Montecristos of all sizes, Romeo y Julietas galore and Cohiba Maduros for everyone you've ever known. Havana's cigar shops are full of cigars on this trip.
So far I've been to seven Casa del Habano cigar stores, including the standouts at the Meliá Habana Hotel, Quinta Avenida, Club Habana and the Habana Libre Hotel. Rumors of a cigar shortage have been overblown, but there's certainly things you can and cannot get.
As Gordon Mott pointed out in a news story yesterday, there are no Behikes on the shelves here. (There may be a few behind the counter held for dear customers, common practice in any cigar shop, but unlike last year you won't walk into a Cuban cigar store and see stacks of that distinctive black, glossy outer box.) I had heard they were impossible to find, but I've asked on every stop and have received the same, weary answer. No Behike. Some say it has been months since they've seen one, others, like the shop at the Habana Libre, just ran out.
Punch Punch cigars seem a little short, and you seldom see many H. Upmann Sir Winstons or Ramon Allones Gigantes. But aside from those cigars, you can do very well shopping here indeed.
If you've shopped for cigars in Cuba, you know that prices are fixed, so the price in one shop will be the same price as another. So why go to different shops? Selection varies from store to store. Here are a few notes from each stop:
A store that's always a bit on the quiet side, and one that always seems to have something of interest that you won't find anywhere else. I noticed many boxes stamped 2011, including Partagás Serie D No. 4s (153.75 CUC) and Cohiba Siglo VI (490 CUC). Most shops here are full of cigars marked 2014, and some 2013. I have yet to see one stamped 2015. When you go, spend 5 CUC on the house cigar, the legendary Monsdale, always pay extra attention to the boxes in the far left corner of the humidor. You typically find something with some age lurking there.
I know the Habana Libre is not as well known as some of the legendary shops here like Club Habana and Quinta Avenida. But from all my visits over the past few years this store is certainly getting attention from the Cuban cigar industry. It's a massive store, and it gets great inventory. It had dozens of boxes of the new Añejado cigars in stock on my visit, far more than any other shop here, and also plenty of all three 2014 Edición Limitadas, including the Cohiba, the most difficult of the trio to find. It even had a box of Punch Serie d'Oro No. 2 EL 2013 cigars in the cabinet dedicated to single cigar sales—quite a find. They also had several boxes of Romeo y Julieta Cazadores, rustic smokes that I enjoy quite a bit.
A favorite of Cigar Aficionado's, this shop was devoid of any 2014 EL cigars but had otherwise good stocks with a particularly strong representation of Bolivar. They had Bolivar Belicoso Fino in both dress box and cabinets (191.25 CUCs for each, and the cabinet is the far better buy). This shop always seems to have cabinets of 50, and on this trip I saw Partagás Shorts (202.50 CUC, 50-count) and Lusitanias (567.50 CUC, 50-count). They also had Trinidad Fundadores (261.60 CUC), which you certainly don't see everywhere.
5 y 16 (Quinta Avenida)
A must-stop shop crafted with several small rooms, each wonderfully decorated, with an attentive, knowledgeable staff. Say hello to the great Carlos Robaina while you are here. This was the only shop I saw with robust stocks of H. Upmann Sir Winstons (331.25 CUC) and it had plenty of Diplomaticos No. 2s (187.50 CUC).
A big shop that's often quite quiet, the Nacional is worth a stop because it sometimes has something you don't see in other places. In this case it was the new Partagás Serie D No. 6 (5.40 CUC for a single, which I bought). The squat little cigar has a good kick, and was quite a pleasant way to conclude an afternoon in Cuba.
A shop that's good for spot buying, with a spacious smoking area to linger and work or chat.
I still have plenty more to see and do here before tonight's gala dinner concluding the Festival. And it's 9:30 a.m. as I write this—time to light up my first cigar of the day.