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Cigar Castle: A kingdom of flavor in a stately setting

On occasion, I'll really be in the mood for a big night out, complete with thick crowds, blaring music, cheap and plentiful drinks, and an overall high-energy vibe. But more often than not, what I really want is a nice lounge to kick back in while I slowly work my way through a smoky single malt, neat and as dry as they get. Maybe I'm getting old.

I had a meeting on short notice that required me to be in North Tampa, an area I don't often visit. By virtue of sheer proximity, I knew that a trip to Cigar Castle was in order. Owned by the same proprietors of the adjacent Beverage Castle, Cigar Castle is a popular and well-received cigar shop, featuring what owner Atul Solanki says is Florida's first true walk-in humidor. And there happens to be a very decent bar and lounge on site as well.

North Tampa beer enthusiasts may recognize the Beverage Castle as one of the better spots in the area to locate hard-to-find beers among the labyrinth of hundreds of bottles on display. The Castle's huge selection was previously housed in a medieval-themed (complete with turrets) drive-through building, but in order to obtain a full liquor license for the adjoining Cigar Castle, the building had to be enclosed. But despite the diminished kitsch factor, the selection remains.

It's no surprise, then, that a diverse collection of craft beers is on hand at Cigar Castle, with 22 fine drafts available at any given time. The bottle selection also is strong, if not a bit unusual due to the inclusion of several seasonal beers that have been off the shelves for a few months now. But if you're in a bar in April and Scaldis Noël is in the cooler, don't ask questions — just get it.

As is commonly the case with similar establishments, the liquor bar is well-stocked, especially in regards to whiskies and brandies, the traditional accompaniment to a cigar. Scotch lovers will be treated especially well here, with multiple shelves of the good stuff, ranging from classic blends to premium single malts. Cigar aficionados and non-smokers alike can probably agree that a fine spirit enjoyed in a comfortable, relaxing atmosphere is an entirely agreeable pastime.

That leads me to the lounge itself. A simple lounge chair and coffee table setup occupies the majority of the main floor space, with the bar area to one side. The bar runs the length of the building — an espresso machine on one end and a popcorn machine on the other — partitioned about halfway down into its own enclosed space. Although the interior of Cigar Castle is brightly lit, the lighting at the bar is fairly subdued.

Music and a sports match or two are often on on the television, but the ambient volume is generally low, giving patrons ample opportunity to have a conversation with each other or with the bartenders, who were very amiable and attentive during both of my visits to the Castle. The bar is not too smoky, but for those preferring a non-smoking spot, there is even outdoor seating in front.

Maybe the concept of a cigar lounge itself is naturally suited to a simple, classy environment; perhaps the target demographic simply demands it. Whatever the reason, cigar bars usually seem to get it right. Sometimes I prefer complete sensory overload, and sometimes I just want to sit in a laid-back, simple bar and enjoy a drink in peace. And if a friendly atmosphere and good service is part of the deal, then count me in.

— jg@saintbeat.com

Cigar Castle

11724 N 56th St, Tampa; (813) 985-1300, thecigarcastle.com.

The vibe: A low-key cigar and liquor lounge with an impressive selection of high-end goods.

Booze: Beer, $2.50 and up, mostly in the $5-$7 range; wine, $7-$9 by the glass; liquor, $5 and up. Wells and certain beers, such as Sam Adams Revolutionary Rye Ale are 2-for-1.

Specialty: Rich and dark spirits are abundant here. The bartender introduced me to the Ron Añejo Botran Solera 1893, a fantastic Guatemalan rum with strong vanilla and cherry notes, and the whisky selection is also top-notch, especially when it comes to Scotch. For beer drinkers, try that Sam Adams Revolutionary Rye — it's a nice, spicy ale that's a steal at 2-for-1.

Hours: 10 a.m. to midnight Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight Sunday.

Cigar Castle: A kingdom of flavor in a stately setting 03/31/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:13pm]
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