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Palm Latitudes

The Scene : Smoke and Mirrors

November 26, 1995|J.R.\f7 Moehringer

You don't know the street address. You're not sure there is a street address. You would call and ask for directions, but there's no listing in the phone book. You know it's hidden above a Beverly Hills bistro, but that doesn't really help. After an hour of driving up and down Wilshire Boulevard, you manage to find the restaurant and locate a hidden elevator in the back--but it's locked. When someone spots you skulking about, a refrigerator-sized man approaches. His voice trembling with all that makes this town titillating and intolerable, he asks: "Are you a member?"

If so, welcome.

If not, please leave. Just get out .

This is the Grand Havana Room, friend, Hollywood's most exclusive new hideaway, a hybrid of the Ivy League secret society and the Prohibitiobn-era speak-easy. Qualifications for membership: You must possess a passion for fine cigars, and you must be on a first-name basis with Stan Shuster. "Somebody said I'm the most powerful non-agent in Hollywood," says Shuster, who opened the Grand Havana Room three months ago. "I can get anybody on the phone."

A former recording industry exec with a fat Rolodex and a chronic shrug, Shuster would like to confer membership upon everyone willing to pay $2,000 down and $150 a month. Alas, there is a waiting list. "I have 342 lockers," he says. "When that was done, I was done." If you think by "lockers," Shuster means the sort of metal cubbyholes where people stow their smelly gym shoes, you're not Havana material. Shuster's lockers are Spanish cedar safe deposit boxes, located in what may be the world's largest humidor, where members stash their private supplies of imported, often prohibited, cigars.

Certainly, the club has a wide selection of legal stogies for sale. But where's the fun in that? With the same conspiratorial tone in which "Casablanca" residents referred to the Letters of Transit, one Havana member confides: "Everyone has a source for Cubans." (That this is a violation of a 35-year-old U.S. trade embargo seems a trifling detail.)

Supporting a high-priced--sometimes illegal--habit requires two things: cash and connections. Grand Havana members have both. Reading the engraved brass nameplates along the rows of lockers, Shuster seems to be giving a roll call of Hollywood royalty.

"De Niro. . . Gibson. . . Nicholson. . . Schwarzenegger. . ."

The latter is what you might call a mega-regular. "Arnold is here so frequently," Shuster says, "you would think he's an owner."

Like a fine cigar, a fine cigar club must draw well. Schwarzenegger may be one of the most notorious cigar lovers in the land, but he alone is not enough to pay Shuster's overhead. Havana succeeds by giving Hollywood what it craves: A pricey vice and the "privacy" to enjoy it. OK, members could find more privacy in their own living rooms--but in Hollywood, privacy's no good unless people see you having it. Throw in a few backgammon tables--plus a full bar with rare wines, ports and cognacs--and you have what amounts to an upholstered treehouse.

With its forest green drapes, comfy leather reading chairs and ample quantities of polished wood and velvet, Havana's decor is best described as Old English Clubroom-cum-Contemporary Furniture Showroom. The A-List meets Z Gallerie. Not that you can always see the carefully planned interior. Needles of overhead light provide less illumination than a lit cigar, so you often don't know if you're sitting next to a bookish screenwriter or one of the studs from "Baywatch."

Could have been either one the other night, when teen heartthrob David Charvet dropped by, along with screenwriter James Orr, comedian David Allen Grier, actress Lori Petty and Austrian prince Alexandre von Furstenberg. Sitting alone in the dark, shooting jets of silky blue smoke toward the ceiling, Orr tried to explain Havana's appeal.

It's about kinship, he said. Havana welcomes women (actresses Tia Carrere and Kristy Swanson are charter members), but it's really a place for men to forge friendships. "In tribal societies, men would leave their homes and come together in lodges, and smoke. Then they would go back to their homes and possessions. This is the tribal lodge of the '90s. We as men come in from the kill and sit around and discuss the events of the day."

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