Daily Pampering: Private cigar rooms at Davidoff Lounge, Ritz-Carlton Beijing

cigarsCrystal chandeliers and red velvet furniture adorn what is possibly the most exclusive cigar bar in Beijing. But why would you simply hang out at the bar when you can have your own private room?

The Davidoff Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, Beijing, attracts the discerning type, just as Zino Davidoff had intended it to be when he opened the world’s first cigar lounge in Switzerland back in the 1920s. Since then, Davidoff branded lounges have been catering to the world’s cigar affectionados.

The four private rooms at the Ritz-Carlton, Beijing, Davidoff Lounge were all designed by separate artists, allowing guests who want to purchase a private room the opportunity to pick one that suits their tastes. Grab one of the fine cigars and rare cognacs, and then settle into your private room for something truly unique and special: karaoke. Because really, what’s a good cigar and cocktail without your personal rendition of Foreigner’s “I Want To Know What Love Is”?

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The Davidoff Lounge offers some of the rarest single malts you’ll find in Asia, perfect for those needing to loosen up a bit before grabbing the mic and choosing their song of choice from the touch-screen TVs located in each of the rooms.

Just to rent one of the four private rooms costs ¥2888-3888 (approximately $430 to $590 USD). Cocktails start around $12 USD and the cheapest bottle of wine will run you around $68 USD. If you’re craving a cigar, puff on a Cohiba or a Davidoff for around ¥300 (approximately $45 USD).

Rumor has it celebrities including Jackie Chan have made an appearance at the Davidoff Lounge …

Want more? Get your daily dose of pampering right here.

Relief: Four airport perks coming soon

There’s nothing fun about going to the airport, and the regulatory climate isn’t likely to change that anytime soon. Security will still be a nightmare, and you won’t be able to bring your own water with you (at least not for a while). Fortunately, there are companies out there looking for ways to make your airport experience better.

So, what can you expect to see in your local airport in the near future? Here are four amenities to whet your appetite for something to counteract the airport security gauntlet:

1. Catch some comfy shut-eye: sleeping on a plane sucks. There’s just no way to get comfortable. And, if you slip your leg alongside the seat in front of you, you do run the risk that it will get slammed by the beverage cart. Well, you’ll be able to use your layovers to rest, soon. Napping nooks, already available at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, are expected to come to San Francisco in the near future. Seven airports are in the early stages.2. Light up a cigar: okay, this one is particularly meaningful to me. A few airports still have smoking areas (I just lit up in Denver last month), but they tend to be unfortunate spaces, not designed to appeal. This is where a company like Graycliff can make a difference. The Bahamas-based cigar and hospitality company has an idea for well-ventilated lounges, featuring cigar rollers (and nothing beats a stick fresh off the bench, at least, not for me). With Graycliff involved, you can expect a stylish, upscale experience. The first is already open at the airports in Nashville and Nassau.

3. Better shopping and eating: the challenge of finding a bite or buying a tie during weird hours could become a thing of the past. From the chance to dine at a Food Network Kitchen to broader shopping options, airports are scoping out ways to enhance the experience of being trapped within their walls. If all the doomsday predictions by the airline industry about the implications of the three-hour delay rule are true, you might need to buy several changes of clothes and meals … because they believe this rule means you will never get home again.

4. Get picked up more easily: no, this has nothing to do with wearing something hot or having that extra cocktail. Rather, airports are opening their minds to parking where your ride can wait for you. You call; they drive around to get you. But, it’s not always that easy. Nature calls, and there’s always a shortage of space. So, look for larger parking lots with bathrooms flight information boards and maybe even dining options? Newark’s already headed down this road, with plans in the works for JFK airport, Cincinnati, Fort Myers and St. George (in Utah).

For more on this topic, head on over to USA Today where airport expert Harriet Baskas explores more upcoming airport amenities.

[photo by msspider66 via Flickr]

Airport contraband featured in Lever House Art Exhibition

Go to Manhattan‘s Lever House, and you may see that lighter – or hand grenade – that was taken from you a JFK airport. Through the end of the year, the free exhibition will consist of photographs taken by Taryn Simon of items seized from passengers and mail packages coming into the United States. She spent five days clicking away at more than 1,000 items.

The exhibition, called “Contraband,” includes everything you’d expect to find at JFK: Cuban cigars, pirated DVDs, bongs and hand grenades. Also, there were animal parts and heroin. You’ll have to decide for yourself what’s strangest, but here are MSNBC’s thoughts:

So what’s the strangest thing in Simon’s new “Contraband” show? Hard to say, but the horse sausage and cow manure tooth powder have to be up at the top of the list.

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[photo by 16 Miles of String via Flickr]

St Barths on shoe leather and a thumb

Before I left Eden Rock, on St. Barths, in search of the local tobacconist, I was told: “You can’t get lost.” Usually, when I hear that, I wind up making some wrong turn or other directional blunder.

The route from Eden Rock to Village Creole, where I planned to cut and light a cigar at La Casa del Habano, consisted of only one road. I just didn’t notice the sprawling shopping complex as I walked past it. The light drizzle soon became rain and then a downpour as I walked in frustration, searching for a place that was behind me.

At the next available business – a bar – I cobbled together enough French to learn I’d missed the shop. Sighing as I turned, the local took pity on me and called for my attention. Sopping and defeated, I turned around to experience advice so warm it actually took the sting out of the rain. He suggested that I hitchhike back to Village Creole. And, if nobody picked me up by the time he finished his beer, he’d scoop me off the streets and deliver me to La Casa del Habano.

Somewhat uplifted, I ventured back to the sidewalk, wary of the splash threat from passing cars and trucks – I’d already fallen victim several times. It may seem like a dicey proposition, but I was told that hitchhiking is both common and safe on St. Barths. I was still nagged by the concerns of a lifetime of “Don’t talk to strangers” lectures, but I found a way to extend my thumb and arm. The first car passed, but the second picked me up. It took about two minutes to get a ride.

I never got his name, but there was hardly time. I couldn’t have been in the shotgun seat for five minutes before we reached my destination, which wasn’t as far away as I’d thought.

Kindly, the driver – who had the rugged skin, hands and muscles of a laborer but the long, curly blond hair and relaxed demeanor of Hollywood’s interpretation of a surfer – pulled into the parking space closest to the cigar shop. He asked for nothing in return for his time and trouble. Matter-of-factly, he said goodbye, and we went our separate ways.

It can be a tough leap for Americans raised to believe that hitchhiking is akin to inviting a homicide. If you want to try it once in as risk-free an environment as you’ll find, do it on St. Barths – it really is the easiest way to get around.

Disclosure: Eden Rock picked up the tab for this trip, and it would have been impossible to cover this destination otherwise, given the cost. Nonetheless, my opinions are my own – they’re certainly not for sale at any price.

Five places to puff in Manhattan: Tips for Smokers

Yes, I know. Every time I write something for the smokers out there, the comments always fill up with an argument over smoking itself. For now, I’m just going to assume that there are some people out there who happen to smoke and travel. I have this sneaking suspicion that I’m not the only one. So, for those of you who enjoy a puff on the road, here are five places where you can smoke in Manhattan. At least one of them will surprise you.

1. Tobacco shops
Rather than single out one, I’d like to call your attention to several cigar shops in the city. Rules vary: some allow cigars only, while others also welcome pipe and cigarette smoker. Regardless of what you choose, do have the courtesy to buy something in the establishment before lighting up. In Midtown, you’ll find De La Concha on Sixth Ave at W. 56th Street and Davidoff stores at Columbus Circle and on Madison Ave (at E. 54th Street). There’s a Nat Sherman on 42nd and Fifth and a Barclay Rex across the street from Grand Central Station. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.2. Cigar bars
If you want to light a heater and enjoy a cocktail at the same time, there are a handful of establishments open to the public. On the Upper East Side you can hit Lexington Bar and Books or Club Macanudo. In Midtown, you’ll find the Carnegie Club. Be prepared to pay. Drinks and sticks are a bit pricey, and if you bring your own, you’ll be charged a cutting fee.

3. Private clubs
The best-known is the Grand Havana Room, which sits atop 666 Fifth Ave. It’s a beautiful space and has a fantastic restaurant. The only way you’ll get in, aside from becoming a member, is to convince one to invite you up.

4. Inter-block alleys
Yeah, this is the “when all else fails” alternative. There are alleys that cut through the middle of some blocks in Manhattan, and Midtown has more than a handful. My favorite goes from 5nd to 53rd and is between Sixth Ave and Seventh Ave. It’s covered. In the summer, Moda (the restaurant in Flatotel) runs a bar in there, so you’ll lose some space. This alley is covered, making it great for rainy day.

5. Jury duty
Okay, this one’s really for locals. If you get called for federal jury duty, here’s a good reason not to avoid it: there’s a smoking room just off the big room where the jury pool waits in the courthouse on 500 Pearl Street. Since you can’t leave the building (except for lunch) when you have federal jury duty, this room, I guess, is intended to make your experience more pleasant. The room is dark, sports old furniture and has no windows – it’s hardly a luxury space. After spending several hours waiting to be tapped for that product liability trial, however, it’s hard to complain about the digs.