A Taste of History in Bermuda—Chatham House Tobacconist
- May 24, 2012 |
- By Mervyn Rothstein
Bermuda offers a treasure of Cuban cigars, and if you're on the islands and looking for a few to light up you might want to aim for a place that has sold cigars, and been in the same family, since the late 19th century. It's called Chatham House, at 63 Front Street in Hamilton, right on the waterfront at the corner of Burnaby Street, where it has stood since about 1895.
It is just across Front Street from the cruise ship terminal, where you're likely to see a Holland America vessel docked—or maybe you'll have sailed in on it. (If your ship has come in at the Dockyard, the major terminal, it’s a short and pleasant 20-minute ferry ride to the capital city of Hamilton, which you’ll probably be planning to visit. Chatham House is about a five-minute walk from the ferry terminal.)
Just inside Chatham House, standing guard over the Cubans, is a very politically incorrect but eminently elegant and wooden, century-old American Indian princess, complete with feathered headdress, bright red lips and a cigar box in her left hand. She leads the way to glass-fronted humidor cases filled with an extensive collection that includes Montecristos, Cohibas, Romeo y Julietas, Partagás and Punches—some 80 different types and sizes of Cuban cigars, according to the store’s owner-manager, Charles William Pitt.
Pitt, 69, is the fourth generation of his family to run the store, which was opened by John A. P. Pitt as Pitt & Co., a retail shop that featured tobacco products and other items. The Native American statue dates from around 1900. It was one of two, according to Pitt, “probably sent free of charge by the tobacco companies.” The other, he says, “was probably snapped up by some collector.”
His son William, 45, who’s in charge of the family wholesale operation distributing Cuban cigars throughout Bermuda, says he has been in the cigar business since age 12. The Front Street store, he says, sells about $700,000 of Cuban cigars annually. Including the Bermuda-wide distribution, he estimates that “total retail is almost $1 million a year.” The Front Street location also offers cigar cutters, pipes, pipe tobacco and other products.
Many visitors to the store are of course tourists, Charles Pitt says—winters, with not nearly as many arrivals, are slower than other times. But “locals, especially those working in Hamilton offices, insurance companies and things like that, buy a lot of cigars,” he says. “They’re very good customers.”
The local customers’ favorite, he says, is the corona or small corona-size Romeo y Julieta—the small goes for about $7.75.
The store’s prices for Cuban cigars are not low. (Bermuda is an expensive island, partly because so much must be imported.) Montecristo No. 2s are $22.75 each, $495 for the box; Cohiba Corona Especiales are $32 for one, $701 the box.
Cohiba Robustos are $33.95 and $788; Partagás Serie P No. 2 are $22.70 and $493; Punch Punch are $19.10 and $440; and Romeo y Julieta Belicosos are $19.95 and $465.
That's just a sampling. There are also Montecristo No. 3s, Tubos and Edmundos; Cohiba Siglos of many different Roman numerals; Romeo y Julieta Exhibición No. 3s; Partagás Serie D No. 4. That too is a sampling. Prices include tax.
Sadly, a new Bermuda law prohibits lighting up indoors—even in a cigar shop. Enjoying one of Chatham House’s fine cigars need to be done outdoors, or perhaps back on your cruise ship.
William Pitt says he loves dealing with such a "high-end product. And I love doing business with the Cubans. They are great people."
All good reasons Chatham House has been in business for 107 years, and keeps going.
63 Front Street
Hamilton HM11, Bermuda