Inside the World's Busiest La Casa del Habano

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.

Most shops had decent stocks of Cuban cigars, with some notable exceptions. The only Cohiba Behike sighting was at the La Casa del Habano at the Habana Libre Hotel. That shop only had a partial box of Cohiba Behike BHK 52s and a box with some Cohiba Behike BHK 56s. (We relieved them of a few of those.) I asked if there were any more in the back, and there was a quick shake of the head. These cigars are hard to come by in Cuba.

The La Gloria Cubana jar, the regional edition for Cuba itself, is also sold out. On our December visit, they seemed to be everywhere, and in February, during the Festival, we also saw good stocks. On this visit the only ones I saw had been reserved for customers.

The prices in Havana, as always, were quite good. All the prices are in Cuban convertible pesos (CUCs), which are now priced on equal parity with the U.S. dollar. Here's an example. Prices range from 3.60 CUCs ($3.60) for a little Montecristo No. 5 up to 26 CUCs for a Cohiba BHK 56. Monte 2s are 7.60, Cohiba Robustos are 10.40, Partagas Serie D No. 4s are 5.70 and Partagas Lusitanias are 10.30. The most expensive box of cigars I saw was a box of 25 Montecristo As for 500 CUCs.

We filmed lots of video on this trip, including one that that shows you inside and out of the La Casa del Habano at the Partagas Cigar Factory. (I misspoke in the introduction—I don't think this is actually the world's busiest cigar store, but it's the busiest of the more than 140 La Casa del Habanos around the world.) You no doubt have heard that the Partagas cigar factory is closing for renovations. (It was still open during this trip, but could close very soon.) The good news is that the store is going to remain open during the renovation.

The shop gets busiest in the early morning when tourists pour in, so I went by on an afternoon during a comparatively slow moment and paid a visit while puffing away on a spicy little Cohiba Siglo I. Take a look at the video, which includes a trip into the private back room.

There aren't nearly as many cigars on display here as there are in most Cuban La Casas, but Partagas does such a brisk business that the shop can often get what you want, even if you don't see it in the case on display. The stocks of H. Upmann Noellas in the back alone was quite impressive. The entire retail operation is run by Abel Exposito, who really knows his cigars and is always quite hospitable.

The smoking lounge in the back is definitely my favorite part of the shop. If you do a lot of business at Partagas, you should ask about puffing in the back. It's one of the best smoking rooms in Havana.  And even though this is a spot where you'll find tons of tourists, no visit to Havana is complete without a visit to Partagas.

Bob Michelson Cape Coral, FL, US, May 9, 2011 4:13pm ET
So, if you're paying US$ prices for those Cubans, who's pocketing all the profit. If I were a tourist in Havana and paid those prices, would I feel like I'm being "taken"? Yup!
Narey Ramos Miami, FL, 33165, May 10, 2011 2:28pm ET
David, I have a question for you. Why there is such a big price difference between Cuban cigars and those (the good ones) made in DR, Honduras, Nicaragua, etc? I understand that buying Cuban cigars in Cuba should be cheaper than buying the same cigars somewhere else, but still I think they are pricey. Do you believe that the embargo has anything to do with it or this is only about their quality and the levels of supply and demand? Thanks.
David Savona May 10, 2011 3:07pm ET
I don't find the prices of Cuban cigars in Cuba pricey at all. The prices are very low compared to other parts of the world, and quite good compared to prices of many non-Cubans.
Narey Ramos Miami, FL, 33165, May 10, 2011 3:32pm ET
Maybe I didn't explain myself clearly. I understand and I agree with you about the fact that Cuban cigars in Cuba are not pricey at all. My question is why they are so expensive when you buy them in Canada, The Bahamas or anywhere in Europe compared to other non-Cuban brands. I have seen Cohibas going for 28-30 sterling pounds and good Ashtons for £15. I don't consider myself an expert and perhaps I wasn't comparing apples to apples, but that's a huge difference. Thanks and keep up the good work!
David Savona May 10, 2011 3:35pm ET
Ah, now I understand. The main problem is not price and demand, it's taxes. Canada has some of the world's highest tobacco taxes, so Cuban cigars in Canada are extremely expensive. Cigars in low or no tax countries (Spain and Cuba) are very cheap by comparison.
Daniel Thayer Burlington, Ontario, Canada, May 10, 2011 7:54pm ET
Dave, did you make it to any other cities in the country? In early January I actually took a local train from Havana to Pinar Del Rio and toured the cigar factory there, the first day into production on the Trinidad line. An afternoon smoke across the street at the LCDH made it a great little trip.

Keep the articles coming, always spark great memories of the country!
James Beavers London, Ontario, Canada, May 10, 2011 10:37pm ET
David, Heading to Havana in a couple of weeks, glad to here the Partagas factory store will remain open during the renovations. Really hoping it will still be open for a tour while I'm there. In your video saw ads for the Partagas Serie E No.2 - Wondering if they are available for purchase yet and if you knew the price? It would be nice to pick up a couple of the boxes of 5. Stupid 50 cigar limit by Canadian Customs - Thanks James
Narey Ramos Miami, FL, 33165, May 11, 2011 9:41am ET
Hey James, at least you can bring with you 50 cigars to Canada. Unfortunately, I can bring none to US. Really stupid and a total nonsense with nothing else to accomplish but to please a few Cuban hardliners in Congress and in Miami.
David Savona May 11, 2011 12:29pm ET
Daniel, while I spent most of the trip in Havana, I spent all day Thursday in Pinar del Rio. That shop across the street from the Francisco Donatien Factory is no longer a Casa del Habano (but it's still a great store). I'll have some blogs about Pinar up soon.
David Savona May 11, 2011 12:31pm ET
James, the new Partagas Serie E No. 2 isn't out yet. None of the new smokes from the Festival were on sale yet. One (not the E2) looks close, and I'll blog about that tomorrow...
Taylor Franklin May 11, 2011 8:54pm ET
Dave, they must have been very excited in Pinar after Los Vegueros won the championship.

I recall that shop in Pinar, you're right it is a great shop. Often there was a outdoor barber stand nearby. One could grab a cigar, have a nice shave and a haircut all-in for about $9 including tip.

The barbers wife was a great cook too, he invited me over, we had some great evenings.

David Savona May 12, 2011 9:44am ET
Taylor, indeed, Pinar del Rio was in a festive mood after the championship. Cuba loves its baseball.

I missed the outdoor barber stand. Sounds like a good deal.
Taylor Franklin May 13, 2011 9:38am ET
Dave, it's quite interesting, the beisbol team in Pinar is named after the tabaco Vegueros and the team logo has a tabaco leaf as part of the design, to top it off a Vegueros cigar line too.

The heath hypocrites in Norte América or Europa would go completely loco.

Even better when watching a game in San Luis or elsewhere enjoying a Monte A for nine innings.
James McKinnon Brigden, Ontario, Canada, May 20, 2011 10:56pm ET
We have never been to Cuba. What area would you recommend for a novice?
Ritchie MacDonald Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada, May 21, 2011 3:04pm ET
your visit brings back some great memories of my visit to the now closed La Corona factory in Havana.
Enjoyed David's visits to the humidor's and yes I too recommend looking around for different cigar brands, just becuase your friends don't recognise the name doesn't mean they are not worth every cent. Try Ramone Allones, Juan Lopez, or a El Rey de Mundo. All worth the effort.
On my factory tour, even our guide was trying to sell you cigars, he would take you to the rollers of choice and they would hand you a five cigars right off the rolling table. I asked for robusto size and off we went. The five dollars spent there went directly to the workers. Although against every law in Cuba, in my little way increased their income for the week by %50, or so they say.

The only thing that I didn't enjoy about your video's is the smug way in which Mott looks. "I'm here and you are not". It looks like he can't handle Cuban rum either.

Cigar Aficionado May 23, 2011 9:55am ET
James, in terms of area, Havana would be the natural choice. It has plenty of hotels, restaurants, cigar factories and cigar shops to keep you busy.
David Savona May 23, 2011 10:25am ET
Speaking for Gordon, it's hard to be in a place like Cuba, talk about it and not have people feel as if we're saying "we're here and you're not." That's not what we're trying to do. We're taking you to the heart of cigars and trying to give you an idea of what it's all about. And I spent a week in country with the guy and trust me, he can handle his Cuban rum just fine.

stantine972 May 26, 2011 11:11pm ET
I just watched the video again. I love that room that you went into. It is like the "Pearly gates of cigars". I would love a blue print of that room, so that I could convert my basement into a replica.
Every time I go onto C.A's site I suddenly have to go smoke a cigar.
Thanks George
Keith Tramer Stoughton, Saskatchewan, Canada, June 17, 2011 2:56pm ET
I love watching this video as when I was a guest in the back room lounge, drinking fine Cuban coffee and rum, puffing away on a custom roll....It was a surreal moment and know I can relive it thanks to your video. Our blackberry and iPhone kept shutting down when we tried to power them up and shoot video. Thanks for the video.
Modris Reinbergs Cape Coral, Florida, USA, September 20, 2016 3:17pm ET
@Narey Ramos - Canada has provincial taxes on imported cigars that range from 76% to 115% of MSRP That is why the Cubans and other imports are so expensive. Other countries may have high import taxes as well.

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