Nassau's Fascinating Graycliff Hotel

NASSAU, Bahamas — Really, it was just a hotel. So understated from the street that you could walk by it, and we almost did. That would have been our loss.

We walked through the front door of the Graycliff Hotel, just like Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall did, 33 years earlier. Except they had a new baby with them, and fortunately we did not. But they had no entourage, no bodyguards and neither did we. The paparazzi weren’t on their heels. Surprisingly, no paparazzi were following us either.

Mick and Jerry, along with their first-born, stayed the night. We stayed long enough to walk the impressive grounds, visit the cigar factory in the hotel, have lunch in the elegant dining room and tour what was once a dungeon and is now a wine cellar with 275,000 bottles in it.

That is not a typo.

This was the middle of our walking tour, the one provided by Norwegian Sky concierge Ana Maria Telea, and it commanded the most attention. The wine cellar alone would have done that…everything else was an unexpected bonus.

A cigar factory in an exclusive hotel? Really? Yes, really. The owner, Enrico Garzaroli, bought the hotel from a wealthy Canadian family (the Killams) in 1973. The only previous owners were Lord and Lady Dudley from England and, before them, a pirate named John Howard Graysmith, who built it, dungeon and all.

Besides overnight stays (in only 20 rooms) and cigars, Mr. Garzaroli also sells chocolate, coffee and — yes — wine. His wine collection is reputedly the third-largest private collection in the world and it’s estimated to be worth $20 million. The most expensive bottle, shown to us by cellar master Sudhir Varot Kangath, is a German white. Sudhir says the bottle, a 1727 Bremen Ratskeller Rudesheimer Apostelwein, is worth $200,000 and that it was still good when last tasted in 1968.

No kidding? One bottle? In our white wine glasses, not that it would ever be there, a wine has no chance to wait 40 years between tastings.

On one wall there are maybe 100 bottles that he calls the “Million Dollar Rack” because that’s the total value of bottles worth $5,000 to $25,000 each. According to Sudhir, his boss sells “four or five” of them a year. We did spot a 1900 Chateau Lafite, a case or more of 1982 Bordeaux that is in “high demand”, and a couple of Barolos from the ’50s. They all have plastic “necklaces” and they’re all carefully catalogued. And there are cameras everywhere in case any visitors dared.


In the heart of the wine cellar is a long rectangular table, surrounded by chairs and many bottles of wine. It’s for private dining — all it takes is $1,000 a night — and among those who have booked it are Beyonce and Jay Z, Aristotle Onassis, Tom Cruise, Sir Winston Churchill, Nicholas Cage, Michael Jordan, Al Capone, Lebron James, Paul Newman and Tony Keith. That would be in addition to Mr. and Mrs. Jagger.

It was in the wine cellar that we saw the biggest cigar on the premises, fresh from a humidor in the California wine section. It was 18 inches long. Upstairs in the Cigar Factory, Cuban workers make cigars from tobacco from Andorra, Dominican Republic and Ecuador. Each person can make 180 cigars a day and there are shifts of 16 to 18 workers. To test the quality, there’s even a machine that smokes the cigars, although most of the workers seemed to be smoking them, too.

But the most amazing thing about the Graycliff Hotel is that we were able to walk in and see all of this, right off the street without any introduction.

“Why?” we asked the hostess.

“Why not?”

Mick and Jerry did.

With all the new ships on this side of the Atlantic, we covered the debut of the Norwegian Epic for our Canadian colleague Phil Reimer. Starting today, for a week, you can read our reports on the Epic at his blog — click on Ports And Bows.

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