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Smoker’s Paradise in South Bay

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The Latin guitarist lifts his foot on a chair and balances his instrument on his knee to serenade two ladies. The women lean into the candlelight and sip red wine, seemingly oblivious to the music and the rain falling just beyond the patio roof.

The music, the wine, the scent of tobacco in the air . . . it could be “Mambo Kings” come to life.

Instead it’s Friday night at the Old Cuba Cigar Lounge and Club--the latest addition to the thriving night life in Hermosa Beach, and apparently the first cigar bar in the South Bay.

Open since August in the former Tucci’s restaurant site, Old Cuba is finally coming of age. The cigar bar, owned by a group of investors including father-and-son team Steve and Jason Scheman, got off to a slow start when it opened without a liquor license. But just over a month ago the full bar became operational and business is picking up.

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Few places in the South Bay compare to the laid-back scene at Old Cuba. It’s a spot to spend the evening lounging with old friends. It’s a restaurant with hearty Cuban cuisine. It’s a nightclub with traditional Latin entertainment. And it’s a cigar store with premium stogies.

And it’s all rolled into one.

Old Cuba was designed to be reminiscent of Havana, and it succeeds. Orange tones evoke a feeling of warmth. Rustic wood tables and chairs fill the spacious room, which is decorated with paintings of Cuban life and a mural of workers in the tobacco fields--though ancient Roman structures in the background are artifacts from the lounge’s recent history as an Italian restaurant.

A retail cigar shop sits at the front of the restaurant near the outdoor patio. Cigar brands include H. Upman, Cuesta Rey and Santa DaMiana, and range in price from $1.50 to $16.75. The staff is available to recommend cigars and give pointers on how to smoke them.

On the patio, patrons puff the night away--a good cigar can take an hour to smoke--while watching the passing pedestrians (including, on this night, a guy who can’t figure out how to turn off the blaring alarm on his new Porsche). A wrought-iron railing that separates the patio from the street doubles as an ashtray, and a mural of the island of Cuba spans the wall.

Overlooking it all from a second-floor loft is the VIP smoking lounge. With its old leather chairs and exposed brick walls, this private room is reserved for parties and members. A membership costs $650 annually and entitles members to discounts on cigars, food and drinks.

It may sound highbrow, but Old Cuba on the whole remains pretty casual. Jeans are OK. The music is mellow as well, with a Latin guitarist performing Fridays, and a steel-drum band entertaining Saturdays. Eventually, salsa music and dancing will be added.

“Cigar smoking is a hobby and people want to be with people who share the same hobby,” said Steve Scheman. “This is a great place for people to come and do that.”

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BE THERE

Old Cuba Cigar Lounge and Club, 1320 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach. (310) 374-2727. All ages; 18 to smoke; 21 to drink. Full menu.


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