The Corner Cigar Factory
A steadfast group of small-output factories brings cigar making back to New York
From the Print Edition:
Bill Murray, Nov/Dec 2004
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It's hard to know where the next La Gloria will surface, but a cigar smoker in New York City with a little time on his hands and a MetroCard can easily visit four cigar factories and leave with several quality cigars—and most importantly, can watch them being rolled by hand. You may have walked right by one of them already, for if you only see the signs of some of these places, you'd think you were in front of a typical cigar store.
The place to start is the grand old dame of New York's mini cigar factories, La Rosa Cubana, at 862 Avenue of the Americas, aka Sixth Avenue between 30th and 31st streets.
The second-floor store and factory is about the size of a typical Manhattan studio apartment. There's a creaky table and chair in front, which serves as the smoking lounge. To the left of the door is a glass countertop with boxes of cigars bearing the La Rosa brand name, each finished with a copper, orange and white band with a checkerboard pattern vaguely reminiscent of the Cohiba band. The display is stocked with inexpensive lighters, a few humidors, cans of butane and a few copies of a certain cigar magazine.
Behind the counter is the factory proper, which takes up about two-thirds of the entire space. It's a no-nonsense workspace. There's a tightly packed group of wooden tables, two of which are usually occupied by cigarmakers. The walls are plastered with posters and photographs of women wearing little, inspiration for the arduous work of making coronas, robustos and pyramids.
La Rosa is owned and operated by Frank Almanzar, an affable and quiet 40-year-old with a trim build who could easily pass for a decade younger. The shop employs two cigar rollers, and Almanzar also rolls cigars.
Almanzar learned how to make cigars starting at the age of 10, at the side of his father, Antonio, who founded the company in 1958. (Although the weathered operation looks as if it has been open for nearly 50 years, the shop and factory started around the corner. Almanzar has been on Sixth Avenue only 15 years.) Antonio Almanzar was born in the heart of cigar country, Santiago, Dominican Republic, and worked for 17 years at La Aurora, the nation's oldest cigarmaker. He emigrated to the United States and opened La Rosa on 30th Street.
"We had a very small space down there," says Frank Almanzar, "and the rent was very high." In 1989, the Almanzars moved to Sixth Avenue.
La Rosas are inexpensive smokes. A robusto will set you back about $2.50, a Churchill about $3.50. They're not bad. A maduro torpedo, made with a dark leaf of Dominican wrapper, had a rich, earthy smell before lighting, with a hint of licorice in the aroma. The cigar was fairly well made, with a head that was a bit softer than it should have been. The draw was perfect and the flavor was gutsy, woody and chewy, with solid flavor. (To see how smokes from a few New York factories stacked up in a Cigar Aficionado taste test, see the sidebar on the next page.)
The cigarmakers work from a limited selection of tobaccos, using all-Dominican tobacco for the fillers and binders, and either Connecticut shade or Dominican for the wrappers.
At La Rosa, as with other chinchales, a customer can walk in and watch his cigars being made, can ask for special shapes, and can buy them right from the rolling table, giving the smoker a chance to try a factory-fresh smoke. (It won't burn as well, and the flavor will be stronger and less balanced than a cigar that has rested, but it's something a cigar lover should experience at least once in his life.)
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