By Joe Bosso
COMFORT. RELAXATION. RESPITE. That feeling like our challenges and stressors are on hold. Just the right vibe for friends on the same wavelength to effortlessly engage. That’s what attracts us to our favorite cigar lounge. Each establishment has its own personality. It becomes a niche community unto itself. Your go-to lounge is an escape where local flavor and robust tastes are right at your fingertips.
Each of the four cigar spots profiled in this issue have put their unique stamp on the lounge life experience. It’s highly recommended you pop in if you find yourself in their neck of the woods.
CASA DE MONTECRISTO BY JR CIGAR
General Manager: Chris Ferrara
When is a humidor more of a warehouse? At roughly 5,000 square feet and stocked with over one million cigars, the enormous walk-in humidor at the Casa de Montecristo in Paramus, New Jersey, certainly feels like the latter – or an emporium even. “At one time, it was the world’s largest humidor,” says General Manager Chris Ferrara. “It still might be. We carry several hundred brands, everything from the premium names to boutique blends. If you can’t find something you like in there, it probably doesn’t exist.”
Ferrara’s professional background is in the retail specialty golf business. Up until last September, he ran two flagship Golfsmith stores in New York City. A 20-year cigar smoker, he jumped at an offer to manage the Paramus Casa de Montecristo by JR lounge. “The golf and cigar clientele are quite similar,” he says. “Golfers are passionate about their game and equipment; cigar lovers are passionate about their brands and the overall lifestyle.”
The establishment itself has been at the same location for over 20 years, but it’s gone through some dramatic changes. Up until three years ago, it was a combination cigar store/general merchandise outlet. When the decision was made to create lounge rooms and concentrate on selling cigar products and accessories, Fererra says, “Things took off big-time. The lounges were an immediate hit.”
There is a smaller-sized “member’s lounge” (which is actually open to the public) that comfortably seats 50 to 60 people. “We do private events in there – office meetings and parties, and sometimes we do cigar schools,” Ferrara says. “We have one of our expert tobacconists conduct a two-hour tutorial. That’s one of our most popular events.” The member’s lounge can also be rented for bachelor parties, and as Ferrara points out, it was recently used for a bachelorette bash. “We had 25 women smoking cigars and having a good time. More and more young ladies are coming into the lounge. They find it a welcoming place.”
Over 100 customers can kick back in the spacious main lounge. There’s plush leather chairs, a fireplace, soft LED lighting, widescreen TVs, and WiFi. Customers can purchase soft drinks, coffee, and espresso at the beverage counter. “The main lounge is the centerpiece of the place,” Ferrara says. “It’s become a haven for North Jersey residents. We have an eclectic clientele. There’s young people and folks in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. We’ve got regulars who come in the morning; others who show up after work. You can find everybody here – plumbers, steamfitters, brain surgeons, celebrities. Everybody co-exists nicely here. People come in, light up a cigar and leave their worries behind them.”
by Joe Bosso
CASA DE MONTECRISTO BY JR CIGAR
General Manager: Joanna Wilkinson
“We’re transforming the notion that people have about cigar bars,” says Joanna Wilkinson, General Manager of the three-year-old Casa de Montecristo by JR lounge in Mooresville, North Carolina. “People tend to think of them as these dark and drab places, but we wanted an atmosphere that was fun and friendly, one that got away from the dreary ‘old man’s cigar bar’ vibe. Our lounge is very light and airy – it’s a look that appeals to a younger demographic.”
And, as Wilkinson points out, it’s pulling in more and more women. “That’s one of the exciting things about the business right now – women are realizing that cigar lounges aren’t just for men anymore. At first, they might come in as tag-alongs with their husbands or boyfriends, but we’ll find them a cigar that will appeal to them. Before you know it, they’re coming in on their own or with their girlfriends.”
Indeed, the Mooresville Casa de Montecristo by JR lounge is a large, airy and welcoming place to kick back and enjoy a smoke. The centerpiece of the establishment is the main lounge area with its comfy leather seats and 16 widescreen TVs. “No matter what sporting event is playing, we carry it,” says Wilkinson. In addition, there are two outdoor patios, as well as a separate meeting room that seats 16 people.
“Of course, we have WiFi for people who want to come in and work on their laptops while having one of their favorite cigars,” Wilkinson says. “We have a regular group of folks who treat the place like it’s their second office.”
Since it opened, the lounge offered craft beer, but just recently the establishment opened a full bar that serves top-shelf wine and liquor. “The full bar is already a big hit,” says Assistant Manager Sean Franklin. “Now we’ve got couples who come in after dinner. Even if they don’t smoke cigars, they come in and spend a few hours.”
For cigar smokers, the lounge’s walk-in humidor is fully stocked with premium brands, everything from long-standing favorites to boutique blends. And there are 45 humidified cedar lockers for customers who want to store their sticks.
“It’s really been a pleasure seeing the place take off like it has,” says Franklin. “We’ve got a very loyal customer base – blue-collar folks, executives, young and old, men and women. There’s something about smoking cigars that brings people together. The lounge is a nice melting pot.”
by Joe Bosso
Owner: Angela Yue
About 10 years ago, Angela Yue walked into a cigar lounge in San Diego’s trendy and historic Gaslamp Quarter and her life changed forever. The lounge was owned by the Kalasho family, who are considered pioneers of brick and mortar stores and lounges in the area. “It was at that time that I immediately fell in love with the cigar culture from the cigars, people, conversation, and cocktails, basically the entire ambiance,” Yue says.
Yue worked alongside the Kalasho family for about 10 years and began learning about tobacco from the ground up. She became involved in farming premium tobacco from the Bahamas, manufacturing tobacco products and also distribution. The knowledge she gained over the years serves her well now in her own venture, Lord Puffer. Yue opened her lounge in December 2017 because she missed what had attracted her to the hobby in the first place—the friendships and comradery among cigar enthusiasts.
Yue has combined her love for a comfortable, welcoming lounge with the other aspects of the tobacco industry. “I would like to consider us a vertically integrated company, as we are involved in all aspects of premium cigars, from the brick and mortar and online store to
wholesaling, distribution, and manufacturing.”
Lord Puffer’s customer base ranges from CEOs to blue collar-types to everyone in between. “The one thing that our clients do have in common is their desire for a great cigar in a quality and comfortable environment,” Yue says. The lounge, she emphasizes, it about a lifestyle. That includes accommodations for foodies, too. “We have a community barbecue and kitchen area for any of our clients to bring their favorite dishes. Whether it be breakfast lunch or dinner our grill is always running. We have a barbecue for all of our loyal customers every Saturday and throughout the week you can expect to see a beautiful cut of Tomahawk steak or lobster tail being prepared.”
That attention to detail and willingness to create a space that goes beyond regular customer service expectations sets Lord Puffer apart. “It is a lifestyle here,” Yue says. “We offer multilevel experiences from general membership to an exclusive 24-hour access VIP lounge that includes conferences rooms, parlor rooms, private entrance, and many other well-deserved amenities.”
Angela Yue has created an environment that encompasses everything a cigar lover could possibly desire. And at the center of her business is a love for cigars themselves. She has never wavered from the enthusiasm she felt more than 10 years ago. “The craftsmanship behind such a delicate cigar is absolutely remarkable,” she says. “To see all the dedication, pride, love, and technicalities that go into producing such a simple yet complex puro is what drives my passion every day. It is truly a work of art. For me, tobacco and premium cigars are not just a pastime that I enjoy, they have become a lifestyle for the past 10 years and I know without a doubt, for many decades to come.”
by Elisa Jordan
Co-owner: Tony Dzhordzhalyan
Not many people can lay claim to such an ideal first cigar story as Tony Dzhordzhalyan. He was 18 at the time and stationed in Hawaii while serving in the Marines. One of his supervisors invited some of the young soldiers over for Thanksgiving dinner, after which the group relaxed on the patio out back. His supervisor offered cigars to his guests and Tony accepted. While overlooking the ocean and surrounded by friends, Tony puffed on a Punch Punch-Punch and knew instantly that he was experiencing something special. He’s been a cigar enthusiast ever since. That was 21 years ago and his passion has only grown.
Tony entered the cigar industry professionally in 2002 when a lounge he frequented offered him a job. He worked his way up to general manager and in 2006 started producing and importing cigars from Costa Rica. He sold those cigars to lounges in California, Arizona and Nevada as a house blend. “It was a really good cigar,” Tony recalls. “We had fun with it. That’s the key to our success. We have fun while producing cigars.”
It’s that sense of fun and “love to the leaf, I call it,” as Tony calls it, that inspired him and a couple of partners to open their own lounge. “My partners and I would go to a cigar lounge almost every night and get away from the stresses of the world,” he says. “And one day we thought, why don’t we open our own place? We can hang out smoke cigars.” The partners all have careers outside of cigars—Tony negotiates contracts on behalf of the United States Navy with private companies. One partner is a restauranteur and the other works in an autobody shop. “We’re not in this for the money,” he says. “Everyone earns their money somewhere else.”
The idea to open a lounge was a good one and they started thinking about it seriously. While driving to visit his uncle in Glendale every week, Tony noticed that a lot of new buildings were going up in the neighborhood. And as luck would have it, there were no other cigar lounges in the area so there was a void in the market. They found an energy-efficient, stand-alone structure that was in a good location; soon the lease was signed and the keys were in hand.
From the beginning, Tony says, they wanted to create a welcoming environment for cigar smokers. “I had all my friends in the cigar industry come and give me ideas,” Tony says. “They know what works and what doesn’t.” Tony incorporated their suggestions, starting first and foremost with the humidor. “They said not to worry about the other stuff. That would come.” And it did. The lounge now has seating, televisions, and music. There is also an outdoor patio with a gazebo for smokers to relax in the open air. And most importantly, Puro Humo offers an extensive selection of premier cigars. There are only two rules Tony asks of guests at the lounge. “No politics,” he says. “And no religion.” Customers are happy to oblige and it only adds to the easygoing environment and a sense of comradery. Smokers who were traveling to other cities for a lounge now have a local spot to call their own. “A lounge is like a sports team,” he says.
Because of the environment, cigar enthusiasts from all walks of life find themselves smoking at the Glendale lounge. “We have writers, producers and because of our proximity to Studio City and Hollywood, entertainment people,” Tony says. “We also have regular business people and we have a lot of blue collar guys coming in.”
Puro Humo has also given back to the community. Four times per year they hold events at the shop and host 250-350 people to raise money for charity, including the Glendale Police Officers Association. This summer Puro Humo will throw a party to celebrate two years in business, where they’ll debut a new cigar (the details are currently a secret). That Thanksgiving changed the course of a young Marine’s life. Tony Dzhordzhalyan had found his life’s passion. “It truly is for the love of the leaf,” he says.
by Elisa Jordan