The Vertigo Club: a private, members-only cigar hangout that is easily Seattle’s best and most exclusive cigar club. But it’s not as snooty as all that makes it sound.
“There was a great cigar scene here,” said Vertigo Club founder Bill Daly. “For example, [you could smoke at] the top steakhouses, you could enjoy cigars at the Columbia Tower … but with the anti-smoking law, the bottom fell out of everything.”
Bill was in the finance world in 2008, and he used to try to schedule client meetings at Smokey Joe’s, the cigar bar just outside Tacoma that I reference at the start of this piece. “It was on Tribal land, so you could still smoke. The issue there was that it was impossible to do any kind of business because it was set up like a sports bar at that time,” he said. “So l came up with this idea that maybe we should put a club together that hearkened back to an older era when people could get together in a place where they could converse, and that rather than being directed toward televisions was more directed toward conversation. They could do their networking and get to know one another in a more intimate setting. I wanted a ’30s or 40s vibe, a little bit like a speakeasy.”
There’s no question that’s what Bill pulled off with Vertigo, which is just a tenth of a mile south of Westland Distillery. It’s an intimate setting that feels casual while still evoking that “we’re serious about enjoying cigars” feeling.
“The law was such that this could not be a workplace of any sort. I had to find a way to work within the narrow parameters of the law. If you couldn’t have employees, how could you have a club? Well, if you automate everything- access cards, lighting, heating, air – all that stuff was automated. And then you create a culture where people would police their own areas, bring their own supplies. Essentially what I did was create an environment. We have a bar with cocktail shakers, a kitchenette, you can bring in food, there’s plates, glassware, and ice makers. So when I was asked the question of how I got around the law, the answer was that I didn’t.”
The Vertigo Club doesn’t do any advertising. There’s not even a sign over the front door. Members know where it is, and they’re the only ones who really need to. To become a member requires not only a fee (which, as Bill puts it, is not cheap) but also an interview with Bill. The idea is that he and the other members need to be able to trust you and they want you to feel invested in the space, because without employees, everybody is counting on everybody else to be a steward. Put another way…they have to know you’re cool.
“I have to say [the best part of this experience] has honestly been the people. I have been incredibly blessed to have the people I have had here. I have met some of the most interesting people over the last ten years. We have a very informal interview process. People will generally figure out when they get to the top of the stairs [and into the Club area] whether they’re going to join. These are some of the greatest people I have ever had the pleasure to get to know,” said Bill, before noticing one member who was working on his standup routine (every cigar lounge has one of these guys), “with the exception of that guy over there.”
While it’s unfortunate that a business like his needs to exist at all, he points out that the model he built could serve as a blueprint for others looking to create space for cigar smokers in markets where the government has gone to these lengths to intrude on your right to enjoy a cigar.