I recently returned from a little vacation with the family, and I'm getting back in the swing of things here at the office. That means getting back to smoking cigars. During my trip, I took a seven-day break. Every now and then, I don't mind missing a day (or a few days) of puffing cigars.
Those who say "it's not the heat, it's the humidity," have never sat outside in Las Vegas in 105 degree heat. Trust me, it's the heat. But I'm not here in Las Vegas to enjoy the (all too copious) sunshine and blazing temperatures, I'm here to attend the biggest trade show in the premium cigar industry.
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.
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