The last time you were at your local cigar lounge, you may have noticed that all the previously unmarked ashtrays now say Diamond Crown. Or that the Montecristo logo seems to appear on everything from matches to wall art. Bigger selection of Rocky Patel than you remember? It is very possible that your tobacconist has decided to brand his lounge. Branding can be as much a psychological approach to the market as it is an academic one, and applying it to the lounge dynamic is a recent trend in the industry that is giving cigar companies the chance to advertise and perpetuate their products by way of branded merchandise, promotional art, comprehensive cigar selections and, more abstractly, experience.
Though some companies have had branded flagship smoking lounges and stores for years, an increasing number of branded lounges are opening in cigar shops and even on a stand-alone basis. The phenomenon has gained particular momentum with smoking bans, as these lounges and cigar bars have proven advantageous to cigar brands in smoking restrictive environments.
Brand owner Rocky Patel has taken both routes. While he has put his name on nearly 30 cigar-shop lounges across the country, Patel’s most ambitious investment came last November when he opened the luxuriously appointed Burn by Rocky Patel. Situated in Naples, Florida, the city where the company makes its headquarters, the modern, 3,500-square-foot space draws from a Byzantine color palate, marrying both vintage and contemporary designs influenced by Havana, the Near East and India.
“When I observed cigar lounges all over the country, and the world, I noticed a common theme: everything looked like a library,” says Patel. “I wanted to build something with ‘wow’ factor and something that transports and inspires you.”
Burn is an exercise in design fusion and this was accomplished by incorporating the dark, ambient lighting of a hookah bar with stained-glass embellishments, lit candles and well-researched furnishings. Intricate Moroccan-style lanterns hang from the ceiling throwing an almost ritualistic light on Burn’s marble surfaces and inlaid tile floors.
“The stone bar is underlit to look like flowing, volcanic lava,” says Patel. “The effect is stunning. All these details combined with the cigar allow you to take a journey.”
Naturally, every Rocky Patel cigar is available here, but Patel enlisted such companies as Illusione, Fuente, La Flor Dominicana and My Father Cigars to create private labels just for Burn. There’s a full bar and a list of fine wines. Fresh air filters in every few minutes and 1,300 square feet of outdoor patio space has been allotted for smokers who want to puff in the Florida sun. At sundown, Burn transforms into a more night-clubby environment. “It gets a bit louder after 11 p.m.,” says Patel, “but there are many sections for quiet conversation.” Patel plans on opening more Burn lounges in Washington, DC, and Las Vegas.
Such a grand undertaking as Burn can require hefty construction costs and long-term investments. As an alternative, the newest and more cost-effective strategy in branded cigar lounges comes in the form of the retrofit. In other words, a cigar company will assess a preexisting tobacconist and turn it into a branded lounge by supplying promotional art, furniture,
signage, accoutrements and cigars. This face-lift method is far easier and faster than designing and building something from scratch, and many cigar stores across the country have been more than willing to participate.
Back in 2005 Jeff Borysiewicz, founder and president of Corona Cigar Co., opened the first Avo lounge within his 3,500-square-foot retail shop in Lake Mary-Heathrow, Florida.
“The question is ‘What is the ultimate smoking experience the lounge will give the smoker?’ ” says Borysiewicz. “With the Avo lounge, we give the smoker an upscale experience to match the upscale image of the Avo brand, but it is not too high-end as to be out of reach.”