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Smokin' Shops: Cigar Merchants

Visitors to Havana Will Be Pleasantly Surprised with the Selection and Knowledge of Its Top Cigar Merchants
James Suckling
From the Print Edition:
The Cuba Issue, May/Jun 99

(continued from page 1)

However, buyer beware: purchasing cigars in Havana is not risk-free. The biggest drawback is service. Most shops have poorly informed and uninterested clerks, many of whom verge on being aggressively surly. They give the impression that they would be just as content selling you a $10 T-shirt as a $200 box of cigars. Most know very little about tabaco (what Cubans call cigars). "All the cigars here are about the same," says one clerk at a cigar shop at the Comodoro hotel, which at the time was also selling counterfeit cigars. "Besides, they all come from the same factory."

The other side of the coin is that some cigar shop workers are too smart for their own good. They keep the best cigars--such as torpedos, robustos and double coronas--in the back of the shop and sell them only to customers who are willing to pay an additional $10 or $20 a box. This is less of a dilemma now, however, since the government has cracked down on such practices. But the stories persist of a cigar lover buying boxes of double coronas at a shop while another customer couldn't buy any at the same place. "That's serious and hurts your business in the long run," says Mons. "If your customers know this goes on, then they won't be your customers for long."

Another problem is that most shops will not allow customers to open boxes and inspect cigars. "We can't let you open the boxes before buying," says a sales clerk at the cigar shop in the Hotel Meliá Cohiba. "Most of our customers buy their cigars as gifts and they don't like the seal of the boxes broken."

Anyone who buys cigars without first carefully examining them is asking for trouble. The chances are high that the box may be full of cigars with imperfections, whether poorly shaped or green tinted. Sometimes premium Cubans have been replaced with counterfeit ones. Another risk is one might get a box of light-wrapper smokes when the preference is for dark and oily ones. "That's crazy," Diaz says. "I want my customers to look at the cigars before they buy. I want them to be as happy as possible with their purchase. It's the customer that counts."

It's this sort of attitude that makes buying cigars in Havana one of the joys of the Cuban experience, and it's difficult to think of anything more satisfying for a cigar aficionado.

At last count Havana had more than two dozen cigar shops, but most are just in the business of shifting boxes and offer very little in selection and service. Here are the eight best, where selection and service are second to none. Outside Cuba, telephone numbers need the 53-7 prefix.

La Casa del Habano
5ta Avenida esquina 16
Phone: 24 11 85
Just 20 minutes by taxi from central Havana, this upscale cigar shop long run by Enrique Mons, is now being managed by Pedro Gonzalez. It offers a great selection of smokes and good service. Ask Gonzalez for recommendations; he always has boxes of well-aged cigars available. The store also has a comfortable bar and lounge area.

La Casa del Habano
Fabrica Partagas
Industria No. 520 entre Dragones y Barcelona
La Habana Vieja
Phone: 33 80 60
This La Casa del Habano is in the heart of the Partagas factory, next to the capitol. Manager Abel Diaz runs an excellent shop with plenty of cigars and efficient salespeople. But if a busload of tourists arrive, it's impossible to buy a box or even walk through the shop. There's always a serious crowd that sits down to smoke, drink and talk cigars in the big room in back.

Palacio del Tabaco
Fabrica La Corona
Agramonte No. 106 entre Colon y Refugio
La Habana Vieja
Phone: 33 83 89
This shop in the La Corona factory always has plenty of good cigars, and the small bar is a nice place to have a coffee or beer while smoking. Although changes in staff have made it less attractive than in the past, it's worth a visit because it often has hard-to-get cigars such as double coronas and figurados.

La Casa del Habano
Marina Hemingway
Ave. 5ta y 248 Santa Fe
Phone: 24 11 51, 24 11 59
Located about 30 minutes by car from central Havana, this store exudes a relaxed atmosphere and is worth the drive. The young staff is always helpful and friendly. There's usually a good selection of cabinet cigars. Unfortunately, there's no place to relax and smoke.

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Comments   1 comment(s) September 30, 2010 7:00pm ET

I will try to get them all personally obiđem.Zahvaljujem on a given choice

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