Smoke and eat in New York - at the same time
There are two types of attraction in New York. The surface stuff – like a visit to the Empire State Building and a walk through Times Square – show up in just about every guidebook you can imagine. Dig a little deeper, and you'll find the array of experiences that appeal to both locals and visitors, the destinations and events that often escape notice. The cigar dinners at tobacconist De La Concha fall into the latter category. If you're a cigar smoker and you find yourself in Manhattan when one of these experiences is being held, make time for the quintessential New York smoking experience.
De La Concha is among the oldest cigar shops in the city, and it is probably the most famous. On any day, you'll find a broad spectrum of characters, from the regulars, who don't let a day pass without viewing the world trough the floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall front window, to the first-timers from out of town to the occasional celebrity who stops by for a fix. Former mayor Rudy Giuliani and former presidential candidate Al Sharpton (stop laughing) come by occasionally, and TV and movie stars not only pick up cigars for the road but occasionally sit down to relax ... just like the rest of us.
The store's general manager, Ron Melendi, decided last year to extend the store's reach. What started as one cigar dinner, to experiment with a new idea, has grown into a quarterly affair, in which he features a specific cigar brand and sometimes a unique, unusual or relatively unknown liquor. Past cigars have included the Davidoff Millennium line, Ashton Virgin Sun Grown series and the creations of Don Pepin Garcia, who rolls De La Concha's house cigar, the Grand Reserve.
Meals and the bar (both included in the ticket price) are supplied by De La Concha's neighbor, restaurant Rue 57. Each course is carted down the 6th Avenue sidewalk with deliberate precision, almost as if every step is scripted by the army of waiters that supports the effort. Tables are brought into the store specifically for the dinners, with two-tops scattered across the store, and the lounge's three fixed tables converted to boardroom seating. For a change, one can smoke a cigar before, during or after eating with impunity.
The events vary in price. A dinner with a full menu will generally cost between $100 and $150, with rarer or more expensive cigars pushing the ticket to the higher end of the range. For those on a budget, De La Concha's "cut and light" events skip the meal and offer a few hors d'ouevres and a limited open bar to accompany the featured tobacco. Usually priced at around $40, the cut and light experiences are much more accessible.
Of course, there is no limit at the upper end. In December, De La Concha hosted a dinner for pipe smokers, in partnership with Dunhill. This was the first Dunhill pipe dinner held. Ever. Anywhere in the world. So, the ticket was a bit pricey at $195 ... but a bargain when you add up what it covers. The usual Rue 57 dinner and bar was enhanced by a Dunhill pipe and a unique pipe stand (in the shape of a hand) that is unavailable for purchase.
"We try to make our dinners unique," Melendi says. The Dunhill pipe dinner's statue and pipe are at the extreme end, but many dinners have included cigars that either had not been released yet or generally are not allowed to be given away at cigar dinners. "Few stores have been able to hold dinners the way we have," he continues, "and the fact that we're the busiest store in the city gives us a bit more leverage to go the extra mile for our guests."
It was this spirit at work in October, when Melendi held an event at the city's Grand Havana Room, Manhattan's exclusive private cigar club. The luxury event, which cost a princely $450 to attend, was catered by the Grand Havana Room, included upscale God of Fire cigars and benefited the Dominican Republic's Cigar Family Charitable Foundation. The centerpiece was the auctioning of a bronze Prometheus statue created by artist Julio Aguilera and supported by his patron, Nik Renieris, CEO of coffee equipment manufacturer Soltazza.
Without a doubt, New York's cigar culture is vibrant.
As you can see, Melendi sees the need to keep the concept fresh, and this was most evident at the November cigar dinner. Without telling any of his guests, Melendi announced with a smile that the guest of honor, Pepin, was donating five boxes of cigars to the charitable organization Cigars for Soldiers, which sends sticks to military personnel serving overseas. David Wells of NYC Cigar attending the dinner on a whim, quietly agreed to donate five boxes, as well. All in, our troops will benefit from close to 7,500 minutes of uninterrupted bliss, despite the turmoil around them in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.
So, you never know what you'll find at a De La Concha cigar dinner. The cigars change, and the causes vary. But, the environment stays the same. Step into Manhattan's cigar oasis, and light up the cigar of your choice (mine happens to be the store's Grand Reserve). Dig into a steak frites at the dinners, or sit back in the lounge with an espresso in the middle of the day. Forget about smoking bans for a while. "Just join us, and enjoy the good life," Melendi suggests.