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Leisure: Smoke Scene

Richard Carleton Hacker

There was a time when people went to Las Vegas exclusively to gamble and see the shows. Then, as the city tried to recast itself as a destination for the entire family, hotels began adding amusements and game rooms to complement their gaming rooms. Ever changing, Las Vegas has now jettisoned that idea, deciding that it really just wants adults, and accordingly, it is gaining a reputation as the best place in the United States to smoke a cigar.

The atmospheres at the newest cigar-friendly restaurants and smoking lounges range from electronica-inspired light displays to wood-paneled alcoves evoking the solitude of private clubs. George Maloof, the 37-year-old owner of the ultrahip Palms Casino Resort, explains the sudden trend toward a citywide open-humidor policy. “It’s always seemed to me that cigar smokers know how to enjoy life,” says Maloof, himself a nonsmoker. “They eat better, drink better, and stay longer. So why shouldn’t I create an environment that will attract them?” Indeed, he has created some of the most popular cigar-smoking milieus in Vegas.

Ghost In The Machine. Maloof owns the most talked-about cigar lounge in town, the purple and green neon Ghost Bar, which dramatically sprawls across the 55th floor of the Palms, “almost floating in the sky like a ghost,” observes Maloof. Ghost Bar is more than just a place to fire up a robusto; it has become a definitive Las Vegas experience for smokers and nonsmokers alike. Massive windows present panoramic views of the Strip, similar to those you would see if piloting a plane into McCarran International Airport. An eerily backlit bar stocked with superpremium spirits and imported beers forms the only wall that is not glass. Appropriately, cocktails are served with glowing ghost-shaped swizzle sticks, and premium cigars are presented in a stainless steel humidor that, as it opens, reveals a spooky blue glow.  In a small side room more conducive to private conversation, patterns of purple light dance along the walls from which transparent spectral photos of 19th- century faces gaze out.

On any Friday or Saturday night, the lounge is packed with businessmen in suits, curious tourists in sport shirts, blondes in black, and men who, with their open shirts, look as though they stepped from the pages of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. The patrons, ranging in age from 21 to 65, lounge on angular futuristic couches and chairs. Couples snuggle in clear, plastic bubble chairs that hang from the ceiling, or they sprawl on top of egg- and ball-shaped cushions that are strewn across the carpet. Looking up, I see why guests are encouraged to flop to the floor: A purple ghost with neon green eyes stares down from its recess in the ceiling.

At one end of the lounge, sliding glass doors open onto the Ghost Deck, where, under a canopy of stars, you can see the blinking neon on the Strip and the city’s dots of light, which stretch out to meet the mountains lining the horizon. At the far end of the deck, a Plexiglas-covered chamber invites the daring to step down a few feet and seemingly float 55 floors above the ground. It is, of course, a sobering experience. The lights below cast spectral shadows on me, so that as I smoke my cigar, I resemble a vapor-breathing apparition to anyone who might happen to look skyward.

Fireside Chats. The modern and sophisticated Fireplace Lounge at MGM Grand’s neo-Italian restaurant, Olio!, offers a far different attitude toward cocktails and cigars. I make the requisite stop at the 40-foot-long, ice-topped martini bar and its tantalizing display of oversize vodka bottles. With cocktail in hand, I continue on to the lounge, which is separated from the restaurant by a glass wall with a fireplace inside. The darkened room softly glows with “floating tables”—marble slabs with red neon lights shining from underneath. Only the occasional flare of a match illuminating a puff of cigar smoke breaks the blackened stillness. This is the spot for some intimacy and quiet conversation.

Velvet Over Ground. Vegas’ cigar lounges begin to fill after 9 pm, and many will remain open for as long as patrons wish to stay. Jack’s Velvet Lounge at the Venetian is one such lounge that I visit in the wee hours. The music is still loud, and the crowd is a mix of locals and tourists. The built-in humidor at the end of the bar is smaller than I would have liked, but Taittinger is offered by the glass, Dom Pérignon by the bottle, and the martini glasses and ashtrays are gigantic. The overstuffed white chairs and couches seem to be in their own little rooms because each is accented with white drapes flowing from the 30-foot ceiling. I sink into a comfy couch on the patio and gaze at the Mirage’s volcano and Treasure Island’s pirate ship. It is a perfect spot from which to see the sun rise over the desert.

Rock Solid. In Victorian England, the best cigar clubs were private, and Vegas continues that tradition. The House of Blues Foundation Room, on the 43rd floor of Mandalay Bay, is open to the public on Mondays from midnight until 5 am. Hotel VIPs, however, may obtain all-access guest privileges. I take the private elevator, which opens to a dimly lit room, and immediately feel as if I have stepped into an Indiana Jones movie. The flickering golden light from the Gothic fireplace casts dark, iridescent finger patterns on the Persian artifacts lining the walls. Groups and couples, who may or may not be celebrities, huddle in close conversation on couches in the shadows. The bar attracts louder and more businesslike discussion. The Foundation Room offers the only cigar menu in the city that lists brands by strength, including Diamond Crown (mild), Davidoff Special R (medium), and Ashton VSG (full).

Stirling Reputation. The most impressive cigar menu in all of Las Vegas belongs to the Stirling Club, which is part of Turnberry Place, a luxury condominium complex that includes a gourmet dining room, a wine cellar, a spa, and staff who know every member’s favorite brand of cigar. The hallmark of the property is unmatched personal service, and nowhere is it more evident than at the Cigar Lounge, where personnel are specially trained in clipping and lighting cigars. (They know, for example, not to allow the flame to touch the cigar.) The wood paneling, billiard table, and leather sofas return smoking to an age of elegance, instead of treating it as a vice. I find everything from the Partagas 150th Anniversary to preembargo Cubans, though the Stirling Club proffers something even more rare. It is the only place in the city where I find 50 Year Old Macallan.

The cigar boom may have come and gone years ago for the rest of the country, but Las Vegas, in its typical fashion, isn’t following the trend. It leads a new one. 

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