Raising the Cigar Bar – Hour Detroit Magazine
ANDYou have just finished a delicious steak dinner, followed by something sweet – maybe creme brulee. It’s time to sit back with a cup of coffee, maybe a shot of brandy, and light a nice big … light! You can’t do that anymore, can you?
Well, you can still have a cigar after dinner at a few select Detroit subway locations.
Michigan’s smoking ban went into effect in May 2010. But there were loopholes – the bigger ones went to those with the most powerful lobbyists.
The biggest exception was for game days in Detroit’s casinos, as well as casinos operated by Native American tribes, as they are not governed by state law.
But as the law was drafted, several cigar retailers also joined forces to lobby.
In short, they have gained a few exceptions: Smoking is still allowed in cigar shops with “Grandfather”.
Then some enterprising owners began converting these stores into “cigar bars” – like serving drinks. A handful of others took the next step to offer a food component.
Place Churchill’s Bistro & Cigar Bar in Birmingham at the top of the latter category.
Owner Nash Zaitouna came from a restaurant that used to run Pike Street in Pontiac and had been running a cigar shop since 2000. When the ban went into effect, he decided to apply for a bistro license.
“People thought it was just ordinary bar food,” says Zaitouna. But when Churchill opened in 2012 it was a few degrees north of common. The price is top notch. We’re talking dry-ripened steaks (a 28-day Himalayan salt wall process, no less) and fresh seafood flown in daily. There is a full service bar with a wide selection of whiskey, scotch and bourbon and a long wine list.
The steaks come with a version of the traditional zip sauce (the whiskey and peppercorn or béarnaise sauces are also good choices). There’s airline chicken breasts, fried sea bass, lobster risotto, lamb chops, and more.
And of course there is a well-stocked humidor with around 1,400 different types of cigars as well as gifts such as shaving accessories, cufflinks and sticks.
The atmosphere is definitely not ordinary either. The interior looks like an old English gentlemen’s club with leather armchairs, walnut-covered walls and clear service.
The operation of a cigar lounge is subject to strict guidelines, says Zaitouna. At least 10 percent of the income must come from the sale of cigars. Zaitouna says they allow smoking in all areas of the restaurant but not on the terrace. And it’s just cigars: no cigarettes, pipes, or other tobacco products. They sell pipe tobacco but cannot be smoked in the building.
Another important requirement is the ventilation system. And Churchill’s is state of the art and provides fresh air several times an hour.
Sure, if you sit right next to someone who smokes, you will smell the cigar. However, the system keeps the air relatively fresh. It’s definitely not a hazy, smoke-filled environment.
The patrons of Zaitouna have to agree. Churchill’s isn’t just frequented by groups of business people doing business at tables. There are a lot of couples out for dinner, and Zaitouna estimates 15 to 18 percent of his customers aren’t even smokers. In warmer weather, the non-smoking terrace is also a popular option.
But it’s realistic. “Even with the ventilation, people won’t come if they don’t smoke,” says Zaitouna.
Zaitouna owns another Churchill store in West Bloomfield that serves alcohol but does not have the food component of the Birmingham location (customers can bring groceries).
He also hopes to extend Churchill’s success to the east and redesign Robusto’s Martini Lounge in Grosse Pointe Woods.
The new location, which could open as early as January, also offers fine dining. “My cook will oversee both businesses,” says Zaitouna.
In recent years, other cigar-based establishments have jumped into the fray to some extent. Others hope so.
Smoky’s Fine Cigars in Royal Oak are planning a renovation – food and alcohol will be added in early 2016, according to owner Elliott Arabo.
Why the change? “My business has always been successful and doing well,” says Arabo. But even with a packed cigar lounge, options were limited.
By adding drinks or food, there is hope that customers will tend to stay longer and spend more money, especially since they are no longer allowed to light up in restaurants and bars.
Arabo plans 50-60 seats and a bar. And he gets a helping hand from the staff at Churchill (he and Zaitouna are friends). “His cook will be my cook,” he says. “He’s competition, but he’s not going to step on your toes.”
Besides, it’s not like Arabo opens right next door. And he has no plans to offer upscale dinner club fare like Churchill’s.
The bottom line is that the 2010 smoking ban may have hurt business initially. “Then we adapted,” says Arabo.
And cigar bar owners hope that playing their cards right and customizing can help business even more in the long run – and provide a place to relax with a smoke after dinner for those who tend to.
Churchills – Birmingham 116 S. Old Woodward Ave., Birmingham; 248-647-4555; Churchills – West Bloomfield. 6635 Orchard Lake Rd., West Bloomfield; 248-855-0300
Burst into flames
Here are just a few of the cigar-friendly locations that Metro Detroit also serves food and / or Alocholian drinks
From Steve Wilke
Belicoso Café and Martini Bar
It’s like a cozy neighborhood bar, but with a large selection of cigars, coffee, cocktails, beer, wine and some starters.
3030 Biddle Ave., Wyandotte
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The Cellar Cigar Bar – Main Street Martini Bar & Grill in downtown
Under an upscale restaurant is a cigar lounge, which also hosts wine tastings and private parties.
201 W. Main St., Brighton
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The Godfather Cigar Martini Bar
There are two different lounge levels including a VIP area on the upper level. There’s live music, a full-service bar, wine, and catering.
6876 N. Rochester Rd., Rochester
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Got Rocks Diamond Crown Cigar Lounge – Big Rock Chop House
In a separate area on the upper floor of the Chop House, customers can enjoy cigars while they have dinner or a drink. Cigar cabinets are available for members.
245 S. Eton St., Birmingham
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Jenuwine Cigar Lounge
The Jenuwine family has been selling cigars and tobacco products since 1947. Sterling Heights and Royal Oak locations offer a variety of beverages, including a wide variety of premium scotches and live entertainment.
44791 Schoenherr Rd., Sterling Heights
27754 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak
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With locations in Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Las Vegas, this cigar vendor / lounge has a great variety of cigars, drinks, and more often, live music. A members-only area is also available.
1502 Randolph St., Detroit
3780 Jackson Rd., Ann Arbor
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London Chop House
This legendary money and power lunch landmark also has an attached cigar bar and cocktail lounge with restaurants.
155 W. Congress St., Detroit
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Room 27 Cigar Bar – Sip’s Gastropub
Sip’s has an attached high-end cigar bar with a full-service bar and food including fresh seafood and steaks.
59259 Van Dyke Rd., Washington
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Secreto Cigar Vault
This full-service cigar bar / nightclub also focuses on craft cocktails, small plates, and entrees such as filet mignon, salmon, and lamb chops.
315 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale
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Stray cat lounge
The focus is on martinis and cigars, as well as live music. There is also a selection of small plates, sandwiches and pizzas.
40813 Garfield Rd., Clinton Ward