Wander into a New Hampshire smoking lounge and you’ll find craft beer, 18-year-old scotch, DJs spinning funk and electronica, communal hookah pipes, comfortable chairs and a wide range of fine cigars. What’s you won’t see is that cliché of stogie culture, the smoke-filled room.
Sophisticated air exchange systems are the rule, sometimes to the consternation of cigar lovers.
“Our system totally replaces the air every 3.2 minutes,” said Michelle Beaumont, manager of O’Shea’s Irish Tavern & Cigar Bar in Nashua. “Some guys complain, ‘I’m trying to blow smoke rings and can’t do it.’ But women come in and compliment us on how clean it is.”
Beaumont and her husband also own Karma Cigar & Hookah Lounge on Elm Street in Manchester, which they opened shortly after cigar stores were granted an exemption from the 2007 Indoor Smoking Act by the New Hampshire state legislature. The bipartisan 2009 bill allows places like Karma to sell spirits, wine and beer, provided alcohol revenue generates less than 40 percent of total business.
The ban against cigarette smoking inside establishments continued. But with cigar and hookah aficionados now having a new social destination, owners began to innovate. O’Shea’s opened a year after Karma; in addition to a much larger walk-in humidor — 1,000 square feet — from the outset live music was in the mix. Blues performer Alan Roux is a regular guest in the spacious room, which offers no-cover shows on Fridays and Saturdays.
Karma also offers live music Friday and Saturday, and regular Thursday night Teleportation Sessions with John Midas Manning. The EDM veteran is joined by a live musician, usually a drummer, to create funk, ambient and what Manning terms “jamtronica” music, as customers puff on flavored tobacco or cigars.
A traditional cigar lounge atmosphere is the rule at Castro’s Back Room, with locations in Nashua, Concord and Manchester. Each sports barber chairs for customers to watch big flat-screen televisions and smoke cigars. Castro’s eschews hookahs, instead offering one of the largest selections of cigars in the area. Along with the usual top-shelf sticks stocked floor to ceiling in the massive walk-in humidor — Ashton, Fuente, La Flor Dominicana and My Father — are hard-to-find brands like One Shot One Kill.
The Manchester location was recently remodeled with a swank bar installed in the rear. Now the back room of Castro’s offers a growing selection of craft beer, mixed drinks and wine. Customers are required to purchase at least one cigar before imbibing. Frequent manufacturer events — Nicaraguan maker Tarazona stopped by recently — provide pairing opportunities along with the chance to sample new offerings.
Blowin’ Smoke in Bedford also has a full bar, selling plenty of scotch, bottled craft beer and cocktails.
“We have tasting events one or two times a month,” said manager Wayne Asbury.
The place has a classic feel, with lots of big leather chairs and blue-chip brands like Ashton and Fuente the top sellers.
Radloff’s Cigar Shop and On The Rox Lounge in Rochester offers a broad mix of entertainment options in a smoking club atmosphere. Friday nights the house band Dancing Madly Backwards plays rock covers and originals, and solo performers play every Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Recently, standup comedy shows booked by Jay Grove’s Awesome Entertainment were added — Mark Scalia appears Nov. 17.
Hookah bars often take a novel approach. Crazy Camel Hookah & Cigar Lounge in Manchester offers belly dancers most nights along with DJ music. There’s a full bar with bottled beer, but a small cigar selection. Karma has more to choose from cigar-wise, but the focus is on communal smoking — “Ten dollars a hose,” reads the menu. An in-house belly dancer named Kavina performs occasionally; her next appearance is Nov. 16.
“The response to hookahs is surprising,” sand Michelle Beaumont. “Older clientele who have no idea of what it is or have a stigma, the wrong idea, come in and love it. They’ll bring their wives back and they’ll have something to enjoy while they’re having a cigar. A lot of people who don’t know it, as soon as they try it they’re a fan.”
Twins Smoke Shop also offers a full bar, and every Saturday is Ladies Night, with liquor and cigar discounts geared to newly minted smokers. The Londonderry store, opened in 1997 at the end of the cigar boom, offers music most Friday nights and occasionally sponsors a big event like a barbecue festival in 2011 that included a performance by J. Geils. The second Twins in Hooksett is a more traditional retail store.
Tasty Tobacco Shop recently opened in Milford, sporting an elegant bar offering beer, wine, mixed drinks and an impressive cigar selection. Two Guys Smoke Shop has a selection that rivals any in the state. Locations in Salem, Nashua and Seabrook provide comfortable chairs for smoking. Federal Cigar operates four shops offering well-appointed members-only rooms with private lockers for stowing smokes.
In Pelham, Carlo Rose Cigar Bar & Lounge is an upscale destination with a full bar and music events like the recent hip-hop night, acoustic performers and an emphasis on hookah events.
Holy Smokes is a relaxing place to smoke and chat; though it doesn’t offer live music or bar service, there are big televisions and comfortable chairs, and customers can bring their own spirits. A first-rate cigar selection includes unique choices like Don Benigno, a boutique brand from Costa Rica.
“Every place tries to distinguish itself with something special,” said Holy Smokes CEO Shane Marcotte.