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A $20 Nassau

An old Cuban master and an Italian Entrepreneur make Graycliff cigars in the Bahamas
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Hopper, Jan/Feb 01

(continued from page 2)

With its glass windows that look in on the factory, the aging room is ideal for enjoying a smoke. The idea is for guests of the hotel to sit and watch their cigars being made, while puffing away on a Graycliff in the dark wood room. In the Graycliff Cigar Company Hotel are seven guest rooms -- all named after Graycliff sizes -- plus the Humidor restaurant, which seats 90. This is in addition to the Graycliff proper, which has 14 rooms (one of them is Lara's home), and a restaurant that can seat 180.

Both dining rooms feature the cooking of chef Philip Bethell, who specializes in French and Continental cuisine. Don't come to Graycliff looking for Bahamian specialties. The only nod to the Caribbean is conch, grouper, crab and spiny lobster. Garzaroli is a veritable quartermaster, flying in fresh vegetables, seafood, salami, fresh pasta, even butter and sea salt on twice weekly flights from France.

Although the cigar factory hotel didn't open until Valentine's Day 2000, the entire Graycliff has been cigar friendly since Garzaroli opened it in 1974. It's impossible to escape the ashtrays at Graycliff, which seem to occupy every flat surface, from every table in a guest room to tables in the restaurant. After the meal is finished, a waiter will come to the table with a large tray of cigars, half of them Havanas, the other half Graycliffs. On any given night, diners at several tables will be puffing away.

"Forty years I have been smoking," says Garzaroli, a cigar in his hand, the last drops of a sublime 1948 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port in his glass. "I used to smoke in Italy -- the Romeo y Julieta Churchill. In Italy, there was not much choice. Then when I started coming here, I started smoking [Davidoff] Dom Perignons."

The wine and food at Graycliff don't come cheap -- neither do the cigars, which feature some of the highest suggested retail prices in the non-Cuban world. "When everybody was selling their cigars by the cents, we were selling by the dollar," says Garzaroli. Graycliffs begin at $12 and go up to $21 a cigar, a reflection of the high duties Garzaroli pays on the materials he imports to make his cigars. Imported tobacco is taxed at 20 percent and wooden boxes at 50 percent, and he pays a 200 percent duty on the cigars he imports from Cuba.

"Maybe coming out with those very high prices was something that helped to keep the brand together," says Garzaroli. "Maybe people said either these fellows are crazy, or they have a great product."

The brand is off to a decent start, succeeding where many cheaper brands have failed, but Garzaroli has paid a steep price for creating his own cigar brand. He's convinced that the Graycliff brand was the death knell for his Casa del Habano cigar store, which he had owned for seven years. Soon after Graycliffs hit the U.S. market, a short letter arrived from Cuba announcing that Garzaroli was no longer eligible to own his Casa del Habano. The Cubans had revoked his license.

"I think I lost it because of this," says Garzaroli, an uncharacteristically somber note creeping into his voice. It's a quiet Monday in the Bahamas, Emancipation Day. Most of his workers are off on holiday, allowing Garzaroli a quiet moment to reflect on the cost of his cigar company.

Although Lara had left Cuba legally, his departure sparked controversy over Garzaroli's venture. The Cubans didn't like their old master making a new cigar brand, especially one that was sold alongside Cuban cigars in the Graycliff's Casa del Habano.

"They said, 'Send Avelino back and we'll give you back the license,'" says Garzaroli. He never gave it a thought.

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