On this week’s episode, Kevin Sun joined the guys at The Straight Cut on an educational journey, exploring how different binders contribute to the tasting note in a cigar. Created by Luxury Cigar Club in collaboration with Valacari Cigar Company, this first installation in the Cigar University Series will help cigar smokers understand the (often overlooked) impact of the binder.
In the midst of a global pandemic that has shuttered businesses everywhere and seen the end of NYC cigar industry heavyweights like Nat Sherman, there is a rare piece of good news for NYC cigar smokers. Merchants NY Cigar Bar , which closed in December of 2016, has announced plans to reopen on December 2nd, 2020. The website is back up, complete with a new logo, new design, and much more.
One of the few in NYC to serve cigars, drinks and food in one place, Merchants Cigar Bar will return with an all-new menu of premium cigars, cocktails, and food service. The lounge will have a new look and feel too. When the cigar bar was shuttered in 2016, management redesigned the interior space to a Mad Men-esque mid-century modern vibe and relaunched as Sugar East, a bar where patrons could smoke cigarettes but not cigars. The new Merchants Cigar Bar will keep the same bones, but with updated leather furniture and new visual features.
Fernando Rodriguez, Director of Operations at Merchants Hospitality, describes the new space having a “chill, modern feel” in contrast to the older, more traditional lounge. When asked about how the venue plans to open during COVID, Rodriguez described the rigorous health and safety measures being undertaken. “We have spared no expense creating a venue that New Yorkers can feel safe and comfortable in,” Rodriguez said. “From basics like heightened sanitation and mandatory masks for staff to plexiglass separators for tables and a world class filtration system that kills airborn bacteria and viruses, we are ready to open and welcome patrons in to our new experience.”
To start, the lounge will be open Wednesday through Sunday from 5pm to 10pm. Currently, the lounge has a maximum capacity of 30 people, less than a quarter of its total capacity.
Merchants Cigar Bar is located at 1125 1st Avenue on the southwest corner of 1st ave and 62nd st on the Upper East Side.
News broke this week that Nat Sherman and its Nat Sherman Townhouse in Midtown Manhattan will permanently close in September. First reported by Cigar Aficionado and then a slew of other cigar blogs, the news came as a shock to many, especially those in the New York City cigar community that frequented the Townhouse on 42nd street for its incredible selection, great prices, and the knowledge and hospitality of its staff.
In the midst of a stressful and taxing global pandemic, the news was a hard blow for me personally. I worked and lived in Midtown just blocks from the Townhouse for a number of years, stopping by multiple times a week—sometimes to pick up a few cigars for a weekend get together with friends, other times for a quiet smoke during lunch hour.
Nat Sherman has been in business since 1930, and got its start during the Great Depression. Though it wasn’t always located in the Townhouse on 42nd street, the Townhouse became for many the iconic symbol not just of the Nat Sherman brand, but of the ethos of the cigar culture in New York. The store was particularly memorable in the winter. Like so many others, I remember pulling hard on the heavy front doors to escape freezing rain or snow and being greeted by a cozy atmosphere (sometimes accompanied with a jazz band playing on the second-floor balcony) and a sea of smiling faces.
I remember the cigar launch parties that the store would throw, especially those that the Quesada family attended—perhaps the kindest family in an industry of kind families. Those events were always well attended, full of laughter and friendship, and always accompanied by a few good jokes from Michael Herklots thrown in during the evening’s festivities.
The historic brand was made immensely richer and more defined by Mr. Herklots after he joined the team at the head of brand and retail. Not only did he spearhead the release of incredible blends (Timeless, Bench Series, Joel Sherman 75th, the list goes on); he put his heart and soul into the brand, and the increased foot traffic and consecutive 90+ point cigar ratings prove it.
The industry is losing a great and storied brand. The city is losing something as well. But the price it pays for Nat Sherman’s closing won’t be in tax revenue or foot traffic on 42nd street. Thepeople of this great city will pay in all the new friendships, polite conversations, and quiet thoughtfulness that will never happen at the Townhouse again. This might sound sentimental, but in our polarized age of ceaseless noise… is it?
Someday, we might hope, another enterprising young man will open the next cigar shop that lives on another 90 or 100 years. But the city will always be poorer for the closing of the Nat Sherman Townhouse.
Davidoff of Geneva announced today that NYC stores are back open after months of closure due to COVID 19. In an email, a representative from Davidoff outlined some of the health and safety measures being implemented to keep customers and staff safe, including:
Customers are recommended to wear face coverings upon entry. Staff are required to.
Sales professionals will guide the shoppers experience. Customers will not be allowed to enter the humidor. Floor markers will provide a space to wait for staff to make selection and present to the customer.
Similar floor markers are provided by point of sale area for customers to maintain 6ft distancing.
Additional signage will be applied in multiple areas throughout the store to ensure current operation measures are understood and followed.
No outside food or beverage will be allowed.
Lounges will remain closed until further notice.
Store hour vary from store to store, see below.
Madison: Mon-Saturday: 10AM-5PM / Sunday closed.
6th Avenue: Mon-Fri: 11AM-5PM / Weekends closed
Downtown: Mon – Fri: 11AM-7PM / Sat and Sun: 12PM-6PM
Over the last few months, you may have seen many new whisky reviews written by Mark Garbin, a recent guest author to Fine Tobacco NYC (ex: (here, here, here, and here). He breaks the mold of the typical 100-point review, injecting in some much needed personality and charm.
Mark’s reviews aren’t just about reporting smells and flavors. He takes the time and thought to help people understand the experience of whisky; embracing the fact that every one of us approaches life in ways that are quite personal. His philosophy as he puts it: “If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, enjoyment is in the taste of the sipper!” I very much enjoy reading his posts and appreciate the unique spin he brings to this website. Although focused on cigar smokers, our site is also visited by tens of thousands of spirits lovers from all parts of the globe each year.
We all know that the link between a great smoke and fine drink enhances both. So I’m excited to announce that Mark has agreed to grace us with his measured thoughts on alcohol the world over, taking the role of Spirits Editor for finetobacconyc.com.
In the “spirit” (Ha!) of meeting our newest team member, I asked Mark to share his story and his take on all things distilled. Read on to find out what he said.
FTNYC: Let’s get started with the basics. Who are you? Where are you from? And how did you come to be involved with reviewing on Fine Tobacco NYC?
MG: By day I’m a institutional risk and portfolio specialist who sits on Fund boards helping to guide the portfolio performance of investment advisers. In my 35+ years in the business, I’ve been around the world numerous times and had the privilege and pleasure of enjoying thousands of whiskies and places to drink. Last year, I decided to become a certified whisky sommelier and received my certification from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.
Recently, I met Fine Tobacco NYC’s fearless leader, Matthias Clock, over coffee. His approach to cigars and events is unique and dovetails well with my own beliefs. It was a natural for me to contribute to the fun and enjoyment.
FTNYC: Putting together a review of any product takes time and effort. What got you in to writing about whisky and why do you keep it up?
MG: I noticed more people trying new whiskies but they struggle to find clarity in their own preferences. I also saw how they start with but want to get beyond mass production bottles. I got into writing because I want people to drink better quality but also have an appreciation for how time, place, food and emotion play into life’s wonderful nuances. I didn’t see that (and still don’t) in the current review genre. I love helping individuals view tasting as an experience to be savored.
FTNYC: Besides being an accomplished writer, you mentioned that you put together whisky events in New York City for businesses. What do those events usually look like?
MG: They range from 20 – 250 people. Some companies love the idea of a vertical range of a single whisky label. For example, at a recent event, we tasted all of the stunning Dalmore brand expressions. Another firm wanted to sample different bourbons with multiple mashbills as well as create bespoke cocktails. These get-togethers are often for law firms, financial companies and for tech industry client thank-you events. My objective is to create a memorable experience.
FTNYC: What do you think of numerical ratings and letter grades?
MG: This is an emotional subject for me. First, there are many fine whisky reviewers who provide a great intro to quality. One of the best is Kara Newman at Winemag.com. She packs a lot of helpful info into a brief description. Ari, The Whisky Guy also does fantastic 60-second video reviews. Distiller.com and the Ultimate Spirits Challenge are also helpful.
That said, these grades are better taken as initial guidelines. One person’s 95 is another’s 75 and vice versa. But more important, a whisky that you might like at 6pm for a pre-dinner drink is different than one you would enjoy with certain main courses, desserts or after a meal. Your mood and flavor desires at the time also matter. For example, you might want a high rye bourbon or peated malt when you’re eating a steak. Or if it’s before a meal, your frame of mind could take you to a delicate Japanese whisky or wheated bourbon. Are you with your partner or with a group of friends engaged in a friendly taste-a-thon?
Bottom line, use ratings as starting points. More critical is what do you feel like drinking, when do you want it, with what are you pairing and with whom.
FTNYC: In your reviews, you break down whiskies by the type of person they would appeal to. Can you tell us a bit about those categories?
MG: Sure. Like Cigars, whisky has many facets. You can enjoy a whisky for its balance but then crave a real powerhouse. Sometimes a softer touch is needed or you want a dram where you can sit back and contemplate life. Flavor profiles are highly subjective. So don’t choose one. Embrace them all!
Next, where are you on your whisky journey? The Apprentice is starting down the road to a sophisticated palate. The Enthusiast is engaging in education as much as they can and the Adventurer climbs mountains just because they exist. Finally the Hedonist seeks spiritual (pun intended) rapture every time they raise their glass. Please note: It’s so much fun to indulge in multiple personalities when you enjoy what’s in the glass. A person can be an Apprentice and Hedonist simultaneously! Any permutation is welcome!
Finally, when and with what food, if any, are you drinking? There are some brands I would never, ever have with food. There are some where I would ONLY have them with a meal. You can love a whisky at many times or at a single time and place. Finding what works for you is the great joy! I hope to earn your trust as a guide on your voyage and bring a smile to your face.
It’s one of those things magazines write about for a person to do before they die. It will spoil you forever. The glasses and gins/vodkas are kept at -10º F as you select from a myriad of hard to get gins and designer vodkas. Then quintessential butler service brings a small portable station to you where long-serving bartenders pour the syrupy spirit into your now frosted glass. Then a precise peeling separates a Sorrento lemon skin from its host as droplets of the most fragrant oils caress the surface of your drink. A bowl of olives and nuts are placed on your table as you invoke your hedonist persona to savor each glistening sip.
FYI, the Dukes’ compelled me to: 1) Keep my gins & vodkas at sub-zero temps, 2) Buy organic lemons if I can’t get Sorrentos and 3) Buy a small freezer that now holds my precious secret stash of Beefeater Crown Jewel Gin and other hard to get whiskies.
Btw, they also stock a magnificent collection of Single Malts, Cognacs and Armagnacs. It might look like the classic “man’s bar”, but women are equally welcomed and pampered. Why are you reading this? GO THERE NOW!!!
FTNYC: You’ve sampled a lot of whisky in your time. What are your top three to five choices?
MG: OMG, the list is long and distinguished. It’s so hard to narrow everything down to so few. But, let’s look at two categories: 1) Great value whiskies less than $100/bottle and available at great prices. 2) TKO spirits i.e. The best devil-may-care availability or price point.
(Tie) Ardbeg Uigeadail and Balvenie 21, Dalmore Cigar Malt
Johnnie Walker Green
Hibiki Japanese Harmony
Low Rye Bourbon
(Tie) Stagg, Jr. & Elmer T. Lee
Clyde May’s 10 Year Cask Strength
High Rye Bourbon
Four Roses Single Barrel
Remus Repeal Reserve
Hudson Maple Cask
Hillrock Sauternes Cask
Gin (London Dry)
Beefeater Crown Jewel (Have to go to London)
Patron Cask Collection Sherry Anejo
FTNYC: You have an ebook with an extensive selection of bar reviews. Can you tell our readers what it is, and where they can get a copy?
MG: Thanks. It’s called Whisky and Romance Manhattan. It’s about the most romantic whisky bars in the city. For those interested in Spy Thrillers, my novel, No Fingerprints, is perfect for pairing with a great stick and a dram.