Asked if the "cigar bar" name is a stigma to overcome, Michael Peace, owner and general manager of Maduro Cigar Bar & Lounge, doesn't hesitate to say yes. "I've heard several times from people I meet and tell about Maduro, 'Best of luck. I don't know if I'll be there.' " Nonetheless, he contends that Maduro is for everyone.
For non-cigar smokers, the argument goes like this: The location, at 109 Main St., just west of the River Market, is prime. The atmosphere is, as Peace bills it, "classy, but relaxed." (The name "Maduro" is supposed to convey that sense. Maduro is a type of cigar wrapper that's been aged longer than others. "Loosely it translates into mature and ripe and aged," Peace said. "That's kind of the look and feel we're going for here — sophisticated but still to where you can come in and let loose and have a good time.") Puffy brown leather chairs (the executive's La-Z-Boy), couches and bar chairs are everywhere. The walls are painted red, which if you put any stock in color theory, makes things livelier.
Peace ranks his cocktail menu and selection as the best or second best (behind the Capital Bar & Grill down the street) in town, and he has a strong case. He's got it all, but Maduro does brown liquor especially well, with around 30 varieties of rum, Scotch, dark tequila and whisky. You'd be hard-pressed to find a bar with better well drinks (they're typically the cheapest brands the bar carries) — Famous Grouse Scotch, Finlandia Vodka, Flor de Cana Rum, Four Roses Bourbon, Lunazul Tequila, New Amsterdam Gin — which he offers for $4 during daily happy hour from 4 p.m. until 7 p.m. The cocktail menu, nearly all of which was created by Peace, also impresses. We feared the Encantos, a drink Peace recommended made of rye whiskey, a sweet vanilla and citrus-y liqueur, sweet vermouth and a dash of cherry bitters, would taste cloyingly sweet, but it was subtle in the best way.
And the smoke? "I guess it depends on the day or time you come in," Peace said. "If you come in on a time like a Monday night or Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon, you're not going to get so much of the smoke. If you come in on a Friday or Saturday night, you're going to smell some cigars and you're probably going to leave smelling like cigars." To cut down on the smoke, Peace has an air cleaner in each room that sucks smoke up and ionizes it and five air purifiers situated throughout the bar. After a recent Thursday happy hour visit, and a short walk back to the office, co-workers couldn't guess where a reporter had been. His wife, on the other hand, knew right away.
Cigar smokers likely need less convincing. Peace said that he needs to attract plenty of non-cigar smokers to grow the business, but so far, much to his surprise, he's making 45 percent to 50 percent of his monthly revenue in cigar sales. Some customers come merely to visit the walk-in humidor, which glows against one wall like the front window of a jewelry store. But most stay for a cocktail, Peace said. He and the cigar lounge clerks are always ready to suggest a pairing. Cigars go with drinks just like wine and food, Peace said.
"Let's say, for instance, you want something that's rich and smooth. You might want to go with a San Lotano Maduro cigar and pair it with a Zaya Rum that has some vanilla notes to it," Peace said. "We have cigars that are mild to medium to full-bodied. Some cigars are going to have spicy notes to them — black or white pepper spice or other kinds of spices. Some are going to have coffee notes or cocoa notes. Some are very earthy, or hay-like. There are cigars all across the board."
For serious cigar aficionados, Peace offers cigar lockers for rent inside the humidor. For a $100 a month, those renting lockers get five cigars selected by Peace and discounts on cigar accessories and drinks.
Peace, 32, said he spent 10 years planning Maduro. He opened the bar in February with money socked away from years of IT consulting for utility companies, a "niche area where the demand is a lot higher than the supply." Even with the bar, he's still consulting, usually working, he said, "from as soon as I can wake up until 3 or 4," when he comes to the bar, where he stays until midnight.
"It's stressful," he said. "But I love having a unique kind of bar. It's something I think Little Rock has needed for a long time, a fun place for people to come to, whether or not they smoke cigars or not."