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Shopping in Cuba

Havana's most popular cigar sizes are back on the shelves.
David Savona
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Hopper, Jan/Feb 01

(continued from page 1)

The only exception to the double corona price, strangely, is the Vegas Robaina Don Alejandro, which sells for $185. Vegas Robaina is one of Cuba's newest brands, named after legendary tobacco farmer Alejandro Robaina. (See related article, page 201.) The cigars are everywhere I look, perhaps due in part to the premium price.

Churchills are also in good supply, and unlike the double coronas the prices vary widely from brand to brand. Cohiba Esplendidos are $383.75 per box of 25, nearly triple the price of some other Cuban Churchills. Bolivar Corona Gigantes, for instance, sell for $138.75 per box, Saint Luis Rey Churchills go for $136.25 and Punch Churchills, H. Upmann Monarcas and Romeo y Julieta Churchills retail for $147.50 (Romeos in tubes are a bit more at $185). H. Upmann Sir Winstons, which come in lacquered boxes, are more expensive than most Churchills, priced at $222.50 per box.

There was a time when Cohiba Lanceros were somewhat difficult to find, but they are abundant now, as are all Cohibas. The only size missing in some stores is the Siglo II.

Special cigars are in good supply, including two of the three sizes of the Reserve of the Millennium (Cohiba Pyramids, Montecristo Robustos and Cuaba Distinguidos, each brand packaged in ceramic jars of 25 cigars). All five shops I visit have the Cohiba Pyramids ($500) in stock, a few have the Montecristo Robusto, which sells for $265 per jar, and no one has the Cuaba Distinguido. Trinidad Fundadores, the commercially available version of the Trinidad brand, are abundant, available in boxes of 24 for $336 and cabinets of 50 for $675.

Not ready to spend hundreds of dollars on a box of cigars? Montecristo No. 3s and No. 4s sell for $95 and $72.50, respectively. For a bit less you can buy Diplomaticos, Montecristo's lesser-known counterpart. Diplomatico No. 3s are only $72.50 per box, and No. 4s are $55. Cuaba perfectos (not including the Millenniums) sell from $57.50 to $85 a box.

Most coronas are $87.50 per box, including Hoyo de Monterreys and Punches. Small cigars, which tend to get overlooked by novice shoppers, offer some of the better bargains in Cuba, and as they tend to sit unnoticed on store shelves, it's much easier to find some with a bit of age.

So what's scarce? Most Ramon Allones cigars, Partagas Serie D No. 4 robustos and every pyramid, except for the Vegas Robaina Unico ($132.50 for a box of 25). Shops are devoid of Montecristo No. 2s, H. Upmann No. 2s and Diplomatico No. 2s.

"All the pyramids are missing," says Enrique Mons Difurniau, sitting comfortably in the posh smoking lounge of Club Habana, the cigar store he runs in the Miramar suburb of Havana. "They sell out rapidly." Mons, who smokes five to six cigars a day, is one of the world's experts on Cuban cigars. Not only does he run one of Cuba's best cigar stores, but in the 1970s and 1980s he was head of quality control for Cuba's entire cigar industry.

"We always have the problem with the same sizes," says Mons, puffing on an unbanded lonsdale. That's not to say that certain people can't get their precious boxes of Monte 2s when they need them. "I keep some for my clients," he says, his personal defense against people who stock up on the blockbuster names and sizes in Havana, then resell them back home. "I keep them for people who smoke them."

Mons's store is luxurious and cozy. The back room has couches and tables, a bar along the far wall stocked with four types of Havana Club rum, and an espresso machine, increasingly common sights in Cuban cigar stores. Mons's main entrance opens to a spacious, glass-walled humidor stocked with cigars.


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