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Havana Cigar Shops

George Brightman
From the Print Edition:
The Cuba Issue, May/Jun 01

(continued from page 1)

Then, I head to the suburb of Miramar, about a 20-minute drive away, straight down the Malecún to Quinta y 16, better known as Fifth Avenue. There have been many good managers of the shop, and it's now run by the energetic Osmany Rios Moreno, who studied for a year with Abel Diaz at Partagas, both in the factory and in the store.

The large walk-in humidor is replete with virtually every great brand's best sizes. There are humidors, cutters and lighters, and ample space to examine them and put them to work. A conference room sits alongside the main selling floor, where you can inspect your purchases, light up, and have a coffee or a drink. The bar is spacious and well stocked. There's even a good, small restaurant in back for lunch or dinner.

My final stop is about 10 minutes farther east on Fifth Avenue to Club Habana. A gated facility, which was the elite Biltmore Club before the revolution, it includes a large, luxury clubhouse, beach, spa, gym and tennis courts. Used mostly by diplomats and foreign businessmen, it is also available for the use of Meliá hotel guests (another reason to choose either the Meliá Cohiba or Meliá Habana hotel). However, for cigar smokers, the main reason to come here is the La Casa del Habano operated by Mons.

Enrique Mons is perhaps the most experienced cigar man in Havana, having been supervisor of quality control for Cubatabaco (the name of the global distribution company for Cuban cigars before the present Habanos S.A.) during the 1970s, and majordomo of the 5th y 16 cigar shop until two years ago.

Place yourself in his hands. Ask him what the best cigars are at the moment. He'll steer you the right way both to the very best quality and the very best value. Many of his customers simply phone him and ask what's good and tell him to put boxes away for them. Others refuse to make purchases when they drop in unless he is there to bless the sale.

Seated in the lounge adjoining the shop, sipping excellent espresso, Mons explains that most of his customers are just too busy to hassle with running around cigar shops and buying cigars. "So they simply rely on me," he adds.

It's certainly understandable, but buying cigars in Havana can almost be as great as smoking them.

The shops listed are the best on the island, particularly those in Havana. If you buy from them, you will get what you want or come damn close. Here are a few rules I follow when cigar shopping in Cuba:

1. Don't blow your wad on day one (unless you only have one day) since you will always discover the very thing you've been searching for immediately after you've spent your last carefully allocated dime.

2. Try to arrange your shopping tour to first visit one of the shops that allow sales of individual cigars. Select a few different brands and sizes, and smoke them over the next few hours (or days) before making larger buying decisions.

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