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Sam Farina is a plumber. Stephen Cannell is a novelist and Hollywood writer behind some of television’s most memorable series, such as The Rockford Files, 21 Jump Street and The A-Team.
And just the other day, Farina and Cannell cracked wise on Chicago’s brutal winters.
Their paths crossed on a weekday morning in one of Forest Park’s newest businesses. Casa de Puros, an over-the-top cigar lounge on Madison, charges $1,000 a year for a membership, but the experience is like none other in the area. Just ask Farina.
Though technically open for business in late 2007, it wasn’t until just two months ago that Casa de Puros unveiled its extravagant furnishings. Leather couches, huge flat-screen TVs, and personal humidors with key access are some of the most obvious luxuries available to members. The details behind the finished product – and their price tags – are astonishing, and intentionally so. The millwork alone ran into the mid six-figures.
Casa de Puros has attracted 13 members so far, and Farina – not Cannell – is one of them. Farina was hired to install the plumbing for the business and it didn’t take long for him to decide that he wanted to stick around once the job was finished. During the construction, he and general contractor Jim Fraghia developed a friendship with the managing partner of Casa de Puros, Tim Polk.
“Before the lockers went up, I told Tim, this is where my locker’s going to be,” Farina said.
Officially, Fraghia was the first member.
“It’s really cool. I meet these guys and initially they’re cigar smokers just like me,” Polk said of hobnobbing with the customers. “I got a guy, a doctor of psychology, comes in here like clockwork. He sits in the same spot every time. He gets as much therapy as I do.”
Casa de Puros, which translates to house of cigars, is divided mainly into two sections. The storefront is open to the general public and features a walk-in humidor and hundreds of cigars. There is no smoking in the retail portion of the shop. Members and first-time customers are welcome to sit in the lounge where they can enjoy free espresso with their cigar, or bring an alcoholic beverage.
Though Illinois is smoke-free, members can relax with their tobacco in the lounge because the business was established in late 2007, before the ban took effect.
Donald Evans is a regular customer of Polk’s, and said Casa de Puros is in another league when compared to cigar shops in the area. It adds an interesting dynamic, too, he said, to a street that has traditionally been dominated by blue-collar hangouts. The allure for cigar smokers is two fold, said Evans. For some, being part of a somewhat exclusive club holds an undeniable cachet. For others who, like Evans, are forbidden by their wives from smoking in the house or the car, Casa de Puros is a refuge, especially during the winter months.
Evans is a stay-at-home dad who makes his living in Oak Park as a writer. As much as he may want to, he said he can’t see himself parting with $1,000 just to be able to smoke in peace.
“I hope Casa de Puros thrives,” Evans said in an e-mail. “But for me, I can’t rationalize the membership fee, and probably won’t buy many cigars there unless the policy changes.”
Bill Young also lives in Oak Park, but unlike Evans, he is a member of Forest Park’s most upscale lounge. Young has been friends with the Hollywood writer, Cannell, for some 15 years and brought him into the cigar shop for a quick treat before heading downtown on business. By trade, Young is the owner of Midwest Media and works with high profile writers to organize book signings, readings and other events.
For Young and others looking to make an impression with clients, Casa de Puros provides a posh pause. Who knows, you might even bump into the guys who built the place.