All words: Jeb Gavin
All photos: Kevin Hulse
Typically the phrase “set and setting” applies to chemicals far more psychoactive than are found in tobacco and alcohol, and yet I always find myself thinking mindset and conditions whenever I go to a cigar bar. The idea of a cigar bar conjures images of leather-clad furniture in smoky back rooms and a sternness and formality typically the antithesis of an evening out. Civil Cigar Lounge in Chevy Chase Pavilion manages to be neither stuffy nor gimmicky–it is equal parts cigar bar and lounge and succeeds at both.
Located in Friendship Heights at the Chevy Chase Pavilion (adjacent to Bryan Voltaggio’s newly-opened Range,) Civil is cobbled together from elements of muted opulence, without being gaudy or contrived. The cigar shop at the entrance is an extension of tobacconists W. Curtis Draper. It contains a small but specific selection of Honduran, Dominican, and Nicaraguan cigars, and is open during the day prior to the lounge. Private humidors are also available, for those who’d like to keep a personal supply on hand.
The menu has yet to be finalized, though it comes from the kitchen next door at Range, and should include the dishes they were serving Tuesday night. After the selection of ham and cured meats, the forcemeat and pickled vegetables, the very good brick oven pizza, they served two dishes which floored me in their simplicity: a tuna tartare and a lamb pappardelle. The pappardelle had bits of slow cooked lamb neck, mushrooms, and shishito peppers, all covered in a rich, thin sauce. It tasted like the world’s lightest lamb stroganoff. The tartare is dressed in soy and pickled radishes, and topped with a rough cut guacamole and ginger. It is delicate, which surprised me as the combination of tuna and avocado more often found in leaden sushi rolls.
The bar is managed by Dave Hammerly, formerly of the 9:30 Club, and he has stocked it with a daunting collection of whiskeys, bourbons, and scotches. It said volumes that my standby Old Oveholt was the least of their ryes. I didn’t have a chance to try any of their cocktails, but from the conversation I had with the bartenders about the similarities between cigars and wine (namely the importance of the terroir) leads me to believe a great deal of thought goes in to pairing the right cigar with the right drink, effort not expected from just a lounge.
Owners Matt Krimm and John Anderson have walked a fine line in creating a cigar bar where you can have a bite to eat that won’t taste of everyone else’s cigars. The rooms are small and dim enough to be elegant and rather than déclassé, and yet the lounge is still open and lively- far from the expected stodginess of a typical cigar bar. The knowledgeable and gracious staff, coupled with a stocked bar, open cigar shop, and world class kitchen make for an impressive combination. Should you find yourself so inclined, it is an excellent setting in which to enjoy yourself.