Great cigar lounges earn customers’ loyalty because they are among the few “third places” left where they can still light up, says urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg. The author of “The Great Good Place” claims that people not only need homes and offices, but a café, coffee shop, bookstore, bar, salon, or some other hangout which asks nothing of them but to be themselves. So, for cigar lovers who believe stogies taste best when you kick back with a few good friends, here’s a list of lounges that could become your new third place.
1. 8 Eighty Eight
Formerly called Red Cloud, this store is open to all, but the back bar, above, which includes poker and pool tables, is for members only. It’s a haven for smoking folk, with you-are-there-sized widescreens—invariably tuned to sports. 8 Eighty Eight also is one of the rare Diamond Crown cigar lounges in California, which means it’s authorized to sell superpremium Diamond Crown, Maximus, and Julius Caeser, named for cigar pioneer J.C. Newman. You have to love a place where you can find a print of Picasso’s “Guernica” in the bathroom. Membership costs $300 per year. 118 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton, 714-871-0888, 8eightyeight.net.
2. Johnny Kelly’s Mens Shop
Tustin fastidiously preserves and honors its past—it still has a blacksmith. So it’s no surprise to find an unpretentious cigar shop in the heart of Old Town. Owner John Kelly carries brands both rarified and affordable, but the place has a definite den feel, complete with stuffed animal heads and a live parrot named Roxanne. Go to the back patio, where you can smoke and shoot the bull with Kelly and his buddies. For smokin’ guys and gals, there’s no better place to watch the sun set. 330 El Camino Real, Tustin, 714-510-6993, kellystobaccoandtuxedo.8k.com.
3. Old Towne Havana
Tucked between Felix Continental Café and Starbucks, this shop serves discerning smokers and Chapman University students. The relatively small interior contains several chairs and a flat screen, but the roomy humidor is filled with Fuente’s Hemingway series, Ashton VSG, Rocky Patel Vintage 1999 Connecticut, Padron’s 1926 and 1964 Anniversary series, and other fine products. This is a laidback setting: Check out the old-timers defying Starbucks’ no-smoking-near-its-door rule by setting up folding chairs and puffing away. Old Towne Havana, 42 Plaza Square, Orange, 714-516-2500.
4. Vintage Cigars
This is a lounge lizard’s dream living room, with leather chairs you could almost hide in, a wide-screen TV that’s “Monday Night Football”-ready, prints of manly men including “The Sopranos” cast and Al Pacino in “Scarface” on the walls, and a fridge filled with dollar sodas and water. Vintage gives back: It has sent cigars to military personnel overseas. That’s the fellowship of cigar smokers for you. 3734 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, 714-557-4332.
5. Siglo Cigar Lounge
This lounge has a great location near the business locus of Irvine, Costa Mesa, and Newport Beach. There’s free Wi-Fi for those who want to get in a little extra work, and a large-screen TV in front of a bank of lounge chairs for those who don’t. Siglo has a long humidor with nearly all of the notable varieties, plus house blends priced at $5 to $10 each. 1000 Bristol St. N., Newport Beach, 949-553-1891.
6. Maxamar Ultimate Cigars
When the rest of the world gets too rough, hide out in this off-the-beaten-path cigar cave. Maxamar’s 1,000-square-foot humidor is stuffed with brands hard to find in Orange County, such as Viaje, Carrillo, Murcielago, 601, Xen by Nish Patel (Rocky’s brother), and Subculture Studios for the new-school smoker. Plenty of seating and a bank of espresso machines encourage customers to linger; coffee and smoking still make good bedfellows. Maxamar also does a booming business online. 3744 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, 714-633-3000, maxamarcigars.com.
7. Club Aficionado Cigars Lounge
Club Aficionado sets itself apart with its members-only kitchen that dishes up chicken wings, rib-eye steak, filet mignon, and Mediterranean dishes in the cozy back lounge. Nonmembers who want to dine can earn a same-day pass by spending $25 or more. The lounge has a 106-inch hi-def projection TV. Like 8 Eighty Eight, Club Aficionado also is a Diamond Crown lounge, and takes pride in its high-end selection which includes Arturo Fuente Opus X, one of the world’s rarest and most expensive cigar lines with smokes costing hundreds of dollars. The private humidor made of Spanish cedar is a great place to store your precious smokes. Rent a space for a year ($350) or as little as three months for $100. 23825 El Toro Road, Lake Forest, 949-829-8474, acigarbar.com.
photography by Kyle Monk
This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Orange Coast magazine.