Day 195: Downtown Smoking Club

Downtown Smoking Club
Photo courtesy of Raymond Hidalgo

For those who enjoy good company, some sort of hard liquor on the rocks, and an exceptional cigar, there is a one place worth mentioning that won’t involve stinking up a friend’s apartment or shivering outside in the cold. The Downtown Smoking Club is located in the heart of downtown Lansing and is one of the only cigar lounges in the area where everyone is welcome to BYOB and hang out – as long as you buy a smoke.

There is a noticeable elegance to the place just walking in. MSU graduate student Ben Wood was already impressed after casually looking around.

“It seemed like cool place to hang out and feel classy with the dark wood walls; the rich mahogany,” Wood said. “It was just well-decorated.”

Downtown Smoking Club
Photo courtesy of Raymond Hidalgo

While appearances are important, many cigar shops are capable of putting up the sophisticated look in the same manner with a nice walk-in humidor, wood paneling, hodgepodge decorations on the wall, a large assortment of tobacco products and some sort of seating area with a TV.   Downtown Smoking Club owner, Al Maywood, installed a large widescreen TV with upscale furniture and WiFi in the main lounge area; a dartboard, pool table, poker table, community fridge, and a mini-kitchen in the game room; and an outdoor grill complete with a patio set in the back.

The most important part of course is Maywood’s walk-in humidor selection.  ‘Hecho de mano’ beauties like Partagas Black Labels, Kristoff Maduros, and Rocky Patel Vintage 1990s adorn his shelves, there are plenty of milder cigars, especially Downtown Smoking Club’s very own house blend that employs a wide variety of wrapper tobaccos, including flavored ones.

“I want some different blends and to expand the humidor,” Maywood said. “I’d also gradually like to do events and Internet sales. I’m also thinking about adding private membership with some amenities.”

So far, Maywood has already mustered a loyal customer base consisting of the typical high-rollers, government officials, and broke college students. Perhaps the most important first impression for a business is one made by the customer of the person behind the register – in this case, Al himself. He’ll introduce himself, show you the humidor, ask what you do and where you’re from, and most importantly, introduce you to most of the people in the lounge be they State Rep. David Nathan or some new customer who works at Quality Dairy and disregarding any perceived notions of societal prestige that often pervade the places where wealthy folk go. If no one’s in the lounge, Al might have some of his own stories to share about his experiences as a police officer and Federal Investigator. His enthusiasm for getting to know people, hides his intimidating resume.

Downtown Smoking Club
Photo courtesy of Raymond Hidalgo

“Al is inviting and has a conversation with you like you’ve known him for a while,” Wood said. And Maywood isn’t the only nice guy around.

“[The lounge] has a friendly atmosphere. The people who come in are real nice and conversational,” Cooley Law student Adam Seidner said. “Everyone is chatting.”

Unfortunately, Downtown Smoking Club may be one of the last of its kind. Michigan passed a measure that ceased the distribution of tobacco licensing for cigar stores and required that they be in business for at least 30 days before May 2010 or face shut down. This means that there will be no more cigar lounges or stores until the law is repealed. Franchising and expansion on the original real estate property is forbidden as well. There are too many smoking laws to list here, but the sad reality can be summed up in the measure that forbids cigarette and pipe smoking in any shop that sells cigars.

“A lot of [cigar] stores have lounges that are an afterthought,” Wood said. “But here, you want to stay and hang out.” ~Raymond Hidalgo

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