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Hat City Ale House is back as cigar bar and lounge

August 24, 2018

Bringing back Hat City Ale House cigar bar and lounge in downtown Danbury was a long-time dream of Kevin Paige and what he described as a natural extension of his Butthead’s Tobacco Emporium.

Hat City Ale House is one of the few cigar bars in Connecticut, following a 2003 ban on smoking in bars. Hat City Ale House is exempt from the smoking prohibition because it previously operated as a cigar bar and has not changed its location or size.

“The craft or boutique cigar business is as hot as craft beer now. I’m combining both of these,” Paige said. “There 18 types of draft beer and plenty of brown liquor. This is going to be the place to be. This will be a destination for people an hour away.”

Paige opened Hat City Ale House earlier this summer and will hold a grand opening event at 4 p.m. on Saturday. The event will include a ribbon-cutting with Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton as well as appearances from Jack Torano of Torano Cigars and Benji Menendez, a well-known personality in the cigar industry.

Visitors to the grand opening may also roll the dice for a chance to win $25,000. To win, the roll must spell out C-I-G-A-R-S. To participate, customers must make a qualifying cigar purchase or make a $75 donation to the Rotary Club. For more information, visit www.hatcityale.com

“We’re excited to see such a unique establishment open up on Main Street that will keep the momentum building towards downtown Danbury’s resurgence,” P.J. Prunty, president and CEO of the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce, said. “Kevin has been a motivated businessman and engaged community member in the greater Danbury area for years, and I’m happy to see him launch this new landmark business.”

Paige said Prunty was instrumental in the return of Hat City Ale House.

Hat City Ale House is located at 253 Main St. and will be open from 4 to midnight Thursday through Sunday. Paige said he will expand the hours as needed to meet customer demand.

The beer selection includes several breweries from Connecticut, including a special Kolsch brew from Danbury’s Charter Oak Brewing. The cigar selection ranges from top-line options to small cigarillos. Patrons may bring their own tobacco products for an $8 fee.

Paige, who has owned Butthead’s for 19 years, hired Drinnan Thornton to manage the cigar bar. Thornton previously managed Churchill’s Lounge in Boston.

“He’s experienced in the (cigar bar) concept and urban businesses,” Paige said. “He has heavy beer and cigar knowledge.”

Hat City Ale House will also offer “bar bites,” such as stuffed pretzels and paninis. Paige said he is hoping to attract groups of people to hold their fantasy football drafts and watch NFL on Sundays. While the five televisions will be silent, patrons may use a phone app to listen in.

A sign hangs behind the bar explaining the smoking prohibition exemption under CGS 19a-342(b)(2)(G), a provision adopted in 2003. The exemption “applies only to bars that had a liquor permit and generated at least 10 percent of their annual gross income in 2002 from onsite sales of tobacco products or humidor rentals and have not changed their size or location since December 31, 2002,” the provision states.

Local businessman Tom Kennedy ran Hat City Ale House as a cigar bar from 1996 to 2005. A different owner opened the space as a bar with a new concept and name after Kennedy closed Hat City Ale House. The bar closed after a short run and Kennedy immediately took interest in the space to reopen a cigar bar. He received assurances from numerous parties that the exemption still applied to the location.

Paige started negotiations to purchase the property in 2006 and finally acquired the building through auction about two years ago. He spent the last two years renovating the space and getting it ready for reopening. The space includes a filtration system that cleans the air every six minutes and does not exhaust the fumes to the outdoors.

Paige said Kennedy, who owns TK’s American Café sports bar in Danbury, was happy to see the cigar bar revitalized. Kennedy sold him the name Hat City Ale House for “a draft beer,” Paige said.

Another sign behind the bar reads: “Fashionably tailored attire requested.” While there is no official dress code, Paige said he hopes to see collars instead of tank tops.

“It’s more of a hotel intercontinental lobby bar where people from different walks of life come in for engaged conversation; not just to look at their phones,” Paige said. “I’m positive about the way things are going in downtown. I see a lot more energy coming in and economy is improving. We’ll inevitably need to service the population of professionals moving into the apartment complexes in downtown. I think there’s been a resurgence of civic pride on Main Street.”

Betsy Paynter, director of CityCenter Danbury, said she is happy to see the new private investment in downtown.

“It’s nice to see Kevin resurrect an old-standby business on Main Street,” she said. “He made a lot of renovations and upgrades there. We look forward to working with him to help Main Street thrive.”

Hat City Ale House may be reached at (203) 790-4287.

The writer may be reached at cbosak@hearstmediact.com; 203-731-3338

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