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Business in a Puff

In the 1980s, the cigar transformed from a stodgy old man’s tobacco of choice into the power-accessory of the new Wall Street.

Celebrities were showing off their favourites on the cover of Cigar Aficionado, and women were increasingly breaking into one of the oldest of boys’ clubs. But the ’80s ended, and with it a tolerance for public smoking, driving cigars back to the sidelines of exclusive humidors.

There are plenty of spots to slip off and sample a Cohiba in Hong Kong — cigars are exempt from the Public Health Ordnance banning smoking in public places — but for something outside of a standard hotel lounge or tucked away hipster spot, commercial buildings are stepping to the fore.

As office prices in Central continue to rise however incrementally and large occupiers opt for more cost-effective space in decentralised locations, space in Central office towers is becoming more available, even with low vacancy rates. Landlords looking to lease spaces too small for tenants like co-working providers — who traditionally demand 20,000 square feet or more — are increasingly accepting unconventional tenants, like cigar bars. Humidors like the Pacific Cigar Divan in Central’s EuroTrade Centre and Cigarro Club in Pacific House are proliferating.

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Commercial buildings are good for the humidor too. “We picked a commercial building [because] the rental rate is, relatively, cheaper, and secondly those commercial buildings normally are located in a business area like, and especially, Central,” explains Cigarro manager Alex Chau. “Professionals, entrepreneurs and lifestyle lovers are commonly found there, and those are our major customers.”

"We picked a commercial building as the rental rate is, relatively, cheaper, and secondly those commercial buildings normally are located in a business area..."

 

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Cigar lounges can get away with less than 4,000 square feet for operations, which would include space for a humidor. Exemptions or otherwise, space for cigar tasting needs to be clearly delimited according to the law and ventilation systems must be second to none, both to respect neighbours in the building and to maximise the tasting experience. On a more tangible level, “A comfortable, relaxing environment, with privacy, product knowledge and experience are the factors in how we make up Cigarro,” says Chau. Natural woods and rich leathers are par for the course for cigar lounge interiors, and in Central, harbour views are a bonus.

Central’s cigar lounges vary in model: as Chau points out some are membership-based, and others are open to the public, depending on the owner’s tastes and each facility’s overall image. The commercial cigar lounge experience has a lot to recommend it for executives and professionals looking for alternatives to standard pre-dinner or post-convention drinks at noisy bars. The quiet space is ideal for networking, and in this global age, puffers aren’t confined to pairing their Montecristo with whisky. Cognac and red wine are on the rise with younger aficionados, but “Without a doubt, ‘traditional’ is popular — whisky, herbal tea, Chinese snacks and soups and so on,” finishes Chau. Sometimes conventional does work.

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