Johnny’s Cigar Bar, A Coronation
My bladder was burning. I stood up—my profile framed against the movie screen—and stumbled down the aisle. In a hurry, I walked into the men’s bathroom where I found a long line of empty urinals. I picked the one on the end (like you do) and started my business. A man walked in after me and, viewing the same row of empty urinals that I had, chose the one next to me. “Hey,” he said while peering over the urinal’s blinder, “good movie, huh?” It was an awkward moment. Call me prude, but there are times when a person needs space. These times include, but are not limited to: biological evacuations, intimate moments with lovers, and unwinding at cigar bars. If the right amount of space, atmosphere, or comfort is not to be had, then a biological evacuation can turn awkward, an intimate moment sour, and an evening spent at Johnny’s Cigar Bar clumsy. Now, I am not saying that Johnny’s Cigar Bar (across from One Boulder Plaza on 13th) is a man peering over his urinal, but it’s pretty damn close. It is an establishment that suffers from not knowing what it is; it tries to be all things to all people and in the process exudes awkwardness, like a Dungeon Master at prom. I entered Johnny’s Cigar Bar to find an empty oak room dominated by its bar and overflowing with high-top tables. The décor was generic, like one might find in a suburban Texas strip mall—northwestern landscapes and Indian tigers—nothing unique and nothing special. And, though Johnny’s website advertised live music five nights a week, what I heard rolling out of the bar’s speakers was a bland mix of techno played via a laptop perched atop a vacant piano. The waitress, trendily dressed and attractive, strolled over, “Can I see your I.D.?” I handed it over and began to peruse the scotch listings. “F@## you,” she said. “Excuse me?” “There’s no f@#$ing way this is you.” I looked at my friends whom I had coaxed out on a Wednesday. They promised it was me. The waitress looked me over and ejaculated a few more expletives. We scanned the menu, and, like the décor, found nothing special. If you want beer, then go elsewhere. While their tapped beer is good, their selection was paltry (they had four beers on tap, and exactly what you would expect bottled). Their scotch and whisky offerings were better, however, boasting a medium sized selection dominated by Highlands and Speysides, all of which were decently priced. Nothing is going to jump off the page and slap a scotch aficionado on the tongue, but Johnny’s did have a few favorites, namely, an Islay, Lagavulin 16. If you are in the market for an advanced peaty scotch, then you can do no better. Their bourbon and whiskey selection was less impressive, but they did offer both Eagle Rare and Stranahan’s—two bourbons worth their weight in liquid gold. The waitress drifted back after a time, cussed at us some more, and then took our orders. I ordered a Speyside, Singelton 12. They were out of it. The waitress apologized. In Singelton’s stead, I ordered an Islay, Laphroaig 10. My friend’s and I, deciding it was time to smoke, packed our pipes and trimmed our cigars. As we made to light, however, we noticed Johnny’s lack of swirling fog. We asked the waitress, to be safe, if we could smoke. She shook her head and banished us to a backroom closet, “If you want to smoke, then you’ll have to go in there.” My friends and I looked at each other, dumfounded. Johnny’s “smoking room,” with six leather chairs and a plastic-rickety poker table, seats few. Unfortunately, there were already two gentlemen smoking their cigars, surfing the web, and watching the Celtics play. In other words, three quarters of the smoke room was already occupied (was I now the peering man?). When I say the smoking room was small, I mean, the smoking room was small—imagine rubbing elbows in a sauna with naked men. We practically had to crawl over the smoking websurfers to reach the poker table. It was a cramped space lacking in both comfort and atmosphere. When I think of a cigar bar, I think of a place where I can sit comfortably with two or three friends, smoke, enjoy my scotch, and embark on conversations of depth late into the night. This is not Johnny’s Cigar Bar, which is more of a college bar that happens to have, as an afterthought, a smoking room—the collegiate nature of the bar betrayed by a printed picture of Jell-O taped to the wall, which had scribbled in black marker beneath it: “Jell-O Shots! 50 Cents.” Johnny’s Cigar Bar suffers from not knowing what it is or what it wants. Is it a cigar and scotch bar? Then open up the smoking room and add a little depth to your scotch and whisky selection. Is it a sports bar? Then add a few more beer taps and turn up the volume on your numerous flat screens. Is it a college bar? Then advertise your fifty-cent Jell-O and forgo the “cigar bar” persona. The establishment schizophrenia ailing Johnny’s makes for both a confusing and an awkward experience, “good movie, huh?” Johnny’s tagline reads: “New Ideas Meet Old Tradition,” and while there might be plenty of “new ideas,” Johnny’s Cigar Bar has misplaced their “old tradition.” The sad thing is, Johnny’s has a lot of potential, but, like my Dad has always said, “A jack of all trades is the king of nothing.” And thus I crown you, Johnny’s Cigar Bar, the Peeping King of Nothing.