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Places to Puff

In Havana, One Can Smoke Just About Anywhere, But A Few Time-Honored Haunts Guarantee A Memorable Experience
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
The Cuba Issue, May/Jun 99

Jack Newhouse has been living in Havana for nearly two years, hustling local women and surviving off small business deals. An American who admits to such conduct is either telling tall tales or bragging of incredibly ballsy entrepreneurship. Then again, maybe he's working for the CIA.

Seated at the Relicario Bar at the Hotel Meliá Cohiba, Newhouse (not his real name) savors a Cohiba Robusto and sips a Cristal beer out of a long-necked glass bottle. Sporting khaki trousers, a blue Lacoste polo shirt and Cole-Haan penny loafers, the tall and slender Newhouse looks more like a recreational golfer than a businessman whiling away the afternoon in a dark and cool cigar bar.

That, of course, is part of Havana's lure: you never know whom you'll meet in its cigar establishments. While finding a place to smoke is not difficult, since you can light up just about anywhere, only a handful of places offer a truly sublime smoking experience.

One of the foremost venues in which to smoke is El Floridita, located in Old Havana. There's no better way to get into the Cuban spirit than to sit at the bar and puff on a premium habano while listening to the string quartet play Cuban folk music and watching the red-jacketed bartenders serve clients. El Floridita is known for its frosty Daiquiri, which is a great way to cool down after a hot afternoon walking the streets of the city. The tart and refreshing flavors of the cocktail are a perfect foil to the spicy and rich character of a Cuban cigar, such as a Montecristo No. 2 or a Partagas Serie D No. 4.

Ask for a "Daiquiri Nature," which is the hand-shaken version of the drink.

Besides El Floridita, several other places provide an inviting setting in which to light up, and not all are cigar bars or cafés or even indoors. Some cigar aficionados like to relish their habanos as they stroll down the city streets, surveying Havana's myriad sights, smells and sounds.

Here is a list of some of the best places to smoke in the city. Remember to bring your own cigars as most places, with the exception of cigar shops and cigar bars, do not stock them. Outside Cuba, telephone numbers require the 53-7 prefix.

El Floridita
Obispo No. 557
La Habana Vieja
Phone: 63 10 60, 63 10 61, 63 11 11
A trip to Havana wouldn't be complete without stopping at this watering hole. Maybe it's the ghost of Ernest Hemingway that beckons people back? The literary giant had it right when he said "my daiquiri in the Floridita and my mojito in the Bodeguita." The only drawback is that some customers are often more interested in having their pictures taken at the bar than enjoying the ambience.

Calle Obispo
La Habana Vieja
A walk down Old Havana's main thoroughfare is a must. Begin with a quick drink at El Floridita and finish with a coffee at the Hotel Ambos Mundos near the Plaza de Armas. The street is alive and bustling with a variety of stores and plenty of bars and coffee shops to try. This is a totally sensual way to experience the city; you can literally smell, taste, hear and feel the environment. View the crumbling but beautiful colonial architecture. Breathe in the aromas of grilled food, burning oil and cigar smoke. Smoking a cigar as you walk the dusty, bumpy road only enhances your senses. It will also attract a number of beggars and counterfeit cigar hawkers. But that's all part of the charm of Havana.

La Casa del Habano
Fabrica Partagas (Francisco Perez German)
Industria No. 520 entre Dragones y Barcelona
La Habana Vieja
Phone and fax: 33 80 60
No matter when you visit this cigar shop on the ground floor of the Partagas factory, there's always someone sitting at the bar drinking coffee and puffing on a cigar who's more than willing to strike up a conversation. It could be a wealthy American who recently docked his boat at the Marina Hemingway and who wants to smoke as many Cuban cigars as possible before heading back to Miami. Or it could be a Spanish cigar merchant who wants information on where to find the best double coronas or robustos. This is the place to go to get a feel for the cigar culture of the city.

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