Smokin' Shops: Cigar Merchants
Visitors to Havana Will Be Pleasantly Surprised with the Selection and Knowledge of Its Top Cigar Merchants
From the Print Edition:
The Cuba Issue, May/Jun 99
It wasn't that long ago that a man of fashion procured his suits in London, shoes in Milan, shirts and ties in Paris and cigars in Havana. While many of today's savvy gentlemen may not be traveling around Europe to acquire clothing and accessories, Havana has reemerged as a hot spot to purchase cigars.
As any cigar aficionado knows, there's nothing quite like buying cigars in Havana. In terms of selection and price, nowhere else comes close. From cedar boxes of 100 Hoyo de Monterrey Double Coronas to five-packs of Cohiba Lanceros, top cigar stores in Havana now offer the excellent selection and service that were previously available only in a handful of shops in London and Geneva.
"This is my world," says Enrique Mons, the veteran tobacconist who recently left La Casa del Habano on 5th Avenue and 16th Street in the Miramar section of Havana to open another shop nearby. "I get the tobacco I want, and my customers get the tobacco they want. It's as simple as that. If the cigars I receive are not up to scratch, I don't accept them. I just send them back to the factory. Nothing but the best for my customers." Mons is the maestro of cigar merchants in Havana. No one in the city knows more about cigars than this burly and energetic Cuban who, for most of the 1970s and '80s, was in charge of quality control for the Cuban cigar industry. He now prefers a quieter life, supplying cigar smokers with only the best habanos.
"At the moment, the quality couldn't be any better," Mons says, between puffs of a Montecristo No. 1 and sips of Cuban coffee. "I admit that there were some problems a year ago with cigars. They were too young. But now they are beautiful." The 16th Street store was renovated recently and includes a large walk-in humidor, about 100 storage lockers, a meeting room and a bar. Mons's former colleague, Pedro Gonzalez, is the new manager.
Mons's new La Casa del Habano will be located at Club Habana, a private beach club in Miramar. The shop will also offer private lockers and a bar.
English-speaking patrons may findit difficult to communicate with Mons because he doesn't know their language. However, he doesn't think that's necessarily a drawback. "I don't really need to speak English. I always get by with my customers. Besides, cigars are an international language of their own."
Another well-versed cigar purveyor is Abel Diaz, the manager of La Casa del Habano at the Partagas cigar factory in downtown Havana. His shop accounts for the largest percentage of the 14 million cigars sold by Cuban tobacconists each year to tourists. While La Casa del Habano on 16th may have the feel of an exclusive tailor shop, Diaz's is remininscent of the clothes department at Macy's or Bloomingdales, a store in clear view of the hundreds of people who visit each day. The store is separated into three sections. The first part is a room that caters to the busloads of tourists who visit the factory and buy only a handful of cigars. The second area contains a narrow humidified walk-in cigar showcase, while the third section, a lounge, resembles a private club with sofas and chairs and a small bar. A limited number of lockers are also available for his best customers.
"There's no other place to buy cigars than Havana," says Diaz. "We always have a good selection of cigars, and what we don't have, we try to get for our customers, especially our regular ones. Just think about it for a minute. Buying cigars here has to be better than anywhere else in the world. The cigars come straight from the factory to here. They are in perfect condition."
Price still remains a big plus for buying cigars in Havana, although prices are not as low as they were a few years ago. Whereas not too long ago one could find a box of 25 Partagas Serie D No. 4s for $68 or a box of Punch Double Coronas for $86, cigar lovers can now expect to pay about $100 to $150, respectively, for such cigars. On the bright side, cigars purchased in Havana are anywhere from one fourth to one half the price of similar cigars in London or Geneva and about 15 percent less than prices in Spain.
Cigars remain one of the most coveted Cuban products for visitors to the island nation. Late last year the Cuban government increased the export allowance to $2,000 worth of cigars from $1,000. This means that tourists may now leave the country with $2,000 worth of cigars as long as they have receipts. Cuban customs officials usually allow travelers up to two boxes of cigars without any documentation. (Americans with visas are restricted to $100 in Cuban goods upon direct return to the United States. Otherwise, it is illegal for Americans to purchase Cuban goods anywhere in the world.)
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firstname.lastname@example.org — September 30, 2010 7:00pm ET
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