Mundah Massaquoi and Andre Burt were chatting about business and the Washington, D.C., sports teams between puffs of their cigars on a recent Friday afternoon. Sending curls of smoke in the air and playing with their lighters, the two capped off their workday with an afternoon smoke at Capitol Hill Premium Cigars & Tobacco, a recently opened private club in Northeast Washington.
“My wife doesn’t let me smoke in the house, so this place is perfect for me,” Burt said. “It’s nice to have a place to go after work and relax.”
Massaquoi and Burt each pay $450 a year for a titanium-level membership at Premium Cigars. The hundred or so members who pay the annual fee can smoke seven days a
week at the club and stash their cigars in one of the 90 lockers located near the upstairs bar. Owner Ronald Wright, a third-generation Washingtonian who proudly hails from the city’s Northeast corridor, said he wanted to bring a cigar establishment to another pocket of of the District.
“I got tired of going to Northwest,” he said in a nod to one of the city’s established cigar bars, Shelly’s Back Room on F Street Northwest. “I wanted a neighborhood place that reflected me and my tastes.”
Located at 1006 A Florida Ave. NE, Wright’s club offers a safe haven for cigar enthusiasts banned from smoking in bars, restaurants, nightclubs and other public places under a D.C. law that went into effect in January 2007. Wright, who opened his club less than a year after the new law was approved, said it actually helps his business since there are few smoker-friendly venues in the District (others include Ozio, located on M Street Northwest, and Shelly’s). Cigar bars are exempt from the ban because at least 20 percent of their sales come from tobacco-related products, but unlike Shelly’s and Ozio, which offer food service, Premium Cigars only sells cigars and drinks.
“I like the environment here better than the other places in town,” Massaquoi said, smoking a Cohiba Siglo 6 and sipping a cordial. “Cigar smokers are interesting people, and this is a unique place for them.”
The upstairs bar is outlined with black and white photographs of Negro League Baseball players. The walls are the colors of cigar boxes — burnt red and pale yellow — and the wood floors are a rich tobacco brown. Sounds of Sam Cooke and Smokey Robinson fill the smoke-scented air, and bartenders greet members by name, pouring their usual drink order as they light up.
[IMGCAP(1)]Wright’s business, which opened in December, is one of just a few along Florida Avenue. He had considered joining the burgeoning H Street Northeast corridor but settled elsewhere to offer more parking. The barbershop next door, District Cutters, has taken to inviting Wright’s clients over for a shave or a haircut. A college friend of Wright’s, who makes men’s and women’s clothing, also comes in twice a week to fit members looking for a new suit.
“We want to be the ultimate gentlemen’s club. Come in here, get your hair cut, get a suit cut, have a cigar and a nice drink while you wait,” Wright said, though he was quick to add that the club is not limited to men. “We love having the ladies here. Everyone is welcome.”
Though Premium Cigars is a two-mile trek from the Capitol, Wright, who also is a lieutenant with the Metropolitan Police Department, is hoping to bring more Hill staffers and Members to his Northeast spot.
“We’re just a hop, skip and a jump away. A Member could send an aide over, get a cigar, and be back in their office over their lunch hour,” Wright said, then offering up perhaps the most important perk to the professional crowd: “We’ve even got free Wi-Fi.”
Capitol Hill Premium Cigars & Tobacco is open from noon to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and noon to 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.