Havana Cigar Shops
The biggest city in Cuba has a superb collection of cigar stores that sell handmade, premium cigars
From the Print Edition:
Havana—The Insider's Guide, November/December 2011
(continued from page 1)
The retail operation here is run by one of Cuba’s best-known and most talented cigar retailers, Abel Expósito Diaz, a gentleman who really knows his cigars and is always quite hospitable.
Not nearly as many cigars are on display here as in most Cuban La Casas, but Partagás 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. In May, we saw vast stocks of H. Upmann Noellas jars in the back room, for example, while none were displayed out front.
Running counter to the hustle-and-bustle of the front room is the VIP smoking lounge in the back. If you do a lot of business at Partagás, you should ask about going inside—it’s one of the best smoking rooms in Havana.
La Casa del Habano, Hotel Conde de Villanueva
Mercaderes 1202, esquina Lamparilla, La Habana Vieja
If you’ve never seen a peacock outside a cigar store, you’ve never been to the Casa del Habano at the Hotel Conde de Villanueva. This small, charming and soulful cigar store is up a narrow flight of stairs off the courtyard of the boutique hotel, which has only nine rooms and is situated somewhat off the beaten path in Old Havana. Said courtyard is the domain of a few proud peacocks. Pick the right (or wrong) time to visit and one might be roosting on the banister outside the shop door.
The hotel is considerably quiet and small, belying the quality of its cigar shop. The shop is charming and has that slightly weathered, slightly chaotic look that makes it seem like it has been there for ages. It’s quite inviting. Walk through the hotel lobby, into the courtyard, then turn right and walk up the winding stairs past a series of black-and-white photographs of Groucho Marx and other cigar smoker luminaries to the door, which is covered with labels from cigar brands.
The main area of the shop has a good selection of cigars. Open boxes invite cigar lovers to select from the singles artfully arrayed in decorative cabinets made of dark, ornate wood. There is also a bar and smoking lounge with humidified lockers. Antonio Hevea, who has been working in the cigar business for more than five decades, runs the shop. He previously worked at the Partagás Factory Store, and helped open the Casa del Habano in the 6th Arrondissement on the Boulevard St. Germain in Paris.
La Casa del Habano, Hotel Habana Libre
Calle L entre 23 y 25, Vedado
The largest Casa del Habano in Cuba is also its newest, the store at the Habana Libre Hotel, which opened in February 2010. When you enter, your eye is immediately drawn to a fountain, complete with a few small turtles, about 15 feet from the door. The bubbling water makes for a tranquil scene inside.
The selection by the box is simply stunning and is, perhaps, the best in Havana. The vast walk-in humidor was loaded with all manner of Cuban cigars: Cohiba, Cuaba, Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta, Trinidad, Hoyo de Monterrey, H. Upmann, Vegas Robaina—you name it. There were cabinets of 50 Hoyo de Monterrey Double Coronas and at least 20 Partagás Serie P No. 1 jars.
The Casa at the Habana Libre has several comfortable seating areas, but it lacks some of the old-world charm of other Casas (and the industrial green paint on the walls in the back smoking area doesn’t help). There’s a small bar serving coffee and Havana Club rum and a cigar roller who works just outside the shop. The large shop could soon be even larger, for there are plans to add seating areas outside on the perimeter of the shop, which would provide for an al fresco smoking experience.
While the shop may lack the warmth of some of the other stores in Cuba, it’s worth a visit due to the breadth of the selection and the sheer size of the retail space.
La Casa del Habano, Hotel Nacional
Calle 21 y O, Vedado
The jaded cigar aficionado might quickly judge a visit to the Casa del Habano at the Nacional Hotel a mistake after popping inside and being greeted by racks of rum and other liquors. Don’t be discouraged—the upstairs looks like a typical tourist trap, but the real magic lies beneath.
The store has two floors, and aside from a cigar roller working upstairs, all the cigar action happens on the lower level, which is about twice the size of the upstairs floor. The downstairs is brightly lit, but grand and spacious, with several smoking areas. There’s a nook just to the left of the very wide retail counter, with a couch and a table where you can puff, and a smoking room that can seat a dozen or so patrons in the back, past the very large walk-in humidor. That room also has a bar.
What we found most impressive with the Nacional’s cigar shop was its selection. There was every size of Montecristo (even massive “As,”) every Cohiba (save for the Behike line), plenty of Romeo y Julietas, all kinds of Partagás cigars, including some Culebras, and just about everything else you could want in Havana. This store also has superb stocks of singles, which are arrayed in a counter display and on glass-rimmed shelves behind the counter as you walk in.
While the vast majority of the boxed stock was from 2010, we found a three-year-old box of Hoyo de Monterrey Double Coronas in a cabinet of 50 right there on a shelf. While many Havana cigar stores had old stocks of certain items, it’s rare to find something old from such an in-demand brand and size.
Oddly, all the cigars here, even those in boxes, are marked with the single-stick price rather than the box price. So don’t think the box of 25 Monte 2s is 7.60 cuc—it’s 190 cuc.
La Casa del Habano, Hotel Meliá Cohiba
Av. Padeo, entre 1 y 3, Vedado
You would expect to find a great cigar shop in a hotel with the word “Cohiba” in the name. Ten years ago, the cigar shop at the Meliá Cohiba wasn’t terribly special, but today the shop is greatly improved. If you’re staying at the Meliá Cohiba, it’s a no-brainer to stop by its Casa del Habano for a visit, but even if you’re staying elsewhere in Havana this is a lovely shop in which to spend some time.
The cigar store is located one flight up from the massive lobby at the hotel, through a pair of double doors that open onto a spacious room with a small bar and many, many tables. You might walk in and hear some live music, turning this area of the cigar store/lounge into a sort of club. A large, circular display case showcases ornate cigar paraphernalia—ashtrays, cutters, lighters and cases—and to your left is the humidor proper.
The walk-in humidor sits at an angle in the store, giving it a triangular shape. While far from Havana’s largest, it has plenty of fine cigars. In December 2010, it was the only cigar shop in Havana that had Cohiba Behikes in stock. In May 2011, it was out of Behikes (as was virtually every other Cuban cigar shop) but had decent stocks of boxes of all of Cuba’s major brands (Cohiba, Montecristo, Hoyo de Monterrey, Romeo y Julieta, etc.) but a very limited selection of singles. On this occasion there were Montecristos of all sorts available by the single stick, as well as deliciously oily (but somewhat overhumidified) Partagás Lusitanias. There was also a decent selection of cigars in three-packs.
A small table in the middle of the humidor showcases a few rarities, and allows for the staff to show off a box if you wish a closer inspection before you buy. If you opt to smoke what you buy here, you have plenty of space to enjoy it, for the smoking areas at the Meliá Cohiba Casa del Habano are grand indeed. There’s a full bar, along with plenty of cocktail tables in a spacious room. There are also small rooms off the Casa itself for meetings or the like, and in the very back is a small computer room, if you wish to regain contact with the outside world by surfing the Internet.
Oddly enough, as the Meliá Cohiba’s cigar shop has improved over time, its in-house cigar bar has fallen by the wayside. El Relicario, the cigar bar located on the same floor as the Casa del Habano here at the hotel, was once a posh, relaxing place to enjoy a fine smoke. On a recent visit, it was a tired old version of what it had been before. Pass on Relicario, but try out the Casa del Habano at the Meliá Cohiba.
La Casa del Habano, Hotel Palco
Calle 11 y 146, Cubanacan, Playa
If you’re not staying at Cuba’s Hotel Palco, you might find yourself there for some type of convention, for the hotel abuts the Palazio de Convenciones. The 14-year-old hotel has one of Cuba’s more modest Casa del Habanos, a small shop conveniently located next door to the hotel’s currency exchange center (something all tourists need in Cuba). Look up and you’ll see an oversized guillotine cigar cutter hanging over the entrance.
Inside is a friendly staff, a cigar roller and a walk-in humidor that’s nearly 30 feet wide, with a decent selection of cigars. (Although on a May visit the back end of the humidor served as storage for some shirts, rather than cigars.) The selection of singles is limited compared with most Casa del Habanos.
Every Casa has its own identity, and the Palco’s also sells chocolates, which could come in handy if your cigar shopping takes longer than anticipated and you have a spouse to placate.
An elderly cigar roller who had spent 54 years in various Cuban factories was making beautiful cigars in the shop window, across from a selection of various cigar accessories. There’s a smoking area in the middle of the store itself, but a backroom with a good-sized bar offers a more civilized and private place to puff. If you choose the right time to visit, you may bump into a group of women who come to the Palco La Casa every month—they come together to smoke Cuban cigars and drink Cuban rum.
The shop at the Hotel Palco is decent enough if you’re staying at the hotel, or if you’re attending a function at the convention center, but it’s not a shop you should travel far just to visit.
Casa del Tabaco La Escogida, Hotel Comodoro
Av. 3 y Calle 84, Playa
While the name Comodoro sparks memories of old Havana, old and hotels don’t go well together in Cuba, so the confidence level wasn’t high when I walked toward the cigar shop at this well-known but quite weathered Cuban hotel, which has a white sign at an angle to an old ship’s wheel, paired nicely with the Epcot Center-style concrete façade of the hotel.
One need not enter the hotel to go into the shop, with its entrance set off to the left of the front doors of the hotel, near a four-foot-tall statue of a smiling crocodile standing at a desk.
The shop has a more modest selection of cigars than those found at Casa del Habanos, and the variety of single cigars is particularly limited. The shop does have a very talented cigar roller, who works while wearing a shirt and tie, and effortlessly rolls cigars for the house, which are kept in their own four-foot-tall cabinet, made of dark wood with a pyramid on top.
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