IN THE SPRING OF 1996, Club Macanudo, the premier cigar bar in Manhattan opened to great fanfare—and I was there. It was at the height of the mid-1990s cocktail culture + cigar boom. The grand opening was a sardine affair—packed wall-to-wall with suits being singed by cigar tips, martinis sloshing about staining the freshly laid carpets, the antique cigar store Indians being choked by the plums of blue smoke. It was an insanely good time, and happily it seemed as if the party would never end.
Messrs Edgar Cullman Sr. and Jr. (pictured above left) gifted me with a membership card and locker that evening, I was to be member number 16. At the time ‘Club Mac’ (as it is affectionately called) opened I was the Editorial Director of the men’s cigar lifestyle magazine, Smoke. The only cigar media fly in Cigar Aficionado’s ointment. Marvin Shanken, the founder of the aforementioned had a locker that was one above and two over from mine. Other notable cigar devotees of course had their names also engraved on the shiny and new brass locker plates, including then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is the only reason that there is the grandfather clause that protects Club Mac and the other few remaining NYC cigar bars.
To say times have changed in the span of sixteen years is an understatement. First and foremost there is the contentious matter of the draconian anti-smoking laws that have befallen our fair metropolis. The Cullman Family no longer owns Club Mac, nor its parent General Cigar Company. Though Mr. Cullman Jr. made a guest appearance at the ‘Sweet 16’ last week with his lovely wife, Elissa, a founding partner of Cullman & Kravis Interior Designs, which designed the club. I’ve only seen Mr. Shanken in the place twice: opening night when he repeatedly elbowed me in the ribs in the center room until I pushed him back. And last year during the holidays when we were both having lunch at the club, he, with General Cigar Company President Dan Carr, me with one of my favorite people, Ms. Victoria McKee, who heads up GCC’s PR efforts (above left.) On his way out he shot me the stink eye. I smiled back.
Through it all I have been a mainstay at the Club: from founding member 16 to the Sweet 16. I’ve seen hostesses, cocktail waitresses (dated a few in my more single days), general managers, and of course members, comes and go. But through it all there remains intact a core group of us, as longtime member, and Chairman of ABC Carpet & Home, Paul Chapman (above left) so succinctly put it: “Those of us members who remain are a family. And this is where we gather.” A dysfunctional family, perhaps, one where there are few women, everyone smokes fine cigars, and most of us drink martinis and Scotch at a rate that belies the fact that our “party years” have passed us by. And at the center of this family today is one Mauricio Córdoba, the club’s current General Manager (above right.) Thank you Mauricio, and everyone who has come before, for making Club Macanudo my clubhouse, my cigar den, my home.
[2012 Photos + Invitation via Club Macanudo + 1996 Photos Sig Archives]