Published on September 3rd, 2014 | by Siz5
The Standard at the Smith House
Sometimes, when you’re immersed in a specific culture or social group, you can miss things that are often right under your nose. That’s exactly what happened to me. One day I was driving through downtown Nashville with my wife and we passed The Standard at the Smith House and she said, “Why don’t you ever stop in there and have a cigar?” I looked around and was confused and asked “Where?” She pointed at this old three story house that is sandwiched between a run down sporting goods store and the Baptist Sunday School board. It’s also about 1/2 a block away from a concrete statue of Billy Graham. I thought for sure she was trying to pull one over on me.
I had to ask the question, “how do you know about a cigar smoking shop that I don’t know about?” She told me that she had attended a meeting for a local young business-person group there. She began telling me about the cigar lounge upstairs that reminded her of a speakeasy with a nice humidor and a top shelf bar selection. Again, I’m surprised, how is she just NOW telling me about this. We’ve probably driven by it a couple dozen times!
When we get home I start doing some digging. I want to find out more about this magical place that she speaks of. Sure enough The Standard at the Smith House is a restaurant, and a private club with cigar lounge. Naturally, I started digging through their website to find a contact to email and learn more about this place. I felt like I was researching all the latest tech specs on the new iPhone coming out. I couldn’t wait to find out more about this place. Turns out even with all of my GoogleFu (Google Kung Fu), I still couldn’t find out much about this place. So I basically sent a ‘cold call’ email to Joshua, the owner. I was hoping I could come in for an interview to see what this place was all about. He was incredibly prompt when returning my email we sat up a date for me to come check it out.
Quite an Entrance
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I came up to this place. Would it be incredibly pompous and stuffy and would everyone sort of look down on the outsider coming in? Or would they be welcoming and accepting of a new face checking out their club?
As I’m walking up to the door I pass a gorgeous candy apple red Ferrari setting out front. I’m greeted by the Maitre d’ opening the door, and I clearly knew I was out of my league here. But I’m practically a chameleon and can blend in anywhere. I tell the Maitre d’ that I have a meeting with Joshua and he said “Oh yes, Eric, he’s expecting you upstairs.” Suddenly, I feel like I’m going to meet the Godfather in a loft at the top of the stairs. Instead, I’m prompted to enter a security code on the door, that allows me access into the private club. Once through the door it’s as if I’m entering a completely different era.
The room is lit with antique crystal chandeliers highlighting the dark rich wood, everywhere. From the floor to the crown moulding around the doors the wood just oozes with history. It’s exactly what I would want in a cigar lounge. I make my way to the bar and I’m greeted by the bar tender. I tell her about my meeting with Joshua, and again, she already knows who I am. Man, information gets around quickly in the house! She tells me he’ll be out in a few and leads me to the humidor to pick out a cigar. Looking up and down through their selection I quickly grab my go the Crowned Heads Headley Grange. The selection here isn’t massive, in fact they only have around 20 facings. Still some great choices overall though. As the bartender explains to me, they’re not trying to be a ‘Cigar Shop’. They are simple a private club that offers cigars. So when it’s phrased like that, then I have much more respect for their selection.
As I’m waiting for Joshua to finish up a previous meeting I’m chatting with the bartender and it turns out she’s actually studying to become a tobacconist. So we start talking about everything tobacco related and she’s really up on her stuff which is very impressive. She pours me a drink of my favorite bourbon Blanton’s Single Barrel. I’m not gonna lie it’s hard to beat this, a Headley Grange and some Blanton’s.
Joshua appears a few minutes later after I’ve got my cigar puffing feverishly. He’s a tall slender man wearing a custom-tailored pinstripe suit. Again, instantly I feel out of place here. However, he’s incredibly welcoming and warm with his personality. It’s as if we’ve been best friends since high school. He doesn’t jump right in and start telling me about the house or himself. He starts asking ME questions, wanting to learn all about me and what I do. As Joshua explains it, he’s a connector of people. He’s not a restaurant or private club owner. The building is just the medium that he uses to connect people, and it does that very well!
The story behind the building is incredibly impressive. If you wish to read it in it’s entirety check it out over here (http://www.smithhousenashville.com/history). There a few key points that really stick out to me about the The Standard at the Smith House. It was originally built in the 1840s it’s the only remaining townhouse in downtown Nashville. Sadly, this is becoming more and more common with all the construction going on around town, we’re starting to lose some of our heritage. Thankfully Joshua and his crew are doing their part in keeping this alive.
Joshua began giving me a tour which started in a large room with fireplace. Turns out Andrew Jackson was married in front of that fireplace. Yeah, former President of the United States Andrew Jackson, the guy on the $20 bill. He’s kind of a big deal here in Nashville.
In 1881, a private club was created in the house. The house still holds the name to this day, “The Standard Club”. As the club outgrew the house they migrated to a suburb south of town, where it is still prominent today.
Through the years the house changed hands many times and was even featured in Brad Paisley & Alison Krauss’ “Whiskey Lullaby”. Not the broken down house in the beginning. Rather it’s the inner atrium that looks like an alley way in the video. They also used the grand ballroom for the dancing scenes and bar fight.
In 2005 the Smith family purchased and restored it to it’s “Victoria-Era glory”. In 2012 it was named in the Robb Report as One of the Top 5 Private Cigar Clubs. The Standard at the Smith House is certainly more than a ‘cigar lounge’. In fact it’s a lot more than that.
As I said, Joshua is more of an introducer of people than he is an entrepreneur. While we were setting there talking a trio of men walked in, two of them looked familiar. Turns out it was Matthew & Gunnar Nelson of the band Nelson. They were doing an interview with Rolling Stone upstairs. So Joshua, made the introductions and gave us all a guided tour around the building. He took us through the Grand Ballroom and showed them a Chet Atkins guitar that his family had acquired for decoration. The bar that is used for the Grand Ballroom is incredible as well. Well stocked with whisk(e)y, bourbons, and some great choices of wine.
As the trio departed Joshua and I continued our interview upstairs. He kept telling me one thing over and over, he wanted to make sure he drilled it home to me. The Standard at the Smith House is private, but it’s not secretive, nor pretentious. There is a strict screening process to become a member of the club. I translated it less eloquently than Joshua would have stated it, basically, there is a no assholes policy here. The club is a place where individuals from all walks of life can come and enjoy themselves. But to be let in, you have to be a giver, not a taker. Joshua takes that part very seriously, he sizes people as soon as he meets them. You could offer all the money in the world to be a part of the club, but if you’re not of the right kind-heartedness, chances are you’re not getting in.
As we walk around the house he shows me all the improvements that they’re making. The one he’s most excited about is the inclusion of a outdoor smoking room. It’s basically the inner atrium that has an entrance from the street. He wants to allow non-members to be able to come in there and have a cigar around the large fire pit if they want. It will be open to the public, and hopefully be an enticement to join the membership.
As Nashville continues to grow and embrace it’s current “It City” status. Joshua knows he has a lot on his hands. He’s trying to keep the membership growing, but that’s not his goal. He wants to make sure the club is serving it’s purpose to it’s members. He wants to offer a safe haven for them to come get away. Have business meetings, celebrate, and relax. So that’s why he hasn’t done any sort of real promotion about the place. He said he’ll continue doing the same thing and stay true to the Club’s mantra and serve the members to the best of his ability.
Truly a Connector
As I was heading out, he gave me a couple of cigars to take with me. They were Debonaire branded and custom made for the Club (I’ll review it later this week). I was asking him about the brand Debonaire. I have seen a sponsor image over on Cigar-Coop’s site and that’s the only real introduction I’ve had into the brand. He began telling me a bit about the brand and the co-owner Phil Zanghi. He literally calls him right there to see if he’s available. The call goes to voicemail and Joshua tells me, I’ll put you two in touch. So I thank him for my cigar and bourbon and head down the stairs back out to my Jeep. Smiling from ear to ear, this couldn’t have been a better experience. An incredibly cool club, a great atmosphere full of history.
As I’m sitting out in my Jeep getting ready to take off I see Joshua come outside looking around frantically while on his phone. He then spots me and flags me down and sprints across 4 lanes of traffic, in a suit mine you. Walks up to my window and hands me the phone, Phil’s on the line. We chat for a minute and I find out that he’ll be in town in August for a Fight Night that they have at The Standard at the Smith House. Debonaire is sponsoring it, so he’ll be here promoting. I arrange a time to meet up with him the day after the fight to set down and have an interview. Just like that, Joshua has connected two more people with common interests. It takes someone incredibly selfless to constantly throw themselves out there and work to connect people without looking to gain anything from it themselves. But that’s exactly what Joshua does everyday.
I’m incredibly thankful that my wife introduced me to this place. I can’t thank Joshua enough for welcoming me in and showing me around. Even more, I’m pumped he introduced me to Phil and gave me the chance to sit down and chat with him. So if you’re ever in Nashville, do yourself a favor and stop in and eat at the Standard. Make sure and get reservations before hand though, it gets crowded quickly. After you’re done eating get a tour of the private club as well. It’ll be worth the trip I guarantee it.