Mitch Modell may have lost his chain of 115 sporting-goods stores in March to Chapter 11 bankruptcy, but the erstwhile CEO has found a way to console himself.
He and his buddies are now congregating several times a week on Main Street in Southampton to enjoy cigars from the open windows of their socially-distanced Mercedes sedans and G-Wagons.
“This has become our outdoor Grand Havana,” Modell, 65, said of the currently-closed cigar club in Midtown — where Modell’s annual membership costs $10,000 and Rudy Giuliani is also a member — that is one of the few places left to legally smoke in the city.
“It’s like a boys’ hangout,” Modell, who misses the Grand Havana Room’s lamb chops and watching sports in the lounge, said of his al-fresco squad. “We’re not used to being isolated. This breaks up the monotony.”
Now, the cigar aficionados meet outside trendy Southampton restaurant 75 Main after picking up luxury Italian takeout dishes like black truffle-stuffed chicken breast.
Zach Erdem, owner of 75 Main, said of the scene outside his eatery: “It’s almost like Cuba with the fancy cars and cigars.”
When the divorced Modell decamped from Manhattan to his Hamptons home a few weeks ago, his most important cargo was cigars: “I brought a whole box, all my favorites — Montecristos, light cigars.”
It all started when Erdem, 38, handed out Romeo y Julieta 1875 cigars to customers waiting outside for their food one night. Then people started bringing their own cigar stashes and hanging around after they’d picked up their food, quickly growing to a dozen cars.
“Everyone is so stressed and there’s no place for people to go,” Erdem said. “It’s like an hour or two where people can distract themselves.”
Especially for those who are single and self-isolating alone.
“It’s channeling normalcy,” said divorced entrepreneur Bruce Lewin, 73, who is a regular attendee in his Lexus SUV. “I’m all by myself, trying to stay active and healthy. It’s a break from being cooped up.”
The men tend to gather after all the press conferences — Cuomo, Trump — of the day, and are aware of the CDC’s warnings that the coronavirus can be most dangerous for those over 65 and to smokers.
“They tell you smoking isn’t great with this thing [coronavirus],” Modell admitted. “But to smoke a cigar a couple of times a week isn’t a bad thing.”
As club “member” Andy Rego, 52 a builder in Southampton, explained, “We all have our vices, right?”
Besides, he said, “I still wear my protective gloves.”
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