Though cigar smoking dates back to the ancient Mayans, there have been younger generations of men who are now embracing the habit. Countering the non-stop “grind” lifestyle that rules much of American culture, cigar smoking encourages people to sit, relax and engage in conversation. Miamians can enjoy a leisurely smoke at City Cigar Lounge in Downtown Miami, and we recently sat down with the owner, Alberto Gutierrez, to talk about his vision for bringing people together while sharing his love for cigars.
InsideHook: How did you get into cigars?
Alberto Gutierrez: My family’s Cuban, and my grandfather always had a cigar in his mouth. But I wasn’t a regular smoker until I went to Mexico with my wife (then girlfriend at the time) and got to meet her family. My wife’s uncle was kind of like the godfather of the town, and one day he pulled me aside. He sits me down and he’s like, “What are you drinking?” It didn’t matter what I answered because he gave me some tequila and a cigar. We smoked a cigar together, and after that, I started smoking cigars regularly.
How have you seen cigar culture evolve in Miami?
Cigar smoking has always been prevalent in Miami, but now you are seeing a lot of younger people and younger professionals having cigars. They’re starting to notice that a lot of times cigars are brought out at celebrations, around business meetings, and at gatherings with friends. There’s a big social aspect to smoking cigars. It’s a way of bringing people together which is really how I got the idea for a cigar bar.
What other significance do cigars have besides the social aspect?
I have a 21-year-old son, and on the day of his high school graduation, we had a bunch of his friends over at the house and we bought a bunch of cigars and smoked them. For many young men, smoking their first cigar is a rite of passage.
What’s a good indication of a quality cigar?
There’s a misconception that a more expensive cigar is better, and that’s not necessarily the case. All of the cigars we carry are hand-rolled premium cigars, and a quality cigar is based on the look and the taste, which is different for each person. I’m a big fan of Honduran tobacco because it has a smooth, natural sweetness. The notes are not as spicy as other tobacco, but someone might like the earthy Nicaraguan tobacco or milder Dominican tobacco better — everyone’s different, and you really have to test out what you like.
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What’s been your favorite thing about owning the cigar lounge?
I love meeting different people from all walks of life. People just walk in and sit down and we strike up a conversation and then become friends. We welcome people from all different walks of life, and I’ve also met people here who have become lifelong friends.
What can people expect when they drop in?
Guests can expect an elevated lounge/bar experience but with a neighborhood feel. We carry a huge selection of premium handmade cigars, and we house over 450 bottles of Scotches, bourbons, whiskeys and tequilas. There are plenty of flatscreen TVs and comfortable seating, and we feature live music and special events. City Cigar Lounge also acts as a business meeting spot during the day and changes into a social gathering place as the sun goes down.
What are your favorite cigar picks from City Cigar?
My favorite everyday cigars are from Eiroa Cigars. They have a great taste, and they’re reasonably priced. The cigars come from a family farm in Honduras, and they have an earthy taste with a hint of sweetness. For special occasion cigars I usually go for an Atabey or Byron cigar or something from God of Fire.
What are your favorite cigar-centric destinations outside of Miami?
Two of my favorite cigar lounges around the country are SoHo Cigar Bar in NYC and Nikki Blaine’s in Indianapolis. They both have a very similar feel to what I have tried to do at City Cigar Lounge.
Can you recommend a good cigar and bourbon pairing?
There are many, but one of my favorites is a Rabbit Hole Raceking Bourbon with an Eiroa Dark cigar. The bourbon has a bold, smokey taste and the cigar is a full-bodied, full-flavored cigar with sharp, spicy notes and hints of cocoa. It’s a natural partnership because the cigar complements the natural flavors in the bourbon, and it’s one of my go-to recommendations.
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