Owners Paul and Sandra Hamelink are photographed in front of the fireplace at Paul’s Cigar Lounge Dec. 4.

For five years, Paul and Sandra Hamelink have been providing a lower-level space in downtown Hastings for people to relax and enjoy the company of friends, family and others.

The Hamelinks bought the historic Nebraska Loan and Trust Building in 2010. After the last tenant in the building closed, they decided to start their own business.

“A number of businesses had their beginnings here and we knew that the location of downtown Hastings would be a great spot,” Paul said.

As they were getting started they had to figure out “what to put here and what the city needed.”

They eventually found that there was a lucrative market for a sophisticated lounge experience featuring craft cocktails and fine whiskeys.

Now that they had an idea, they had to look at how to make it work with the space.

“The lower level presented us with unique opportunities and challenges,” Paul said. “We knew it would be a distinctive space but was dominated by an existing bank vault.”

With their idea for a sophisticated bar experience, they were also able to find a use for the bank vault.

“By converting the vault into a climate-controlled humidor, we were able to increase our appeal by offering fine, hand-rolled cigars,” Paul said.

After 18 months of renovation, they were finally able to open Paul’s Cigar Lounge.

As soon as they opened, they prided themselves on offering refined relaxation. Paul believes that this is what makes them unique.

“Two issues set us apart from other venues: Our relaxed atmosphere and the quality of our drinks and cigars,” he said.

Paul said that the lounge is a place for people “to step away for a little bit, enjoy themselves, and let the cares of the season go away.”

He said the cocktails and bourbon that they offer are also something that you won’t find anywhere else.

Jon Silvester, their mixologist and tobacconist, is the only certified retail tobacconist in Nebraska. He’s also a bourbon steward.

Silvester said that every weekend people from Kearney and Grand Island and the surrounding communities come to Hastings just for the cocktails and experience of Paul’s Cigar Lounge.

Although cigars are offered at Paul’s Cigar Lounge, not all guests come to smoke.

“Many of our folks don’t smoke,” Paul said. “They just like the atmosphere and the great cocktails and whiskeys.”

He said they try to make sure that smokers and non-smokers alike are comfortable in the lounge. An exhaust system moves air and smoke out every six minutes.

Paul and Sandra aren’t natives of Hastings but when they came here for work they felt welcomed almost immediately.

“They’ve been very supportive of us and we couldn’t be happier,” Paul said. “We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”