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Anticipation

Mar 2, 2016 | By Gordon Mott
Anticipation

There's always an air of excitement around the opening night of the Festival del Habanos. This year's 18th edition of Cuba's annual cigar event was no exception, maybe even heightened a bit because of the year's focus: the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Cohiba brand. Colored spotlights lit the buildings around the entrance to the Tobacco and Wood Warehouse, a beautifully restored building and pier that overlooks Havana's waterfront. More than 2,000 people headed there.

The crowd filtered through a welcome line of young Cuban models, both males and females decked out in green jumpsuits. They handed out roses and little black bags filled with cigar goodies, including the featured cigar of the opening night, the Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 Reserva 2012. A glass of sparkling wine miraculously appeared in my hand as I maneuvered through the crowd, saying hello to old friends, and being greeted by people from all over the world.

The Habanos Festival becomes the nexus of the international cigar market every year around the last week of February. Cigar retailers and distributors who bring Cuba's iconic product to the world's markets gather for a week of dinners, parties, seminars and a trade show. Consumers with a love of cigars also are given the opportunity to join in the party, and travel to the growing regions of Pinar del Río, as well as visit to a Cuban cigar factory; this year, they will be guided through the newly restored El Laguito, the "mother" factory of Cohiba.

The Cuban cigar industry shows up, too. Last night with a mojito in my hand, I spoke to the co-presidents of Habanos, Luis Sanchez Harguindey and Innocente Nunez Blanco; the director of development, Javier Terrés Ercilla and a host of other officials. I even ran into Eumelio Espino, a man who helped develop some of the Cuba's most prized tobacco hybrids during his 40 years in the Cuban cigar industry.

After hanging out for a couple of hours, my colleagues, David Savona and Greg Mottola, and I slipped out and headed off to explore some of the new restaurants that are popping up all over Havana. I'll be telling you about two that I've already eaten at, and hopefully by the end of the week, I'll find a couple of more. There are so many new ones that no one really knows whether they are any good or not or even if they actually exist without a personal visit. It's all word of mouth here, so the search for new exciting places is all about listening and investigating. Trust me though; the two new places I have tried are worth adding to our lists.

Our evening ended on a little bit of downer. Dave and I, for most of our trips here, have enjoyed wrapping up the day (err, early morning) with a nightcap in the lobby bar of the Melia Cohiba Hotel, our residence of choice in Havana because it has always had good WiFi service. We would sit down and have a last glass of rum and a cigar before heading off to bed. Not last night. The entire lobby of the Melia Cohiba has become a non-smoking area, supposedly as a test case for the rest of Havana's hotels. We didn't give up entirely; we had a glass of rum. But without the cigar, the night lacked that final touch of magic. We may have to reconsider our choice for our home away from home in Havana.

"Ive just received a bottle of havana club and assorted cubans from lcdh hamburg. Ill think im in cuba and only 100 miles to my south!!" —March 2, 2016 12:03 PM
"It's great to read about you guys back in Habana for this year Habanos Festival. Back to the Melia Cohiba for a second here, I don't get it: with a lobby so big, why impose a no-smoking Policy? Furthermore, if we're looking at something in that class, I would see you at the Sevilla or the Conde de Villanueva anytime... Anyway, enjoy and maybe move your añero outside and enjoy your cigar in that nice caribbean air!" —March 1, 2016 14:16 PM

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