The first in our series reviewing Pittsburgh’s cigar bar scene, we’re clearing the smoke on the smoldering hotspots in the area – starting with BLEND Bar Pittsburgh.
As a cigar enthusiast, I’ve come to appreciate the art of cigar smoking. For many, it’s not just about the smoke, but the entire experience. Pittsburgh has long been a cigar city, and not just for the “jacket” smoker. There are many classic, old-school cigar bars in and around the city, and more recently, a few upscale joints have opened their doors. There’s never any trouble finding a spot to enjoy great cigar in the city.
The real challenge comes from the question “with whom?” Enjoying a great smoke alone is definitely a thing itself, but for the sake of the story I needed someone to share it with. Enter my buddy Steve, a lifelong friend and co-host with me of The Sports Porch Podcast in Pittsburgh, who enjoys not only a good cigar, but also a great bourbon. A match made in heaven and perfect companion to join me at BLEND Bar in Pittsburgh.
Before we talk about our experience, though, let’s catch up on a few things about cigars that we find…well…important. Things like: what makes a good cigar in the first place?
The quality of a cigar is determined by a variety of factors, including the tobacco blend, the way it’s rolled, and the aging process.
A good cigar should have a smooth draw, an even burn, and a balance of flavors. The flavor profile can vary greatly from cigar to cigar, with some being quite mild and others being more complex. Ultimately, the best cigar is one that you enjoy smoking.
When selecting a cigar, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, consider the occasion. Are you smoking the cigar to celebrate a special event or simply relaxing after a long day? This can help you determine the type of cigar you want to smoke. Next, consider the size and shape of the cigar. Larger cigars generally have a longer smoking time, while smaller cigars are more portable. Finally, consider the flavor profile of the cigar. Do you prefer a mild, smooth smoke, or something more complex and full-bodied?
Once you’ve selected your cigar, it’s time to prepare it for smoking. Start by cutting the cap off the cigar using a cigar cutter. Be sure to cut just enough to expose the tobacco, but not too much that the cigar unravels. Next, light the cigar using a butane lighter or matches. Hold the cigar at a 45-degree angle and rotate it as you light it to ensure an even burn. Be sure to take your time when lighting the cigar, as rushing can cause uneven burning and affect the flavor.
Now that your cigar is lit, it’s time to enjoy it. Start by taking a few slow, steady puffs to get the cigar going. From there, take your time and savor the flavor. Don’t inhale the smoke, but instead let it sit in your mouth for a few seconds before exhaling. This allows you to fully experience the flavors of the cigar. As you smoke, be sure to rotate the cigar every few puffs to ensure an even burn. Finally, when you’re finished smoking, gently set the cigar down in an ashtray and let it go out on its own.
One of the joys of cigar smoking is pairing it with food and drinks. When selecting a pairing, consider the flavor profile of the cigar. For example, a full-bodied cigar pairs well with a bold red wine or a dark beer, while a milder cigar pairs well with a light beer or white wine. Additionally, consider the flavors of the food you’re pairing with the cigar. For example, a steak pairs well with a full-bodied cigar, while a seafood dish pairs well with a milder cigar.
Another thing to note is that cigar smoking has its own set of etiquette and social norms. When smoking in public, be sure to ask for permission before lighting up. Additionally, be mindful of others around you and avoid blowing smoke in their direction. When smoking indoors, be sure to use an ashtray and avoid smoking in areas where it’s prohibited. Finally, when smoking with others, be sure to share your cigars and engage in conversation.
One exceptional place that embodies the refined luxury of cigar smoking is BLEND Bar Pittsburgh. The BLEND lounge is situated in the historic Koppers Building, an iconic structure that has been preserved and honored in the city. Located on the corner of Seventh Avenue and William Penn Place in downtown Pittsburgh, every detail of the lounge pays tribute to the grandeur of the building, including its RB Mellon Mansion Marble, Art Deco lighting, Moe Bridges wall sconces, steel fence panel, rare baseball scoreboard, and a steel beam from the original Carnegie Steel Company in Homestead.
During the day, BLEND provides a comfortable and sophisticated atmosphere for meetings or entertaining clients. In the evening, it is a trendy spot for socializing with old friends and making new ones. The interior is designed with a casual elegance, comprised of leather seating, an onyx bar, custom lighting, and elegant decor.
As for air quality, Steve noticed that there was hardly any residual smoke lingering in the air. AAON AIRE Energy Recovery Systems are used to ensure the best customer experience. This system provides precision humidity control and quality air by changing all of the air six times an hour. This is done in an environmentally conscious way by allowing for larger amounts of fresh air to enter the space.
Upon entering BLEND, Steve and I were met by Liz, one of the friendly and welcoming staff, and were then escorted to the humidor located behind the bar. Liz was incredibly knowledgeable about all of the cigar brands they offer, from leaf to ring size, smoke quality, and flavor. As a bonus for Steve, she had a wealth of information on bourbons they offer as well (and there are too many to count). Liz made sure that we understood the cigar selections and bourbon choices and certainly helped point us in the right direction. When it comes to enjoying a good cigar in the city with a fine spirit, it’s infinitely helpful to have someone like Liz in the establishment.
Steve selected the Davidoff Aniversario series as our smoke for the afternoon, mentioning that he “chose the Davidoff Aniversario because it’s always featured as the top selection of the Davidoff brand. I found the Aniversario mild yet flavorful enough to bring out the tobacco notes in the filler.” After making our selection, we learned that in 2015, BLEND Bar began a partnership with Davidoff Geneva USA, and is currently the first and only Davidoff-licensed cigar lounge in the world.
While I’m relatively new to the bourbon/whiskey scene, I do know the basics. The spirits menu has excellent variety and pricing to accommodate all needs, including tequila and wine. The menu also uses an asterisk to set aside Pennsylvania distilled whiskey and bourbons. Upon chatting more with Liz, I chose a PA brand – the Stoll & Wolfe Rye – which was, in my opinion, the perfect pairing with my Davidoff. The rye had an immediate tingle on the tip of my tongue. It had an excellent balance between sweet and heat with a very low, long, noticeable smooth finish in the upper part of my throat. The rye stayed balanced throughout the duration of the drink, and I felt like the Stoll & Wolfe brought out more flavor in my cigar. Definitely don’t be afraid to try a Pennsylvania bourbon.
If you’re someone who’d prefer a cup of joe with your smoke instead of an alcoholic beverage BLEND Bar has you covered there as well. I personally am not a coffee drinker, but BLEND offers a great French Press Ethiopian Blend Coffee that even a non-java enthusiast such as myself could enjoy. It just so happened that it also paired very well with the Davidoff Aniversario. The rich flavor of the coffee blended marvelously with the medium body taste of the smoke. Truly a great pairing! If this is more your speed, be sure to ask a staff member for their personal pairing recommendations.
Overall, our visit to BLEND was an enjoyable and satisying experience. The atmosphere was calm and pleasant and patrons wandered in and out throughout the day. We arrived around 2:30 in the afternoon to a quiet sanctuary of relaxation and, after a second round of cigars and drinks, we left around 7:00 from an upscale lounge bustling with avid cigar smokers from the local hotels, shows, and restaurants. The energy was certainly starting to pick up, and I’m looking forward to my next trip to BLEND to revel in its distinct late-evening ambiance.
436 Seventh Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15219