Cigar Aficionado

Another Florida Trip

The half moon disappeared and reappeared behind the low passing clouds, and the slow waving palm frond above me kept blocking my view of the pearly white orb. The pool at the Hotel Biltmore was softly lit, creating an almost luminescent aquamarine surface, and the arcade running down one side was filled with people talking and drinking. I was across the pool, laying back on a deck chair, a glass of 2005 red burgundy in one hand, and a cigar in the other.

I thought briefly about the freezing temperatures back home in New York, and the soon to kick off golf season when the winter there finally ends. But my thoughts didn’t linger there. I was reveling in the warmth leftover from a day of record-setting temperature in Miami; it reached 90 degrees one day last weekend. And all weekend long, I’d caught the sweet aromas of cigars from people by the pool, or finishing up meals in some of the hotel’s outdoor dining areas where smoking is still permitted in the great state of Florida. I finally had to have one of my own.

The cigar had been given to me by my co-worker, Dave Savona. before he headed off on a week’s vacation. It was a petit corona from an original batch of La Aurora Cien Años, one of the best cigar lines ever to come out of the Dominican Republic. It was rich and spicy, and after nearly five years of age, beginning to lose all traces of bite while smoothing out into a delicious smoke. Although a small cigar, I savored it for more than half an hour, and was in danger of burning my fingertips from smoking it down to the nub.

I’d been at the Hotel Biltmore about a month before, hosting the South Beach Food and Wine Festival’s golf tournament on the hotel’s recently renovated, original Donald Ross course. It’s a great golf track, but as great as it is, it only matches the outstanding hotel adjacent to it. The hotel has been completely refurbished in recent years, and now sports all the amenities associated with five-star hotels. There’s a spa, a big fitness center, and one of the best restaurants in South Florida, the Palme d’Or, where my daughter, on spring break from college, insisted that we eat so that we could order the seared foie gras—she was right, it was great. In fact, my daughter had instigated this trip only a few weeks before when she cajoled me into coming up with a trip to a warm place during her break.

In a world dominated by chain hotels, the Biltmore stands out as a unique gem that is filled with historic character, and old Florida charm. Most hotels today seem to be clustered amidst a lot of other hotels, or on a beach lined with condominiums. Not the Biltmore. It is essentially in the middle of a residential neighborhood of Coral Gables, and from its tower rooms, you don’t see another tall building for several miles. You get sweeping views of the downtown Miami skyline, and at night, the twinkling lights of the metropolis that spreads across South Florida stretch to the horizon.

Best of all, it is a place where you can find a place to smoke virtually year around. Not indoors, like it used to be, but with the warm weather and the general tolerance created by the strong influence of the Cuban-American community, you can still enjoy a great cigar, like I did, without getting yelled at.

Unfortunately, it’s the last time I will be in South Florida until next winter.

"Fausto,The pool is a great place to smoke. But try the main restaurant called Fontana. It has an open courtyard. Request a table there, and after your meal, you can smoke without getting up...I'm sure there are other places too, but those two will keep you satisfied on a weekend trip." —March 19, 2008 19:27 PM
"Gordon,glad that you liked it and having a great time out of the cold." —March 22, 2008 07:01 AM
"Gordon: What other hotel in Florida do you recommend that is cigar-friendly? Perhaps any on the South Beach trip? Or North Beach?" —March 26, 2008 13:01 PM
"Hey Gordon, so this is the second time you have stayed at this hotel with a great story to tell. You have stirred in me quite a vision to just pick up and head down to South Florida. With all the recent media-crazed dealings of the critical presidential race, NY Governor scandals of the recently ousted one to even the new one and financial markets turmoil, I need a break. So, with the Big Brother stop to smoking indoors, exactly what specific areas can you have a suberb smoke in the Hotel Biltmore without someone giving you the evil eye or trying to throw you out?" —March 19, 2008 16:40 PM