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In Switzerland, New High-Tech Lounges Put The Cool Back In Smoking

Smoking lounges are enjoying a comeback in Switzerland. The sixth-floor smoker’s room at the Bon Génie in Geneva, for example, boasts a Mad Men-style ambience and a state-of-the-art ventilation system. Beats having to puff away in the alley out back.

Is that cool? (ahuynh55)
Is that cool? (ahuynh55)
Emilie Veillon

GENEVAOn the sixth floor of the Bon Génie, sitting opposite the huge windows with a view on the rooftops of Molard Square in Geneva, it's easy to imagine you're in an elegant bar in the 1950s. You even have a ciggy dangling from the corner of your mouth – because smoking is allowed up here. In fact it's the raison d"être of this new smoker's lounge, whose retro décor, designed by the firm Version B, is something of an ode to men's fashion.

On one side are coffee tables and oak chairs covered with leather. On the other side, there are Egg armchairs by Arne Jacobsen, a black Bakelite telephone and an old flea market record player. It hardly comes as a surprise that in this era of ever more restrictive smoking laws, when people often have to brave the elements just to take a drag, the Bon Génie would be an instant hit among smokers. Besides offering a roof, which is something smokers already appreciate, it also provides an environment with real style.

It is not, however, the only such place in Switzerland catering to the needs and tastes of smokers. Several other refined smoking rooms have opened in recent years, including the vast Cigar Lounge at the Schweizerhof Hotel in Bern, which is also inspired by the 1950s post-war style, and the more modern Fish Tank at the Lausanne Palace & Spa, which was refurbished two years ago. These successful examples are leading more and more hotels, such as the Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne, to also consider smoking lounges.

"Today's smoking lounges don't have anything to do with the old smoky rooms for Havana cigar connoisseurs, or worse yet, the smoking areas in airports," says Antoine Wasserfallen, a professor at the Hotel School in Lausanne. "They are the result of careful research in design and new technologies."

Wasserfallen foresees that smoking lounges, still in their experimental phase, will evolve in the near future. "People like smoking lounges. But most of them aren't profitable enough," he says. "In some cantons, waited table service is banned, so you have to find solutions to make the sales easier, such as installing a serving hatch," the expert notes.

Thousands of tiny holes

With improved ventilation systems and careful décor decisions, the new smoking lounges could even bring smokers and non-smokers together – to enjoy a good cognac for example. At least this is what Vahé Gérard is aiming at. The director of Gérard Père et Fils, a smoking lounge inside the Grand Hotel Kempinski, had enough of hearing his clientele complain about drafts of cold air and clothes getting smelly. On his own initiative, Gérard developed a new, alternative system of permanent air circulation using laminar flow technology.

"This is like an air mattress, pulsated through the floor and breathed in through the ceiling every two minutes. The atmosphere of the room is therefore completely renewed. It can also be air-conditioned according to the season", explains the cigar expert, who set up a business, G-P-F Concept Management, to market the product.

Patented worldwide under the name Airkel and complying with energy and health federal standards in Switzerland, Gérard's system – which costs $27,000 for every 10 m2 – has been installed as well in the smoking areas at the Bon Génie and at the Starling C Bar & Lounge. You can identify it by the thousands of tiny holes on the floor and on the ceiling. The air is good to breathe there, and the furniture does not bear any smell either.

Another plus of the Airkel smoking lounge is the freedom it offers in terms of interior design. The size is not limited. It can be an independent glass cube, or be integrated into an existing room. Over the next few years, Gérard is even planning on marketing the product for home use. Are the aristocratic men-only smoking rooms of yesteryear ready to make a comeback in people's private homes? To find out, keep following the smoke.

Read more from Le Temps in French

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