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A visitors guide to Cigar smoking in Havana

A visitors guide to Cigar smoking in Havana

La Casa del Habano, Partagás cigar factory
Industria #520 e/ Dragones y Barcelona, behind the Capitolio While Partagás produced cigars on this street from 1848 to 2012, the factory has now been closed and relocated. La Casa del Habano, however, remains open and is a major destination for cigar smokers from the world over. This store is a historical marker in the story of Cuban cigars. Its manager is Grecia Quiñones Marrero and her extremely knowledgeable staff is led by Hamlet. Yes, that is his real name. And yes, he is the very same Hamlet who has gained worldwide recognition as a master cigar roller from the store at the old Romeo y Julieta factory. Recommended smoke:
Bear in mind that this store is busy with constant traffic, so it’s probably best to pick a shorter cigar to enjoy with a cup of coffee or a mojito. And if you want a shorter cigar, one of the recent accomplishments of the Cuban cigar industry has been the release of a large selection of shorter cigars of exemplary quality. The best of these include Hoyo de Monterrey Petit Robusto, Romeo y Julieta Short Churchill, and my recommendation, the Montecristo Petit Edmundo. I love this little cigar; perfect for when you need a relatively quick smoke that is full of flavor and richness. With a 52 ring gauge and the length of 110 mm, this cigar will fill your mouth with the taste of cocoa juxtaposed with cedar and spice. It is a brilliant smoke of medium strength with a long finish usually reserved for a much larger cigar.

Casa del Habano, Hostal Conde de Villanueva
Mercaderes #202, e/ Lamparilla y Amargura, Habana Vieja This building was built as the mansion of Claudio Martínez de Pinillos, Count of Villanueva, but it has been given a new life as a nine-room hotel. Every room and suite is named after a brand of cigars, but that is not what makes it a haven for smokers. As you enter the airy courtyard, on your right you will see a flight of stairs to the old servant quarters on the mezzanine; at the top of the stairs is a hidden gem: a Casa del Habano. This hidden wonder is managed by Antonio Hevia and staffed by one of the most sought after in-store rollers in the city, Reynaldo González. This beautiful little store with adjoining bar is truly one of the hidden treasures in the cigar world. Whether you select one of Reynaldo’s exquisitely rolled cigars or something from the full assortment of Habanos’ offerings, I would recommend you have a quick coffee or drink in the bar and light your cigar. Recommended smoke:
My choice for a great cigar in the environment of the airy courtyard would be a La Gloria Cubana Medal D’or No. 2. Recently I rediscovered this overlooked brand when I found a couple of boxes from 1997 in the back of the humidor. How do I describe this epicurean experience properly? My mouth was filled with the taste of cedar and leather all coated in a fine mist of honey. A mild cigar by most standards, I found this to be a perfect way to enjoy an afternoon. The draw was consistent and full. The flavors married well with a couple of Serrano coffees.

La Casa del Habano, La Quinta
Ave. 5ta #1407 e/ 14 y 16, Miramar This was the first high-end cigar store in Cuba when its doors opened in 1990. It is a smoker’s store. Outside of the regular tourist environment, it is quieter, but it is still a worthy destination in its own right. This is the place to take your time and truly take advantage of the expertise of the staff. The selection is large and the suburban setting allows you to slow down after the hectic pace of the city. Order a coffee or a drink from the bar, or even lunch from the adjoining restaurant, then relax in a wicker chair and enjoy a larger, longer smoke. This store offers a relatively quiet and relaxed atmosphere as it is off the beaten tourist trail. Recommended smoke:
Punch Churchill. This cigar is one of the classic Churchills. Recent vintages are reminiscent of the glory that this cigar achieved in the late 1990s with a steady even draw that fills your mouth with the flavors of spice, leather and wood (stay away from the 1999–2001 eras as there were quality issues throughout the Cuban cigar industry leading to far too frequent issues with plugged cigars). They are beautifully constructed, and the wrappers I have seen on recent vintages are absolutely glorious to both the senses of sight and touch. The flavors evolve as you enjoy the cigar. It gets richer and fuller the further down the cigar you get, leaving you fulfilled and grateful that you indulged yourself. This medium strength cigar will only get better with age. Other longer smokes I would recommend include the Montecristo No. 2, the Hoyo de Monterrey Doble Corona or the H. Upmann Sir Winston. All the above from the period of 2003 to present should be outstanding.

La Casa del Habano, Club Habana
Ave. 5ta e/ 188 y 192, reparto Flores This was the exclusive Biltmore Club pre-revolution and, although it boasts tennis courts, gym, fine dining and a private beach, the real draw for cigar smokers is La Casa del Habano that was run by Enrique Mons. One of the living icons of the cigar world, Mons was in charge of quality for Cubatabaco (predecessor of Habanos S.A.) for almost 20 years. Mons was the manager who opened La Quinta when it was the first modern cigar store opened in Cuba. I doubt there has been a cigar produced in Cuba in the last 35 years that Mons doesn’t have an opinion on. Now that he has retired, the staff works hard to maintain the level of excellence that he demanded. The comfortable lounge is a great place to sit, smoke and chat. Recommended smoke:
Here it would be appropriate to smoke a full flavored cigar. This would be a great place to enjoy the resurgence of the Montecristo No. 2. Once revered as the ultimate pyramid, it suffered through a couple of quiet years. Current production is, once again, a king amongst cigars. The wrapper is silky and shiny with oils you can feel on your fingers. From first light, the flawless construction shows itself with a full, even draw. Initially the flavor is surprisingly sweet with a mixture of peppery spice. As I smoked down to the second half of the cigar, the sweetness lingered but the spiciness increased. These flavors danced right down to the nub of the cigar. The aromatic blue smoke was the kind you thought only existed in print ads. Look for recent vintages of this cigar; it will remind you of years gone by.

La Casa de Habano, Hotel Habana Libre
Calle L e/ 23 y 25, El Vedado This may very well be both the newest and the biggest LCDH in Havana. It is large, airy and well located in the lobby of the Hotel Habana Libre. The inventory is large and the staff, led by Elina Perez, is well trained. This space is large enough to have a fountain and fishpond in the store. Ironically, the bar and sitting area does not accommodate as many people as hoped. In all fairness, it may be more comfortable to grab your cigar here and venture out into the Hotel Lobby to enjoy your cigar and a surprisingly good mojito or gin and tonic, or better yet, stroll across the street and treat yourself to a Coppelia ice cream. Recommended cigar
As I am not a big fan of large open public spaces, nor ice cream with my cigars (but ice-cream with just about anything else!), I recommend a small yet exquisite cigar for the slow stroll. A Cohíba Exquisito perhaps. Due to its size to price ratio, this cigar is frequently overlooked and untested. In my opinion, it is one of the best Cohíba’s available. Well constructed with a full creamy flavor, it is almost always near perfect. If it weren’t for the price I would smoke these daily. A perfect morning cigar, the smoke usually lasts longer than the size would lead one to believe. The only fault is that sometimes there is a bitter aftertaste towards the end. But then again, that’s what the ice cream relieves.

Other There are also wonderful La Casa del Habano in the Meliá Cohíba and the Meliá Habana hotels that offer wonderful smoking environments.

The La Casa del Habano in the Hotel Nacional does not have a smoking lounge per se but, of course, the back patio of the Hotel Nacional is the prime oasis for cigar smoking in Havana at any time.

Febraury 2015

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