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Smitty’s Cigar settling into cool, new digs
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Rene, left, and Ivette Barrios, the owners of Smitty’s Cigar Lounge in McEver Corners on Dawsonville Highway, opened their new location in early October after working on the space through the summer. A grand opening for the lounge is set for Oct. 20. - photo by Nick Bowman

Smitty’s Cigar and Tobacco is settling into some suave new digs on Dawsonville Highway.

On Oct. 1, the cigar shop — shifting to its new name, Smitty’s Cigar Lounge — opened its new location in McEver Corners, just a couple of doors down from its original, 30-year-old location in the shopping center.

The new shop is more than double its old size, according to owners Rene and Ivette Barrios and chief administrative officer Giovanna Barrios, and its humidor is now three times larger. That’s enough room to display 600 boxes of cigars at retail holding about 30,000 individual sticks, making Smitty’s not only the largest upscale cigar shop in Gainesville, but a contender in the region.

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Cole Forrester, left and Giovanna Barrios run the Barrios family’s operation at Smitty’s. Forrester is general manager of the cigar lounge and Barrios is the chief administrative officer of the family’s businesses. - photo by Nick Bowman

But fans of the shop are in for a surprise if they haven’t been by the new location: Gray tile has replaced carpet; instead of deer heads, wood and tight quarters, visitors will find cool tones, stone effects and high ceilings.

Then there’s a quartz countertop bar, enormous wine selection and a growing line of beer taps, the blown-up portraits on the walls of the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Pierce Brosnan enjoying cigars, and enough leather to stock an African lodge.

In other words, Smitty’s isn’t just getting a name change: The new location is a true lounge ready to host events in addition to offering more in-house entertainment for regulars — who, as with the old Smitty’s, run the gamut of Gainesville demographics.

Frederick Johnson, one of those regulars and a bank manager who moved to Gainesville from Dallas, Texas, started visiting Smitty’s at the end of Clark Smith’s ownership.

“It had been in business for so long, it had a lot of nostalgia — and you appreciate nostalgia,” said Johnson, in his early 50s and decked in slacks, an electric-blue button-down and a bow tie buried beneath a beard going gray. “It was an authentic cigar shop.”

The new location has style and an entertainment appeal for more than just the hardcore cigar smoker — and Johnson is just such a smoker, rolling through three each day beginning at lunch, and preferring darker maduros and larger cigars. For the beginner (or the girlfriend dragged into the shop every now and then) an up-to-date ventilation system tones down the haze in the air, though you’ll still go home smelling like a cigar shop.

Sitting at the bar on Tuesday while Johnson worked on his laptop across the room — people might look like they’re working while they tap-tap-tap away in their coffee shops, but real work gets done in the cigar lounge — Clint Mead was halfway through a cigar of his own as he waited on friends to arrive.

From under a well-worn ball cap, Mead said he picked up the hobby while deployed to Afghanistan as a Marine. Visits to Smitty’s are about the only reason the Clermont resident finds himself in Gainesville these days.

Pacing around the store was Will Brown, a young EMT from Dahlonega, who picked up pipe smoking and found his way to Smitty’s to expand his horizons. At the bar stood a white-haired man from Chicago, who in his late 70s still comes to his local cigar shop. Before the end of the night, Mead’s friends turned up to the lounge — a few young men and women, all puffing cigars.

The group was diverse and, depending on your preconceptions, a little surprising.

“You meet good people in a cigar lounge,” Johnson said, surveying the room. “There’s a lot of camaraderie. You meet and associate with people that you wouldn’t in any other social setting.”

Smitty’s Cigar Lounge had its soft opening on Monday. Keep an eye on its social media as it firms up its new operating hours before its grand opening on Oct. 20.

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Clint Mead sits at the bar on Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2018, of Smitty’s Cigar Lounge on Dawsonville Highway. The store moved a couple of doors down in the McEver Corners shopping center, renovating the much-larger space to create an up-to-date, cool cigar lounge for Gainesville. - photo by Nick Bowman
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