Among the chic desert shops and restaurants of downtown Palm Springs, and mere steps from the Sonny Bono fountain, is an oasis for cigar-smokers, wine-enthusiasts and craft-beer-lovers alike.
The unassuming Fame Lounge attracts tourists, locals and a fair share of cigar-aficionado celebrities. A wall of wine and beer, and spicy scents from the walk-in humidor greet visitors. My curiosity immediately led me to this herbaceous alcove. As a cigar newbie, I honestly didn’t know what to look for, but I found myself sniffing the various cigars as if I did. With the help of the owner, Mel Shaw, I learned I wanted a lighter, vanilla stogie with earthy and sweet woody undertones.
Beyond the retail store—which features cigars, wines and an amazing selection of craft beers—lies a backroom lounge in the classic sense of the word: a living-room setting with comfy leather chairs and couches, dim lighting and a not a Bud Light drinker in sight. There were 10 tap varietals at the small bar in the corner; it was obvious the owner had a taste for the rare and specialized brews. To keep customers coming back, Shaw rotates the taps weekly. Whether you seek an Austrian Trappist like Engelszell Gregorius, or San Diego’s Karl Strauss 24th Anniversary Flanders-style Sour Red Ale, the quality selection doesn’t disappoint.
The ambiance caters to the true desert gentleman, but Shaw’s $10 beer and cigar “back room special” makes it easy for the novice to taste the sophisticated life. As a relatively new resident of the Coachella Valley, this was the Palm Springs I was looking for. It was a welcoming feeling. Pair an Indian Tabac Box Pressed Double Corona cigar with Allagash Fluxus on tap, and tell me you won’t be grinning like a kid with an ice-cream cone on a hot day.
Shaw obviously enjoys guiding people toward the perfect wine-and-cigar or beer-and-cigar pairing. He said matching lighter-flavored beer with a lighter-flavored cigar is a great way to start.
“Similar to beer, different flavor profiles, when you are drinking, how you’re drinking, how you’re pairing with food—it’s the same thing with cigars,” Shaw said. “A cigar will taste seven different ways during the day. If you smoke it early the morning, it will taste different than if you smoke it after lunch. It’s how your body reacts to the flavor.”
Shaw started smoking cigars in 1996 and opened the store in 2001. Fame has been in this Palm Canyon Drive location since January 2005. His consistent curiosity has made Fame one of the leading places in the Coachella Valley to enjoy not just a stogie, but a flavorful beer or wine. Shaw even had a shipment of cigars infused with Washington hops, specifically to pair with IPAs and hoppy pale ales. As a craft-beer writer, my mouth immediately dropped on the wooden bar when I heard this.
However, Fame isn’t the only cigar game in town. What’s the difference between Fame and the other cigar shops?
“I would classify them as cigar shops. Here, we enjoy cigars. It’s about the experience,” he said.
Just at that moment, my smoking cohort said, “Isn’t that John Salley from the Lakers looking at the wine over there?”
Yep, it was. After attending to his latest celebrity guest, Shaw rejoined us at the bar and embarrassedly chuckled as he told us about the time that Chris Noth, aka “Big” on Sex and the City, came into his lounge.
The cigar lounge owner was not a frequent viewer of the sexy show full of witticisms. When “Big” came casually walking into Shaw’s lounge, puffing on his own cigar, Mel politely asked him to put it out. As the other smoking patrons attempted to nudge Shaw with their eyes, Shaw smiled, as he had no idea who the “Big” man was.
Moments later, he glanced down at an issue of Cigar Aficionado, with none other than Chris Noth on the cover.
The scents, sophistication and overall surroundings bring to mind the concept of an old-school gentleman’s club. Fame keeps one foot anchored in this classic ideal, and the other in the contemporary world, while opening the eyes of its patrons to the appreciation of a good wine, a good beer and a good smoke.
Whether it’s a 2007 L’Aventure Estate Cuvee blend, a California craft beer or a multidimensional cigar, assuage your desire for rich flavors in an upscale, yet cozy atmosphere.
Fame Lounge is located at 155 S. Palm Canyon Drive, No. 3. For more information, call 320-2752, or visit www.fame-lounge.com.