I was finishing up a final walking tour of Habana Vieja, the old Spanish colonial section of Havana that is being restored, when I stopped in again at the Casa del Habano in the Conde de Villanueva hotel. I was looking for a small cigar to have before lunch, and I picked out a Bolivar Belicoso for a little more than six CUCs, the Cuban convertible peso.
An older man came out of the lounge area, and we started talking about the cigars in his shop, the quality of the cigars and how busy they had been. Finally, as I have been doing in all the shops, I introduced myself as the editor of Cigar Aficionado. His face lit up, and he said, "I tried to come see you in 2009. I was in New York visiting some family who live in New Jersey, and I called you, but you weren't in the office." I thought what are the chances of this conversation. I was still drawing a blank on the face, but he introduced himself.
"I'm Antonio Hevea. I was in one of the first issues of Cigar Aficionado because I was at the Partagas shop at the time," he said, smiling. And he triggered my memory of him. He left Partagas in late 1995, he said, because he had some serious health problems and it was a few years before re-entered the retail shop business. But he opened the Conde de Villanueva shop in 1999, and has been there ever since. He said he had been in the cigar business since 1958, now more than 50 years.
He began reminiscing about some of the things he had done. "I was in Paris to help open the Casa del Habano in the 6th Arrondissement section of the city on the Boulevard St. Germain," he said. (For those who remember it, it was a great shop in a great location right across the street from Café de Flore.)
He recalled Marvin R. Shanken walking in the shop one day and exploring the cigars and then saying, "I'll see you at the dinner tonight." He was referring to the Dinner of the Century that Cigar Aficionado magazine held in Paris in 1995. Hevea said he laughed and replied, "Only if you buy me a ticket." Later in the day, Francisco Padron, the head of Habanos, came by and said, "Join us tonight at the dinner, you are invited."
He said he scrambled the rest of the day finding a tuxedo. He proudly showed me the picture of him with Francis Ford Coppola. He said it was one of the highlights of his life.
He also has pictures of celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who visited his shop, as well as many others.
When you're Habana Vieja, stop by the Conde de Villanueva shop and ask to see Antonio. He's a man with more history about cigars in Cuba in the last 50 years than almost anyone. You'll get a history lesson. Say hi for me.