Camaraderie and conversation over cigars and spirits in Atlanta
by Rick Rhay
Atlanta, Georgia is a capital of the “New South.” Set in the epicenter of commerce and industry in the southern United States, this increasingly diverse city combines many historically important educational institutions with some of the world’s most significant multi-national corporations.
With so much commerce concentrated in the area, Atlanta has become one of the most vibrant cities in the world, not just in the South. Capitalizing on the influx of new wealth mixed with old, and modern urban sophistication, Leaf Cigar Lounge offers its customers a refined, luxurious destination.
It is a wonderful place to enjoy premium hand-rolled cigars, sample exquisite whiskeys and other spirits, and drink hand-crafted cocktails, all made from scratch from fresh ingredients.
For owners David Golden and Guy Banks, owning a cigar lounge was not their first choice of profession. Golden was born and raised in Atlanta, and spent much of his professional life practicing law, and running a successful commercial real estate development company. Banks was born and raised in Washington D.C., and served as a police officer in the city of Alexandria, Virginia. He then relocated to Atlanta in 1995, and started a second career, likewise in commercial real estate development.
The two met by chance while smoking cigars at another Atlanta cigar venue, and became fast friends, united by their professional interests, and a passion for cigars and the cigar lifestyle.
Through his extensive network of contacts in commercial real estate, Banks had identified an ideal location for what the pair planned to be a different kind of cigar lounge. Their vision was somewhat unique. They don’t consider themselves a cigar shop, but rather, an exclusive refuge for serious cigar lovers, both locals and visitors alike. The Leaf requires no memberships or extra fees. The club-like atmosphere grows out of the sophistication of the locale, the elegantly modern décor, the premium offerings, and the camaraderie of its clientele.
The lounge is situated in an upscale shopping, dining and entertainment plaza. The first exposure many people get to The Leaf, are the aromas wafting around the plaza from customers enjoying cigars in the comfortable outdoor seating area. With Atlanta’s generally warm climate, outdoor seating is available nearly year-round, but even in the winter large outdoor heaters allow for the comfort of their guests in all but the coldest of days.
Step Inside for a Cigar and a Spirit
Upon entering the lounge, guests see the bar area to the left, including the beautiful handmade bar top and bar back. Spirit offerings include the finest scotches, bourbons and other whiskeys, along with an impressive collection of premium tequilas, vodkas, and rums. The cocktail menu focuses on fresh selections and handcrafted cocktails. There are no bar guns, taps, or pre-mixed, mass-produced drinks here. Everything is bottle-fresh or freshly squeezed, hand-cut, and made-to-order.
In addition to the generous bar-top seating, the front of the lounge also has a number of high-top cocktail tables where knowledgeable servers bring the best of the bar directly to their customers.
To the right of the main entrance, is a large etched-glass window which separates the main bar area form the special seating area reserved for private box owners. The Leaf offers three sizes of climate controlled storage lockers for its customers, with prices beginning at $350 per year. The entire stock of lockers are currently occupied, and the waiting list is extensive. To the rear of the lounge is the main seating area, featuring a cluster of comfortable leather chairs; the owners opted against including sofas in their seating arrangements because chairs allow for more comfortable seating, and facilitate better face-to-face conversation.
Cigars and Conversation
Conversation is very important to the owners and clientele at The Leaf. In fact, Banks hosts a regular monthly event at The Leaf, “Cigars and Conversation,” where customers gather to talk about the issues of the day, from entertainment to politics, sports to culture. Golden points out that there are three large flat-screen T.V.s in the lounge, but they are seldom on in the evenings. Of course Monday nights during football season are a popular draw, as is the Masters golf tournament in nearby Augusta during the first week in April, but Golden emphasizes that the Leaf Cigar Lounge is not a sports bar.
In addition to the “Cigars and Conversation” evenings, The Leaf maintains a very busy calendar of special events and regular activities for their guests. Every Wednesday is Ladies Night at The Leaf, and it’s no mere token gesture to appease the female significant others of the lounge’s male customers. The Leaf takes their female clientele very seriously, creating special events to appeal to women’s tastes and interests, along with events intended to expand the knowledge base of their customers, beginners and experienced smokers alike.
In addition to the special events, the weekends see a flurry of activities, with local and nationally known DJs spinning music every Friday, and live music every Saturday. The rotating calendar draws heavily on the jazz that influenced a generation of R&B and hip hop superstars to emerge from Atlanta. The party often goes on well into the early hours of the morning.
In addition to their regular clientele, travelers make up a large portion of The Leaf’s customers. This is not by chance; the owners acknowledge two major international 5-star hotels in close proximity to The Leaf. One of them provides facilities for cigar smokers, while the other does not. The concierge staff at the hotel that does not permit smoking encourages its guests to patronize The Leaf, rather than sending them to the other 5-star hotel.
The Cigar Lifestyle
As fine as the bar offerings and entertainment are at The Leaf, the primary focus remains on the cigars. Owners Banks and Golden are both life-long cigar lovers, and express a true appreciation for what they refer to as the “Cigar Lifestyle,” exemplified by a refined cultural sophistication, a welcoming atmosphere of camaraderie, and the mutual respect shared among cigar smokers around the world.
“I’ve traveled all over the world,” says Golden, “and everywhere I’ve been, cigar smokers are the same. They instantly have something in common, and always have something to talk about.”
The walk-in humidor features a selection of classics and favorites, but the owners place a greater emphasis on boutique brands and special offerings. “We realize we’re not for everyone,” says Golden, “but our customers are slightly more discerning than the typical ‘occasional’ cigar smoker.” The sliding glass doors to the humidor are a sophisticated, modern touch, but everything else is strictly traditional. The shelves and walls are all of Spanish cedar, and the humidification system is carefully controlled to ensure that the cigars remain at their best, regardless of age.
The lounge also offers a regular “Cigar of the Month,” typically a small-run or limited production cigar from a boutique manufacturer. This cigar gets special placement inside the humidor, with manufacturers frequently hosting launch parties to commemorate this special recognition. These events are often tied to special tasting events hosted by various spirits vendors.
The owners of The Leaf take their greatest satisfaction from their daily personal interactions with their customers. Banks and Golden stress, the customers are the heart and soul of their business. The true pleasure of that interaction is when customers begin to feel like family, and The Leaf Cigar Lounge begins to feel like a home away from home for their customers. No amount of marketing can produce that kind of relationship. It has to grow naturally, organically, between friends. It mirrors the birth and life of The Leaf Cigar Lounge. What started as a conversation between two strangers over cigars, has developed into a successful partnership, a thriving business, and a lasting friendship.
The Leaf Cigar Lounge is located at:
931 Monroe Drive, Suite 206c
Atlanta, GA 30308