We’re not suggesting that cigarettes are safe or even sexy. That’s for you, dear reader, to decide. But facts are facts: some hedonists continue to puff away, and some establishments enable them to do so indoors, even though such galling behavior is against the law in many municipalities around the world. Behold—the AIR MAIL guide to those holdouts where the smoke will never clear.
Two decades ago, when Italians still scoffed at sushi, chef Nobu Matsuhisa opened up his fourth restaurant, in partnership with Giorgio Armani. But the opening was long and complicated as the pair allegedly argued for a year over one simple decision: Armani was adamant that his guests would be able to smoke indoors. They eventually agreed to construct a smoking lounge on the ground floor, and it’s still the hottest place in town on a Saturday night.
Torre di Pisa
This historic restaurant has been open since 1951, and its smoking area—a small, wooden room tucked away in a corner—initially made it popular among Formula 1 drivers, artists, designers, and politicians. Debating was a lot more civilized in between drags of nicotine.
The Renaissance Bar at Badrutt’s Palace
Commonly referred to as Mario’s, after former barman Mario Da Como, this hotel bar remains a stomping ground for the international cognoscenti. “I’ve served pretty much everybody,” he once said. “The Onassis family, the Prince of Wales, Ernst of Hanover, the Shah of Persia …” Smoking is permitted, and Cuban cigars are especially encouraged. The décor is sumptuous, with dim lights, inviting sofas, and a fireplace. Small ashtrays and white matchboxes dot every table. “I go to Mario’s because of the smoking,” a regular patron tells me. “I feel like I’ve stepped back in time.”
Paul’s Baby Grand
Paul Sevigny has lived many lives as an orchestrator of New York’s nightlife. At his latest club, in Tribeca’s Roxy Hotel, smoking is unofficially permitted after two a.m. Around that time, a waiter clambers up a ladder to hang a disco ball in the main room. This ritual serves as the official go-ahead for lighting up, although the real action happens in the smoking area outside. (The Roxy Hotel did not respond to a request for comment.)
Loos American Bar
Officially known as “the American Bar,” this jewel box of a bar was opened by Adolf Loos in 1908; Sigmund Freud and Egon Schiele were early adopters. Still one of the smallest bars in Europe, it encompasses only 290 square feet, and is memorably decorated with a checkered white-and-green floor and a coffered ceiling. Quentin Tarantino, an ardent consumer of marijuana, named a character in Kill Bill: Volume 2 after one of the barmaids. The smoking is arguably as indispensable as the décor.
Harry’s New York Bar
Harry’s New York Bar opened in Manhattan on Thanksgiving of 1911. But after a few years, the former American jockey Tod Sloan dismantled it from its home, on Seventh Avenue, and re-assembled it on Rue Daunou, in Paris. In the 1920s, it is rumored, a young barman named Fernand Petiot added hot sauce to tomato juice and concocted the Bloody Mary. A few days ago, your Air Mail correspondent placed a phone call to ensure that indoor smoking was still permitted. The reply? “Mais oui!”
The Lobby Bar at the Gstaad Palace
A haunt of politicians, actresses, models, and aristocrats (Madonna, Salma Hayek, Margaret Thatcher, Valentino, and Princess Diana), the Gstaad Palace has changed very little in the past 50 years. Its Lobby Bar is appointed with armchairs and chandeliers. “Would you like to enjoy a cigar? Then visit our Smoking Lounge,” its Web site proudly states. Visitors can enjoy their cigarette in peace before heading to GreenGo, the hotel’s popular nightclub.
New York Bar
Sprawling across Shinjuku Park Tower’s 52nd floor—the top floor of the Park Hyatt—New York Bar is best known these days as the venue where an aging actor (immortalized by Bill Murray) met a bored young wife (played by Scarlett Johansson) in Sofia Coppola’s film Lost in Translation. Smoking and live jazz are its primary virtues. In general, Japan is tolerant of smokers: after the last nonsmoking customer steps out of a restaurant, it is customary for a waiter to silently slip an ashtray onto a smoker’s table.
Robin Birley’s club, located in an 18th-century town house, is one of the very few memberships coveted by Gen Z. Perhaps because of the eclectic décor—giraffe sculptures, exotic wallpaper, and velvet sofas—or maybe because it has remained fairly secretive but not impossible to access. Cigarettes are not officially allowed, so guests spend most of the night puffing away in the internal courtyard. But there’s a cigar bar, and orange matchboxes are emblazoned with “Birley Cigars,” which are sold on the premises.
Although California is notoriously intolerant of unhealthy behaviors, Chateau Marmont is a bastion of forgiveness. Smoking inside is not permitted—officially—but lighting up in the garden is practically required for admission. It’s almost as if André Balazs has forgotten about that time the place almost burned down because of an unextinguished cigarette butt, in 1958.
Elena Clavarino is an Associate Editor for Air Mail