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April,
2007


Miami Embraces Club Macanudo

Cigar lounge opens within largest U.S. cigar club.

By Joseph Finora

Building on a blueprint that’s enjoyed success in New York, Washington D.C., London, and Jakarta, the Club Macanudo lounge opened within the Havana Club at the Miami City Club late last year — that’s three clubs in one.

In the heart of a city that has a long and distinguished history with cigars, the Club Macanudo lounge is a 2500-sq-ft venue outfitted with an array of amenities including soft couches and chaise lounges, dining tables between floor-to-ceiling windows, widescreen televisions, and a retractable glass wall that can transform the lounge into a private entertaining space.

The Havana Club at the Miami City Club is a members-only establishment located on the 55th floor of the Wachovia Financial Center, a mainstay of the Miami skyline. The 15,000-square-foot Club boasts a 360-degree view of Miami and its surrounding waters.

Club membership is limited to 800. Privileges include a private humidor, 24-hour concierge service, unlimited access to the Club’s in-house conference room and business center, usage of the Club’s fleet of limousines, curbside valet parking, and VIP status with British luxury goods purveyor Asprey. Havana Club members will also enjoy membership to the Downtown Athletic Club as well as reciprocal memberships to more than 150 clubs worldwide, including other Club Macanudo locations.

Club Macanudo officially opened on December 15 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony featuring Miami’s Mayor Manny Diaz, followed with performances by Jon Secada and Arturo Sandoval. Its celebrity attendee list includes Kevin Costner, Denzel Washington, Armand Assanti and Steven Segal. Former Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino has also visited.

It’s been intimated that strict smoking bans and the general outcast feeling smokers are receiving is at least partly responsible for this upsurge in private smoking clubs and are cultivating alternative business models catering to smokers and those who support them.

Cigar shops in numerous cities have been trying to stay ahead of the curve for years by adding lounges of various styles, holding smoke nights and tastings, book signings, rolling demonstrations, singles nights, Super Bowl and New Year’s Eve parties and nearly anything else to draw smokers together in a supportive environment.

Others with deep-pocketed supporters behind them have been more revolutionary such as the Marshall McGearty tobacco lounge in Chicago’s Wicker Park — the country’s first cigarette lounge. Supported by parent RJR Tobacco, which has classified it an “age-restricted venue,” the lounge only sells the company’s premium Marshall McGearty Tobacco Artisans cigarette brand and is aimed at the adult smoker seeking super-premium products and their accompanying lifestyle.

The Dining Room
While RJR and General Cigar are branding a lifestyle, they’re also aiming to control the distribution as well as the retail venue at which their products are served. The patrons at such venues ideally will be familiar with them and hopefully become loyal future customers, staying true to the brands even in a sometimes hostile environment. The Havana Club at the Miami City Club carries numerous General Cigar offerings including Macanudo Vintage and Macanudo Gold Label, Partagas, Cohiba, and La Gloria Cubana Reserva Figurados. At the time of this writing, the parties were discussing the possibility of developing a special La Gloria Cubana to be available exclusively at the club.

“This is the only facility in Miami where one can dine and smoke,” says Robert Katz, president and managing partner of the Havana Club with a nod to his venue’s exclusivity.

According to Cooper Gardiner, vice president of marketing for General Cigar, a division of Swedish Match, “The Club Macanudo lounge at the Havana Club represents a golden opportunity. Not only is the lounge a luxurious embodiment of the Macanudo brand, it also affords us an opportunity to share the Club Macanudo experience with cigar connoisseurs in South Florida.” Katz’s club carries a full selection of General Cigar’s premium and super-premium cigars and does carry some products from other manufacturers. Similarly, New York’s Club Macanudo carries General Cigar brands (its parent company) almost exclusively, plus a limited selection of Davidoff cigars based on its relationship with David Kitchens of Davidoff who is a long-standing humidor holder and entertains there very often.

Cigar Lockers inside the Club Macanudo Humidor.
“I am extremely pleased that General Cigar has agreed to partner with us in opening the Club Macanudo lounge within the Havana Club,” says Katz, 53, a native New Yorker and financial-services industry veteran. Along with his team, which includes his brother Richard, 58, who oversees club operations, Katz was able to utilize a loophole in a Florida law to obtain an exemption from the state’s anti-smoking law before going ahead with the $6 million renovation. The project included $1 million for a state-of-the-art bi-polarization, air-filtration system, among other things. “This represents the culmination of a two and a-half-year personal quest,” says Katz, who with a lawyer had to convince building owners as well as town and state officials on the viability of his project. The time frame from demolition to completed construction was a “miraculous” 12 weeks, according to Katz.

Currently there are about 275 Havana Club members and a 30-person staff to keep them in cigars and spirits. Head chef is Doug Sisk, formerly of the Sardine Factory in Monterey, Calif. He oversees a new, custom hi-tech kitchen designed by Sweden’s Electrolux. The club’s wide-open design is highlighted with Cuban colors and accented with a South Miami flare, each contributing to the club’s civilized atmosphere. Marketing has been limited to media-relations efforts and print ads in selected regional leisure/ lifestyle publications. Parties have been held for basketball franchise Miami Heat and for a group of National Football League referees. The club gives members access to three private limousines at no additional charge to shuttle them around the city as well as valet parking. Members also have access to an on-premise spa and health club facility. A cigar roller is often on hand Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings to demonstrate the finer points of cigar construction and tobacco blends. No cigarettes are sold at the club whose staff also aims to educate members by making cigar recommendations to complement their core stable of brands. Most members are generally willing to try new offerings. The smoker-friendly environment offered by the club makes it easier to do so. “This is a relaxed atmosphere. There’s camaraderie here,” notes Katz. “Members casually exchange knowledge with each other, friendships, even romances strike up.”

The view from the 55th floor of the Wachovia Financial Center.
“People want a place to enjoy an environment of privacy,” says Katz. “They like to be able to smoke without hassle while they enjoy the décor and the views. They like to be able to walk from the bar to the dining room to the lounge. We replicate home. Members feel at home yet they’re treated special.”

The club has widescreen televisions stationed throughout the premises and there’s a bar in every room. At its exclusive Courvoisseur Bar, which serves nearly every brand of cognac, there’s a $1,500 bottle of 400-year-old cognac produced during France’s Napoleonic Era. The wine list features over 300 wines ranging in price from $20 – $200 per bottle and are generally priced a bit less than at competing area restaurants. Like its New York locations, where the club concept was launched in 2006, the Miami club is open six days a week. The New York venue has hosted corporate events for such well-respected brand names as Ferrari, Aston-Martin, Blanc Pen, and ESPN’s poker tournament. Its Glenlivet scotch tastings are also well attended. The Washington D.C. club is located in FedEx Field and is busy on game days. Club Macanudo in New York City is not a private club but has a humidor fee of $700 per year or $1,000 for two years. The membership fee at the Havana Club is $5,000 and $300 per month. “That’s less than the cost of leasing a Honda,” Katz, only half-jokingly, says.

Membership is largely made up of local business owners as well as corporate executives, many of whom use the facility as a networking forum. Demographics for Macanudo smokers are similar to those across the industry. According to a company official, the Macanudo smoker is generally a male between the ages of 35-55, about 20 percent are women. Most are professional and a few get started trying the brand while still in their 20’s.

“I’ve had a love affair my entire life with wine and cigars,” says Katz. “This is a dream for me.”


SMOKESHOP - April, 2007