Next week, nearly the entire cigar industry will gather in Las Vegas for the annual IPCPR trade show. It's a showcase of new cigars behind booths manned by all the personalities of the cigar industry, with retailers from around the United States (and some from outside the U.S.) walking the aisles looking to buy.
Tampa, Florida, is a town with a rich cigar history. In the days before the U.S. Embargo against Cuba, tons upon tons of Cuban tobacco leaf was shipped to Tampa every year, and the city's myriad cigar factories rolled them into beautiful smokes known as Clear Havanas. At the peak of the Tampa cigar trade, in 1929, more than 500 million cigars were rolled in that city alone. For some perspective, that's more cigars than were sold in all of 1997, the peak year of the modern day cigar boom. Is it any surprise that one of the city's old baseball teams was known as the Tampa Smokers, and its logo had a big cigar right on the chest? Tampa is a cigar town, period.
On my latest trip to Cuba, I was reminded of my first visit to the island, back in 1996. I was a relative cigar rookie back then, and the first time I stepped into a Havana cigar store I was awed at the sight of all those great Cuban cigars staring at me when I walked into the humidor. To me, it looked like paradise.
When we arrived in Havana last week, Gordon and I were expecting to hear that the Partagas Cigar Factory had closed for its much-needed renovation. When we were in Cuba in February, everyone was talking about how Partagas would soon be shut down, the jackhammers brought out and workers would start the arduous task of undoing the damage done by years of hot, Cuban summers, drenching tropical hurricanes and years of salty sea air on the Real Fabrica Partagas, which has stood since 1845.
I'm back in New York after my week in Cuba. I spent most of the time in Havana, visiting 14 cigar shops, including each of the city's nine La Casas del Habanos. These are stores that sell Cuban cigars, of course, but there's more to a La Casa than just cigars. Being a La Casa del Habano means you have to stock a certain number of smokes, have a staff that is well informed about them, need a place where your customers can smoke and a bar serving drinks. They're wonderful places.
This is day four of my week-long trip to Havana, Cuba. I've been here all week with Gordon Mott on assignment for Cigar Aficionado.
During my trip I've visited just about every quality cigar shop in the city and toured three cigar factories. I've done quite a bit, but there's still more to do.
Cuba begins to get quiet in May. The onslaught of snowbirds from Europe and Canada who flock here during the winter months in the northern hemisphere begins to slow down, and the weather begins to turn from pleasantly warm to downright hot. Thick, gray clouds climb higher in the sky during the afternoon, often releasing a cooling rain. The tourists might not be here in droves, but, as always, this is a great time to come to Havana to smoke cigars.
Last night I dropped in on one of New York City's grandest, most storied bars, the King Cole Bar at the St. Regis Hotel. Back in 1932, the bar received its signature item, a 30-foot-wide, eight-foot-tall mural painted by Maxfield Parrish depicting the merry old soul himself, surrounded by jesters and his court. If you've never been, you should go.
My trip to Nicaragua last week was short and sweet. I was there for the Nicaraguan Cigar Festival and file a story for Cigar Aficionado (you'll read more about that soon). You saw my visits to tobacco fields, but I also took the time to visit two very different cigar factories in Estelí, the town in northwestern Nicaragua where most of the country's cigars are made.
Daybreak came all too soon Thursday morning in Estelí, Nicaragua. It had been a late night at the Nicaraguan Cigar Festival—or early morning, since I didn't hit the sack until 2:30 a.m.—and the cacophony of cigarmakers coming to work roused me out of bed before 7 a.m. The workday begins early in Nicaragua, and this is no place for a person to sleep in.
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