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A smokin' party

August 03, 2003|Steven Barrie-Anthony | Times Staff Writer

The Grand Havana Room in Beverly Hills is packed for its eighth-anniversary bash, also celebrating the release of two documentary films, "The Fuente Family: An American Dream" and "Fuente Fuente Opus X: Making of a Legend."

Guests, almost exclusively men, almost exclusively dressed in gray or black, lounge cross-legged on lush red or green velvet couches and leather chairs, sipping mojitos and red wine and puffing on expensive cigars.

Third- and fourth-generation cigar makers Carlos Fuente Sr. and Jr. are dressed alike, in starched white shirts and Panamas. Originally from Cuba, nowadays they grow tobacco in the Dominican Republic.

Here, they are gods. Surrounded by grinning cigar aficionados, Fuente and Fuente exhale smoke toward the high ceiling, all elegance and ease.

"This is the most legendary cigar family there is," Havana Room owner Stan Schuster gushes. "The Opus X is the most sought-after cigar."

"It's got the elegance of a Porsche, the purr of a Ferrari," Fuentes Jr. agrees. He motions to Schuster and says: "We're family. This is our home."

Movie stars get second billing.

"It's so nice to be able to smoke a cigar without being bothered by all the Nazi rules in Beverly Hills," says Tom Selleck, chatting with fellow actor Peter Weller on the veranda. Both are members of the Havana Room.

"This club is a port in a storm," Weller says. "People tell me I'm very intense. I say, 'You should've met me before I started smoking cigars.' I don't know people who are violent and smoke cigars."

Grammy-winning jazz musician Arturo Sandoval sidles up to join the conversation. He is grinning ear to ear.

"Nobody plays trumpet like he does," Weller says.

"I cannot complain," Sandoval says. "I have an extremely happy life. I make a living doing what I love to do. And on top of that, I am smoking a big cigar."

Sandoval wrote the scores for both Fuente documentaries, "45 original pieces of music," he says. James Orr produced, directed, wrote and narrated.

"I did this for free," Orr interjects. "As remarkable as the cigars are, the family is even more remarkable....

"Cigars are the equivalent of peace pipes in tribal ceremonies," he says. "They bring men together, and we share stories about the hunt. And personal stuff -- innermost thoughts."

Although a novice cigar smoker, actor Jon Voight is nonetheless discussing cigars. "I just came back from Italy," he says, "and the fellow I was staying with insisted I smoke big Clint Eastwood-type cigars."

Suddenly, an alarm bell goes off. Men look up from their cigars, confused. "Just a fire alarm," somebody yells. Everybody laughs. Alarm deactivated, Sandoval unleashes his trumpet in the center of the room to rousing applause.

On the veranda, conversation meanders toward politics. Most pick Arnold Schwarzenegger, a fellow Havana Room member, as their favorite for the California recall election. If he runs.

"I'm not gonna run," says Selleck, adamantly. "I have a mortgage. I don't think people with mortgages should have to run for public office." He sucks on his stogie. And grins.

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