BARFLY ON THE WALL

After renovations, Central Cigars and the Havana Room are still smoking

Sydney Smith, left, and Adam Rieth chat and enjoy drinks at the bar in Central Cigars.

Luis Santana/tbt*

Sydney Smith, left, and Adam Rieth chat and enjoy drinks at the bar in Central Cigars.

It must have been a year ago that I was walking by Central Cigars and noticed a small blackboard by the front door informing me of the great variety of Scotch whiskies inside. Not being much of a cigar enthusiast myself, I hadn't previously considered this destination as a promising venue for a nice, stiff drink, but it made perfect sense — cigars and spirits, of course!

Sure enough, a sturdy selection of medium to high-end whiskies were on the menu, as well as a variety of other premium spirits and a small but respectable beer list. It was an interesting spot: very much a cigar bar, but with a modest cocktail bar in the back of a long corridor, lined floor to ceiling with aromatic cigars in varying shades of tan and brown-black. An adjoining bar, the Havana Room, to which a connecting entryway provided access, served up several craft beers and cocktails, as well as quality coffee.

Recently, the Havana Room closed in anticipation of a new cocktail bar to take over its small Third Street storefront, and I was slightly dismayed — I hate to see nice places like that close down — until I learned that the Havana Room was being incorporated into Central Cigars, beefing up the selection of both bars as a result. The liquor bar of Central Cigars, which was previously limited to the back end of the shop, now extends all the way to the entrance.

The atmosphere hasn't changed much — a strong point for the bar. It's small, occupying a narrow but long space, with not much room to stand around other than at the bar itself. Several lounge chairs sit against the opposite wall, flanking the long, glass-doored humidor that showcases the selection of cigars, including a large number of the store's private label, rolled on-site by the shop's own cigarmaker. If you show up at the right time, you might even catch him at work, toiling away in the corner by the entrance with a small workbench, lamp and pile of tobacco.

It is quiet, despite the televisions behind the bar showing several sporting events (at least one audibly) while low-key jazz plays in the background. This is the kind of bar where you want to have a conversation, and you don't need to shout to do so. It's dark inside, with the bar, walls and furniture deep shades of brown and mahogany; most of the light comes from the small orange lamps hanging from the ceiling. This intimate, classy vibe goes perfect with the drinks.

Although you can enjoy your Old Fashioned or martini for a fair price, those wishing to splurge can find ultra-premium brands on hand as well, such as Johnnie Walker Blue Label and Hennessy XO. Several good small-batch bourbons also are available. Cigar smokers will likely want to try a classic partner to their cigar, such as a vintage port, cognac or brandy, or possibly one of the single-malt or quality blended Scotches. Others may wish to choose from several great craft beers.

Central Cigars and the Havana Room is a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of the lower end of Central Avenue. The cozy, intimate setting is perfect for unwinding after a long day or having a relaxed conversation with friends. Whether you enjoy cigars or not, I suggest stopping in for a nice whisky or cold draft. I think cigar and spirit lovers alike will find much to agree on here. — jg@saintbeat.com

Central Cigars and

The Havana Room

273 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg; (727) 898-2442

The vibe: A classy and relaxed cigar bar with a solid drink selection and smooth ambiance.

Booze: Beer, wine, liquor. Beer, $3-$15; wine, $7-$11; liquor, $6 and up. There are various specials throughout the week featuring discounted drinks.

Specialty: Traditional cigar accompaniments are the way to go, whether or not you're enjoying a cigar with your drink. The ambiance of the bar lends itself perfectly to a neat cognac or single-malt Scotch, such as my favorites — the Laphroaig 10-year and Oban 14-year. For beer drinkers, who could resist a Cigar City Jai Alai Pale Ale?

Hours: 10 a.m. to midnight Monday-Thursday; 10 a.m. to 2 a.m. Friday-Saturday; noon to 8 p.m. Sunday.

After renovations, Central Cigars and the Havana Room are still smoking 01/13/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:15pm]

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