A dog. A dog and the original location. That’s how the name of New York’s oldest, still active tobacconist, Barclay Rex, came about. The cigar shop and lounge is now located on Pearl Street in the downtown area of Manhattan, but it all started a few blocks up. “My grandfather was a pipe manufacturer and he opened up a store on Barclay and Church in 1910,” the current owner, Vincent Nastri, explains. “At the time, he had a Great Dane called Rex and because he couldn’t afford advertising in newspapers he’d dress the dog in a blanket with the store’s name on it and hire a guy to walk around with it.” Back then, only pipes and pipe tobacco were sold, but sometime in the early Fifties, cigars were added to the selection.
From Pipes to Cigars
“The store moved to Broad Street, where it remained until 2000. Around that time my grandfather noticed the demand for cigars increasing, so he started selling them. He had a decent-sized humidor that he built himself, but, of course, there were only three, four dozen different brands at that time.” When Vincent’s grandfather died in 1967, his father took over, but only for a short while.
“I became the owner in the late Seventies. My father stayed on for a while, but couldn’t handle the long working days.” However, it wasn’t an obvious choice for Vincent to take over. “I was still in school, and probably thought of every career other than this one, but it grew on me. Little by little, I was putting in more time and it became clear that no one else was going to carry the torch.”
In 1986, Vincent expanded the business by opening a second location opposite Grand Central Station. Ten years later, a third store was added on Lexington Avenue and, in 2002, a fourth one opened in the World Financial Center. Of these, none remain today. The last one to close was the one by Grand Central Station. It shut down as late as October 2016. “Not only are rents being raised drastically, cigar shops aren’t exactly the type of use a landlord wants today. He simply didn’t want us there.”
Barclay Rex in New Splendor
The same thing happened with the Broad Street store, which resulted in the newest and only remaining location, in a four-story brick house on Pearl Street, surrounded by the high-rises on Wall Street. “It’s like two shops in one. There’s a lot more space. We have a public lounge in the basement, the shop on the main floor and a private club on the second floor,” Nastri explains. After having spent a year and a half in a temporary location, the new Barclay Rex opened up in July 2016, the big feature being the members-only club.
“The public lounge can be noisy sometimes, which is fine, but some people want to come in and read a book and relax. They can’t do that there, so this is for them. It’s going to be open seven days a week and longer hours than the store.” It currently seats 50 to 60 people, but there is potential for more members.“I could open up the third floor if the demand were there, maybe a bit different, with pool tables and card tables. I could even open up the fourth floor, but one thing at a time.” And guarding this new space, of course, will be Rex.“I had a replica of the dog made. It’s a bronze statue and it will sit outside the humidor in the private club, overlooking the room.”
This article was published in the Cigar Journal Summer Edition 2017. Read more