Cigars and whiskey: the new Civil Cigar Lounge just sounds like a haven for high rollers. And while the bar does have fans from that particular demographic, the customer base at Civil has been surprisingly diverse since it opened a couple weeks ago in Chevy Chase, next door to Bryan Voltaggio's Range, according to co-owner Matt Krimm.
"On any given night, we're averaging 35 percent, 40 percent women, which is great," said Krimm. The bar sees a happy hour crowd, neighborhood residents, diners leaving Range for a nightcap, businessmen and cigar aficionados alike.
Longtime friends and business associates Krimm and partner John Anderson, who both also own cigar retailer W. Curtis Draper, had been throwing the idea of opening a sleek cigar lounge since 2006 or 2007, he says. The financial crisis meant investors for the project dried up for awhile, but the pair was able to come together once the economy stabilized a little bit, and find its unique space within the Chevy Chase Pavilion, adjoining Voltaggio's restaurant.
Civil shares a few characteristics with Range. Voltaggio developed the menu for the restaurant, and the two places share a kitchen, though Civil has some of its own unique menu items including sandwiches and entrees. Collective Architecture designed both spaces, and the final look of the lounge "far exceeded our expectations," Krimm said. "It's a little New York, a little L.A., a little Vegas; all the good qualities of cosmopolitan cities." The goal was to give a more modern feel to the concept of a cigar lounge. "Upscale is such a terrible word — we wanted something a little more elegant, a little classier" for cigar fans who frequent the partners' retail shop, or those new to the experience.
First associations of the idea bring to mind leather chairs and rich colors, and while Civil's design plays with those, the lighting's a little brighter, the design's a bit less overtly masculine, and there are unique accents, such as deep red wallpaper with a subtle skull design to it. "It goes down all the way to the glassware we chose," Krimm said.
Civil has a wine list carefully curated by Krimm, though whiskey and rum are the focus of the liquors behind the ball. There are 200 cigars to choose from, 125 wines and about 100 whiskeys on the menu. Krimm found when designing the wine list that white wines, particularly Sauvignon blancs, are a good complement to cigars, due to their crisp nature and acidity. Right now, the list includes American, Australian, Spanish and French wines, and Krimm hopes to expand to some Italian choices eventually.
Whiskey is probably the most popular beverage choice at Civil, which has some unique ones such as Parker's Heritage and Old Forrester Birthday Bourbon and Blackadder scotches. The bar stocks the rare Black Tot rum, which goes for $75 an ounce.
High rollers who find themselves at Civil can take advantage of the restaurant's cigar locker program. There are 125 cedar lockers available and half are sold out already. Those who participate in the program get a custom box of cigars designed by indie label Tatuaje, ten percent off retail purchases and first dibs at some events and the ability the private areas of the lounge.
But Civil is also designed for the first time cigar buyer, on someone who spends $5 rather than $40 on a single cigar. "We don't want to have an air of pretentiousness," he said. "It's just a classy, cool spot, where you can come in, have a drink, and get a cigar. Some people really focus on selling the most expensive thing, and it gets old."