Columbus Underground: Royale Cigar Lounge Celebrates Opening Long in the Making

Royale Cigar Lounge Celebrates Opening Long in the Making

Ammar Karmi’s dream has long been to open a cigar lounge, at least since the early 1990s. He says he’s never been a club kind of guy, and he enjoys smoking a good cigar every once in a while. But he couldn’t find anywhere, sans bigger markets like South Beach or Las Vegas, to smoke a cigar in a casual lounge scene.

“And to me, I’m not the kind of guy that’s going to take a cigar and go smoke it in his backyard or
in his garage,” he says. “I really want to come in and enjoy the environment.”

When Karmi first saw the building at 297 Georgesville Rd. in late 2011, plans for the Hollywood Casino had recently been announced. The building was quite the fixer-upper, but he figured it would be the right spot for his new business. “This has to be it,” he says.

He contacted the owner, who wouldn’t sell but offered to partner on the lounge. That was in 2012, and from there, Karmi says he received a lot of pushback from the city.

“There were times where we were stopped for eight to nine months at a time waiting for permits. They [were] hoping that we would stop [but] we just didn’t give up,” he says. “It was a long project. But again, like I said, it was a dream and it was a passion, so there was no doubt in my mind that this was going to work. And it didn’t matter how long it was going to take.”

For the look and feel of Royale Cigar, Karmi knew he wanted something modern, somewhat rustic and masculine, but also warm and inviting. He says the “old look” of cigar lounges haven’t been as inviting. “If you’ve gone to other cigar places, you’ll know what I’m talking about,” he says. “When you walk in, you feel like you’re walking into a cult. You’re not invited.”

Karmi brought in designer Antonia Soskin of Dreamhouse to achieve a look that “flows” through each room seamlessly. Each detail in Royale Cigar was thought of well beforehand, Soskin says. “He did a lot of research and he explained a lot because I don’t know anything about

They blew through the initial budget, says Soskin. “That’s because he really wanted to achieve this perfect, flawless look. There was no compromises,” she says. “Everything you see here we handpicked.”

Soskin and Karmi hired a local craftsman to cut up wood from an old barn used for the bar, tables, and hanging light beams; ordered special cigar trays from a store small store in Las Vegas that are difficult to knock over, and installed Spanish Cedarwood in the cigar room to withstand the humidity needed for properly storing cigars.

They also installed an advanced ventilation system: it’s a 100 percent fresh air unit that exchanges all the air in the building every four seconds, leaving no lingering smoke or musky smell. Karmi says it costs a lot more, but it has customers returning because they don’t leave smelling “like a chimney.”

“A lot of other places have done this, but they didn’t do it to this magnitude,” says Karmi. “If I was not going to do it this way, I would be super hesitant to open one up.” Karmi says quite a few people have booked private parties and events at Royale Cigar already, which has solely gathered clientele organically. Facebook doesn’t allow advertisements promoting the sale or use of tobacco products, so the lounge has relied on word of mouth.

He will officially begin revving up advertising after the lounge’s official opening on Oct. 4. The Royale Cigar Lounge Sip and Sample will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at 297 Georgesville Rd.

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