Windy City Heats Up: The Clayton

Metro Chicago already has a number of high-end retail cigar shops and lounges, from historic to contemporary. But an ambitious new offering, The Clayton, sets a new standard with Old World roots, a sleek build-out, and highly personalized service. >By Seth Schwartz

Putting European ambiance and elegance into the American cigar experience takes vision, location, and detail. Embarking on a year-long tour around the globe, Guy Hancock and Clay Wilson visited shops in a number of countries to get a picture for the amenities and character in their lounge-to-be.

After an 18-month search, their dream dropped anchor at 212 N. Canal St. in burgeoning Chicago’s River West neighborhood. Gutting and meticulous renovation took more than another year before The Clayton was unveiled.

Opened in the spring of 2016, the lounge fits well into the area, which has exploded with condominiums, restaurants, and office space in the past seven years. There’s 4 million feet of commercial development therein.

“We wanted to be here,” said Hancock, founder of the Decent Cigar Emporium in Dublin, who has over 25 years in the cigar business and divides his time between Chicago and Ireland. “We looked at locations all over the city. We wanted a modern take on an industrial building.”

“We wanted something unique that represents the next generation of retail stores,” said Wilson.

The 2,800 square foot retail area features a sliding glass humidor and allows patrons to walk around before making their selection. A full line of Opus X, Liga Privada, Padròn, and Davidoff are among the 200 different type of cigars available for the seasoned smoker. Their house blend, The Clayton, is a medium-bodied Nicaraguan made from five-year aged tobacco. The Clayton Reserve is a maduro and will be out this fall. Ornate humidors handmade in Italy and other high-end accessories are also available. Events are held once a month.

“The glass cube give was taken from the Apple building in New York,” said Hancock. “It gives a, ‘Wow factor,’ when people come in. We have a sensor that regulates it and allows all the cigars to be humidified evenly. We can hold 16,000 cigars.”

A few people come in during the day, then there’s an influx at the end of the workday. Thursday to Saturday the traffic picks up. Spring through fall, when the weather permits, the accordion windows across the front of the store are opened, lending a nice setting. Leather chairs and marble tables offer a high-class feel.

Lounge employees Israel Estrada and Dennis Wright have a knack for matching the experienced and novice smokers with the right sticks and offering a intimate atmosphere.

For executive clientele, The Clayton is tailor-made. “We have people who are in Chicago for business and will call and ask if we can reserve a table for them,” said Hancock. “We’ll put up a reserved sign and they’ll be two, three, four, or five who can meet, enjoy a cigar, and discuss business. I think we suit the experience for the customers.”

A consultant in digital marketing and communications with an office in Wrigleyville, Mitch Hurst often takes the El south at midday to the Merchandise Mart and walks six blocks to The Clayton, where he’ll spend the afternoon conducting business, catching a European soccer match, and relishing one of his favorites, Avo Syncro, Rocky Patel Royale, or Nat Sherman 1930s before catching the Metro back home to Evanston, Ill.

“There’s something about The Clayton,” said Hurst. “I’ve made some great professional connections. It’s a younger crowd that has a real nice energy and warmth to it. It’s contemporary; it was constructed with the cigar smoker in mind. The guys who run it know their stuff. They’re welcoming, not snobbish and make all people feel at home.

The first customer to come through the door, Adam Janikis, is a frequent guest. “It’s nice to stop by after work, relax, and enjoy a cigar,” said Janikis, a River North resident who works in a technology startup. “Sometimes I’ll go over and have a cigar and watch college football on Saturdays. Everybody there is personable. I’ve been able to build good relationships with some of the regulars.”

Karl Herzog, Arturo Fuente vice president of sales, was touched by his visit to the shop. “The Clayton is absolutely one of the nicest lounges I’ve been in; it’s really breathtaking,” said Herzog. “It’s well suited to meet people’s needs. The retail sales staff is well educated and they have a great selection of super premium cigars.”

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