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Little Havana

Miami's historic Eighth Street, known locally as Calle Ocho, is America's Cigar Central
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
The Blues Brothers, Jan/Feb 2008

The signs say Eighth Street, but the locals all say it in Spanish as Calle Ocho, which could also be translated as "the heart of Florida's Little Havana." Tourists come to the historic Miami district to taste Cuban culture, whether it's sampled as a sweet, small shot of café Cubano bought from cafeteria windows, a belly-busting lunch of pork roasted in plenty of garlic or a heated contest played out with tiles in Domino Park.

If you're a cigar smoker, Calle Ocho offers even more. In a way, it's America's cigar central, and there is no other place quite like it in the world of cigar making. The vast majority of the world's premium cigars are made behind the walls of free-trade zones, off-limits to tourists. On Calle Ocho, not only can you buy cigars in a host of places, you can also watch such renowned cigars as La Gloria Cubanas and Tatuajes being rolled right in front of you.

Any cigar aficionado staying in a hotel near one of Miami's beaches or great golf courses should drive into Little Havana for the day, stock up on his favorite smokes and sample a lunch of great Cuban cuisine. We spent a few days in the area to get the lay of the land.

CIGAR FACTORIES & SHOPS

El Credito Cigar Factory
1106 SW Eighth St. (corner of 11th Ave.); 305-858-4162

El Credito Cigars is a pilgrimage in itself. This is the very space where the non-Cuban La Gloria Cubana cigar was born. Ernesto Perez-Carrillo Sr. first rolled it here in 1968, and since 1980 the brand has been shepherded by his son, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo Jr., a master of the art of making complex, flavorful smokes. In 1992, the company's cigars went from a well-kept local secret to a must-have for enthusiasts countrywide. Now the lion's share of the cigars are made in a much larger facility in the Dominican Republic, but La Gloria still has its original (although considerably reworked) galleria in the heart of Calle Ocho. About a dozen cigarmakers work in the main room, which is open to tourists, who can watch firsthand as a world-class cigar is made. Adjacent to the rolling area is a posh cigar shop with a few chairs, where smokers can buy the entire El Credito line and maybe see Perez-Carrillo Jr.

Ernesto Perez-Carrillo Jr. still makes some La Gloria Cubanas in Miami.

El Rey de los Habanos
1120 SW Eighth St. (between 11th and 12th aves.); 305-858-0001

One of the tiniest cigar factories in the world also produces amazing cigars. El Rey de los Habanos (King of the Cuban cigars) is the home of Jose "Pepin" Garcia and his family, makers of Tatuaje and Don Pepin cigars, among others. Walk in the factory and watch a dozen cigarmakers slowly craft cigars in the Cuban style: working only by hand—no bunching devices—using two small binder leaves, and finishing each cigar with a triple-seamed cap. This is truly a family business: odds are you will see Pepin working in the back, rolling diademas.

El Titan de Bronze
1071 SW Eighth St. (corner of 11th Ave.); 305-860-1412

The interesting name translates to "The Titan of Bronze," a colorful nickname given to a very tough Cuban general named Antonio Maceo Grajales, who fought Spain for Cuba's independence in the second half of the nineteenth century. A century ago, before there were national cigar brands, most smokers bought their cigars at corner cigar factories like this one. Unlike El Credito, this workshop creates cigars that are only sold locally. The factory was created by Carlos Cobas, and he and his family run the business. All the cigars sold here are made on the premises, by eight rollers working with various blends.

Casa Felipe
900 SW Eighth St. (between 9th and 10th aves.); 305-860-3230

Brand owner Philip Wynne, a lover of fine wines as well as great cigars, has recently opened a showcase for his product that will combine his passions. His cigar factory/wine shop/cigar store was scheduled to open as this issue went to press. As well as selling his full line of cigar brands, including the Felipe brands, plus Pelo de Oro, Wynne's plan is for four cigar rollers to make cigars that will only be available at the shop.

Sosa Family Cigars
3475 SW Eighth St. (between 34th and 35th aves.); 305-446-2606

After a hearty meal at the nearby Versailles eatery, walk a block west and head to Sosa Family Cigars (once known as Macabi). All 1,000 square feet of this shop are humidified, and it's well stocked with cigars. "I probably have 350 open boxes," says Junior Sosa, who runs the shop for his family, makers of Sosa Cigars in the Dominican Republic. The Sosas made cigars here during the boom, but no longer. In addition to the large cigar selection, Sosa has a smoking lounge and a well-used dominoes table. The shop is also a wine store, stocking some 80 different selections, most of them Spanish, the favorites of family patriarch Juan Sosa.


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Comments   1 comment(s)

Narah Valenska Smith February 16, 2014 7:43pm ET

There are new cigar places since 2008 people might be interested in checking out, such as Palacios Cigars right by the Seminole Hard Rock Casino. Cool, hip place with pool table, music, big 60" TV. It's a cool lounge to hang out at and they have great sales. 3 generations of cigar making since Cuba 1937. Super nice, down-to-earth people, very knowledgeable of the business. Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Aficionado fans should check them out. Great vibe there. ;-)


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