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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


Grand Havana Room Opens Its Russian Doors
Text Jacob Andrews

Former American film producer Bob Van Ronkel has attained local fame by bringing stars like Bruce Willis, Jack Nicholson, and dozens of others to Russia over the past six or so years. According to Van Ronkel “several years ago Russia had an undeserved reputation for being a dangerous place,” and, as a result, American celebrities were loath to come to here. Those who made the brave decision to pay Russia a visit typically required a massive security entourage in bullet-proof vehicles. However, after hobnobbing with the Russian political and business elite and noting with pleasure the lack of paparazzi, they realized that less security is required here than in the U.S. By the end of Jim Carrey’s sojourn in Moscow, he was spotted rollerblading around Park Pobedy alone.

The Grand Havana Room in Moscow is home to the world’s largest humidor

With foreigners recognizing that Russia has become a safe playground, Van Ronkel decided that the next step was to create an environment where foreign stars and local elites could socialize with a measure of privacy.

Cut to the Grand Havana Room, one of the most elite clubs in the world. The first one opened in Beverly Hills over 15 years ago, when smoking in restaurants was outlawed in California. The original concept for the club — an exclusive members-only venue for cigar lovers — came from Beverly Hills entrepreneur Stanley Shuster and actor Joe Pantoliano, who were soon joined by Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson, Robert De Niro, and Jack Nicholson. When the initial 300 memberships were sold before the club even opened, it was clear that the idea had some appeal.

With its comfortable decor, good food, excellent service, and, of course, fine cigars, Grand Havana soon became a hub for business meetings and deal making, a popular destination for smokers and non-smokers alike.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, center, at the Moscow club earlier this year

Russian TV talk show host Andrei Malakhov, actors Dolph Lundgren and Jon Voight, Bob Van Ronkel, and Grand Havana Room US owner Stan Shuster

After the success of the Beverly Hills club was repeated in New York, Grand Havana’s owners started casting glances overseas. A glitzy, fast-paced Moscow awash in money and the people who make it was fertile ground. After concluding an agreement with the U.S. Grand Havana Room to start a Russian franchise, Van Ronkel opened the doors of the Moscow Grand Havana Room in December 2007. A Beijing branch is scheduled to open in August.

Since the clubs’ membership list reads like a Who’s Who of the entertainment and business worlds, the Grand Havana Room’s arrival in Moscow provides an ideal setting for an expansion of U.S.-Russian relationships and business opportunities. This summer, the Moscow club is expecting visits from such Hollywood celebrities as Mel Gibson, Sylvester Stallone, Jim Carrey, Joe Pesci, Pamela Anderson, and Owen Wilson.

For more information on the Grand Havana Room, visit or call 974-3215.

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