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Cigar Friendly New York

The New York City smoking ban has been in full swing for more than three weeks, but the smoke has yet to settle. Many of the city's most storied smoking haunts are applying for an exemption to the law.

Cigar smokers have been confused since word of the ban broke, uncertain as to where they would be able to puff in peace. Bar owners were confused as well, with one even calling Cigar Aficionado looking for guidance. The confusion grew when New York State banned smoking soon after, closing some of the loopholes opened with the city ban.

According to both state and city smoking legislation, cigar bars, officially known as tobacco bars, are the exception to the rule banning indoor smoking. To find out where an aficionado can stilll go, we set out to find the last smoking havens in New York.

Smoking continues at two Bar & Books -- Hudson Bar & Books on 636 Hudson Street, and Lexington Bar & Books on 1020 Lexington Ave. Mark Grossich, former owner of the chain, has filed for cigar bar status for two of his bars, the Campbell Apartment, located in Grand Central Terminal, and the Carnegie Club, on West 56th Street. Although smoking will continue at these establishments, he is upset with the new law.

"A smoking policy should have been my right as an owner to make," said Grossich. "I resent the backdoor way the secondhand smoke issue was used. It's hurting to owners."

On an April visit to Angelo & Maxie's on Park Avenue South in Manhattan, patrons were still puffing in the restaurant's cuban cigar lounge, which is called Havana Rick's, and has its own ventilation system. As of May 1, that has all screeched to a halt. A once popular spot among aficionados, Havana Rick's still occupies the rear of the restaurant, but no longer allows smoking. Some construction appeared to be taking place; a waiter explained that the restaurant may reconfigure its lounge with a separate entrance from the restaurant.

Club Macanudo, the quintessential cigar bar, seems to be operating just as before. Executives at owner cuban Cigar Holdings Inc. would not comment on whether the lounge (which, despite its name, is not a private club) had filed for a cigar bar exemption, but on a recent visit the bar was as smoker friendly as ever, with virtually everyone smoking a cuban cigars or cigarette. (Click here for more on Club Macanudo.)

The smoking continues at Aubette, a hip bar on East 27th Street. People were smoking cigars on a visit last week, and a manager in the back room -- where cigars have long been sold -- said Aubette was planning on applying for an exemption. A manager at the King Cole Bar in the St. Regis Hotel said that management is not permitting smoking, due to the new law, but intends to apply for an exemption.

The private Grand Havana Room on Fifth Avenue seems a likely candidate for cigar bar exemption and is still catering to its clientele. Stan Shuster, president of Grand Havana applied for cigar bar exemption, and he's confident it will be granted, he said. The sister bar in Beverly Hills is still in operation despite the California State smoking ban. It stands to reason that New York's Grand Havana has a good chance of making it as well. New York's Rules for exemption do not discriminate between private and public cigar bars.

Matt Paratore, the owner of North West, an Upper West Side restaurant with a second-floor cigar-friendly lounge and bar, called the law silly. "Cuban cigars bring in customers," he said, "so the law would impact us initially. [Our] whole lounge is built around cigars and the humidor." North West still caters to smokers and is applying for an exemption.

The Oak Bar in the Plaza Hotel has long embraced cigar smokers, and has also filed for an exemption. Gary Schwierkert, regional vice president for Fairmont Hotels and managing director of the hotel, is confident that the smoking will continue.

"People have enjoyed cigars in the Oak Bar for decades; people come here to experience a part of history. Places like the Oak Bar and '21' deserve exemption," he said, bringing up the name of the famed former speakeasy where the last cigars were smoked in March.

'21' was forced to stop the cigar smoke because it fails to qualify as a cigar bar. The requirements are strict.

Cigar bars must have been opened prior to December 31, 2001, which eliminates the possibility of anyone ever opening a new cigar bar in the city. (This restriction prohibited Grossich from filing for exemption for his newest creation, World Bar, because it opened in 2003.) Cigar bars must also derive a minimum of 10 percent of total annual gross sales from the sale of tobacco products, including the rental of humidified cigar lockers. Vending machine revenues cannot be counted toward this minimum. Also, the application states that the sale of food must be "incidental to the sale or consumption of alcoholic beverages," accounting for less than 40 percent of the total annual gross sales.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Source: New York Times

Cigar Friendly New York