Driving along U.S. 19 in north Pinellas, it's tough to miss the Cigar Cave, a cigar lounge and bar in Palm Harbor. The giant white-on-red letters of the sign hanging above the entrance stand out, with the name "Cigar Cave Lounge" in bold typeface eliminating any mystery regarding the business occupying five units of a strip mall on the side of the road. It practically dares passers-by to come in and take a look.
The name certainly has a distinctive ring to it. It conjures images of sitting in a friend's den, drinking beer, eating pretzels, playing poker and smoking cigars. At least that's the impression I get from a lifetime of watching '80s sitcoms. And while "man cave" is clearly implied by the name, there's nothing really gender-specific going at the Cigar Cave. The aim seems to be providing a place to get away and relax in a comfortable environment — with a wealth of beer, wine, coffee and cigars on hand, of course.
The name is also descriptive of the space itself. Indeed, the interior is somewhat cavernous, made up of a large, sprawling lounge with seating for more than 70 guests, a private VIP room, a long bar, and a 1,000-square-foot walk-in humidor — one of the largest in the bay area, with an inventory of more than 4,000 different cigars. The seating is spread out across the lounge, giving it the feel of a very large den, filled with sofas and lounge chairs; coffee, cafe, and domino tables; and flat-screen TVs, all of which are set to the game, including an NFL package during football season. There's even a long, boardroom-style table in the back complete with plush office chairs, ideal for what I can only imagine would be an extremely casual business meeting.
The VIP lounge is sponsored by Rocky Patel, the popular Naples cigar company (whose Burn lounge at the Mercato in Naples is well worth checking out if you're in the area, by the way). A VIP membership costs $50 a year and includes access to the lounge, invites to private and special events and 10 percent off all purchases, including bar tabs. Patel himself has been known to make appearances at the Cigar Cave.
There's no question the Cigar Cave is a cigar lounge first and foremost, so individuals with an aversion to cigar smoke may be put off by the scent. However, the door to the main entrance is usually kept open, allowing the outside air to come in and circulate, which is especially nice during the occasional cool winter night.
While many cigar enthusiasts will tell you that they prefer a Scotch or brandy with their cigar, the Cigar Cave is banking on craft beer and wine instead, offering a selection of over 30 beers (primarily of the craft and imported variety) and around 15 wines to choose from, including several rich ports and red varietals. The beers also tend to occupy the more robust end of the spectrum, with IPAs such as Widmer's Falconer's IPA from its Rotator series and flavorful dark ales such as Breckinridge's Vanilla Porter making up the bulk of the cooler selection.
The white wines are kept chilled in the cooler, while the reds are served from a very neat-looking draft system in a polished wood housing, which keeps the wines at an optimal cellar temperature and uses CO2 pressure to dispense them from the eight built-in taps. I imagine this setup may also help slow oxidation, as oxygen is immediately purged from the bottles and stays out of the closed system while a wine is on tap.
There's also a Golden Tee arcade console and an old-fashioned domino table to keep you amused. Although I certainly enjoy a good game of dominoes, I used the table to play cards instead, teaching my companions the game of face-up Chinese poker and then proceeding to lose miserably.
While the Cigar Cave is designed primarily with the cigar crowd in mind, it also does a fine job of recreating a cozy den atmosphere, and with a nice bar to boot.
Folks who have always wanted to build their own in-home cave but never got around to it will appreciate the vibe, as well those just wanting to kick back and relax for a while, perhaps with a cigar, and certainly with a nice glass of wine or bold, flavorful beer.