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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - It's good to be an aristocrat

It's good to be an aristocrat

NagaWorld's cigar bar, the Aristocrat, caters to the economic elite, but that shouldn't stop you from living beyond your means every now and then

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The Aristocrat cigar bar at NagaWorld Casino in Phnom Penh boasts the best collection of fine cigars in Cambodia.

SITTING in a plush, gold chair, holding a snifter of single malt and puffing on a cigar, it's easy to feel like a hotshot CEO at Phnom Penh's newest cigar bar, the Aristocrat.

On the first floor of NagaWorld Casino, the Aristocrat's two glass walls overlook the baccarat and roulette tables, giving customers box seats to the gambling below. At the Aristocrat, you don't feel like a paying customer. You feel like the owner.

"The Aristocrat is a special place for the upper class to gather. It will slowly become a clubhouse for the elite," Steve Cheng, the general manager, said.

The bar hopes to refine the cigar palates of Cambodia's wealthy and is confident that their customers are insulated from the economic downturn, keeping the place busy despite the high prices.

"We're talking an elite clientele. This level of business will not really be affected," Cheng said.

Despite the bar's upper-class pretensions, the light, airy bar is not an intimidating boys' club. Staff members are attentive, the entrance is inviting and the menu contains helpful - if sometimes overwrought - explanations about the different cigars on offer.

But for all the management's talk of connoisseurship, staff members have not yet mastered some of the intricacies of the cigar trade. One server wasn't able to make recommendations and didn't light or cut the cigar properly.

The bar uses torch lighters, which is an important detail. Conventional lighters impart a chemical taste to the cigar. Just as you wouldn't pour cola into an expensive wine, you wouldn't want to draw chemicals into good tobacco.

Nonetheless,  a staff member served a poorly cut, cold cigar. Before one smokes a cigar, the tobacco should be warmed to make it easier to light. At the very least, it's important that the cigar edge is evenly lit. When one is spending typically between US$10 and $60 on a cigar, these details matter.

"You can smoke three cigarettes before you can start smoking a cigar," Eric Aebersol, resident manager of NagaWorld, said at the Aristocrat opening.

Perhaps he should remind his staff.

For the first-time cigar smoker, a few basics go a long way towards developing one's palate.

Cody Chow, who works at Tag Ventures - the Aristocrat's cigar supplier - recommends starting off with mellower Dominican cigars and initially avoiding the more expensive Cubans.

"The Don Diegos [a cigar brand from the Dominican Republic] have a soft, medium body, so it's easier to pick up.... The Cubans can put off beginners," he said.

At $15, the Don Diego Aniversario No 3 is not the cheapest cigar on the menu, but it's still on the low end at the Aristocrat, and it's a good place to begin. It's a light-bodied cigar with coffee notes; and despite its modest size, it still takes more than an hour to smoke.

Once the cigar is lit, you shouldn't inhale - just taste the smoke in your mouth. You should puff slowly, savouring the flavour. If you smoke too fast, the tobacco will burn too hot and ruin the taste.

Cigars start at $10 at the Aristocrat, but Cubans can cost more than $60. If you've just hit the jackpot, you can celebrate by spending it all on fine wine. Prices for bottles range from $250 to $1,737. For those who haven't hit it big, hard liquor starts at $6.

The elegant yet comfortable atmosphere of the Aristocrat makes it a nice addition to NagaWorld. If you're a wealthy banker or just want to act like one for a night, the Aristrocrat - with its feeling of exclusivity in a friendly atmosphere - is just the place to lean back, relax and enjoy Phnom Penh's best selection of fine cigars.

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