only” 24/7 access. You can also enter the members lounge from the main entry during general public shop hours, through a secret door panel in the shop. The shop area has a wall of fame, with a number of black & white photos of notable cigar masters in in the industry.
The shop itself offers a wide array of accessories for your smoking pleasure including high end cutters, lighters, humidors, and ashtrays. They also have a small fridge, that holds a variety of soft drinks and water. California law does not allow the sale of alcohol on the premises.
The large walk in humidor in the shop side, is well stocked with over 700 facings ranging from large brands to small boutique lines. Every cigar has been sampled by the staff so they know how best to fit your palate with what you like even if they don’t carry your brand of choice. I assure you there is plenty to choose from. One of the unique aspects of the Continental Cigar Club is they only allow one person or connected friends in the humidor at a time and are escorted by one of the staff. They do this so that each patron gets the personalized attention they deserve and can truly appreciate the experience. I found the humidor to clean, well organized, and properly humidified.
As a Certified Master Tobacconist, one of only 15 in the United States, Patrick Potter requires his staff to get certified and incentivizes them to get more advanced certifications. A framed area on the wall of the shop identifies the levels of certification for all the staff. When you visit the Continental Cigar Club, you can be assured that you are dealing with true professionals in the business. The staff is also friendly and they greet every person with a smile and a welcome.
The Continental Cigar Club also hosts two monthly special events:
- Ladies Night – held the first Saturday of Every Month till the end of the year. +1 Gentlemen Guest are $25 or FREE with Min Purchase. Ladies night runs from 7:00 PM to 11:00PM the evening of the event and require and RSVP through the Continental Cigar Club website.
- The Continental Breakfast – held near the end of each month is a special gathering where the club hosts a cigar brand that is paired a breakfast dish created by local restaurants. The breakfast starts at 10:00 AM and runs to 1:00PM. Ticket prices vary based on the breakfast of the month and require an RSVP through the Continental Cigar Club website.
Private membership to the “members only” lounge section will run you $1750.00/year with a $250.00 credit in the humidor that rolls over year to year. Membership not only gets you access to this beautiful part of the club, but also gives you 24/7 access and allows you to bring a guest. Memberships are offered the first week of January of every year. Patrick told me they currently have a waiting list but people are encouraged to submit applications online to put themselves in the queue. Prospective members that are seconded by a current member are priorities. Prospective members and guests of members also receive a special Continental Cigar Club coin, that is used to be treated to a house cigar and the opportunity to smoke that cigar in the member lounge. The coins can also be obtained from a member of the staff or through one of the participating hotel concierge’s in the area.