Cigar Aficionado

Havana Corner: The Real Deal

I was hanging out Monday night with my movie director/writer hermano James Orr in Los Angeles smoking a Petit Edmundo on a pool terrace overlooking the city lights and thinking back to last week in Cuba.

The first thing that came to mind is that a lot of exciting smokes are coming out of Cuba at the moment, and Montecristo's Petit Edmundo proves it. Strangely, the cigar did not taste quite as powerful and spicy as it did in Havana, but it was still full of subtle flavors and creamy texture with plenty of character. I get more excited about this smoke every time I light one up.

Orr always says that "cigars, like wine, always taste better the closer they are to where they are produced." And I agree wholeheartedly. That's why it's such a great experience to smoke and hang in Havana. I look forward to the day when all Americans can have the choice. The embargo doesn't make sense to me, nor do the U.S. government's travel restrictions to the island, but that's another column.

Apparently the Petit Edmundo is being bootlegged in L.A. for about $350 a box of 25 sticks. That's a good $150 margin a box for the dealers, not that I know any. But that is the word on the street.

Like in Los Angeles, cigar trading in the streets of Havana is big business -- at least that is what I assume considering how a pack of cigar jockeys pounced on me last week as I was leaving the Partagas Cigar Factory. Honestly, I couldn't believe it. They were like circling vultures around roadkill. I couldn't take two steps from the factory before they intercepted me.

Me smoking in the Cohiba Factory.
"My friend, my friend," said one. "I have the best cigars. All the brands. Whatever you like."

Another added, "You tell me what you like. I get you whatever size you want. Good prices."

I looked at them and told them in Spanish that I worked for Habanos, the world marketing and distribution organization for Cuban cigars. They scampered off like a passing car scares vultures from their supper. I knew they would be back as soon as I left.

In fact, I only had to walk another 30 seconds and another guy told me a story about how he worked in the factory and he had exactly what I needed. The dude even offered to let me smoke the cigars before I bought them! "You only buy what you like," he said.

Me smoking with Enrique Nunez, owner of La Guarida in Havana.
That's service! Better than even an authorized shop, I thought to myself. I thought it was sort of amusing. So I thought I would get some more information and play the guy along.

"Tell me some of your prices, hermano," I said to the guy. "Do you have any Cohiba Siglo VI?"

"One hundred twenty dollars," he answered back. "You like Cohibas? I have Esplendidos."

I asked him the box price of a number of cigars, including Partagas Serie D No. 4 ($80), Limitada Montecristco Robusto ($80), Limitada Cohiba Piramide ($120) and Petit Edmundo ($80). He said that he had them all in stock and that I should go with him to his warehouse. I told him I didn't have time.

I remember not long ago when street dealers would sell cigars for $25 or $30 a box in Havana. These new prices seem very high. Some are even half retail.

Anyway, I don't buy fakes. In fact, I detest them. The real thing is the real deal, whether you smoke one in Los Angeles, Havana or anywhere else.

Photos by James Orr

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Previous Havana Corner: Cuba Blog, Day Five.

Back to Havana Corner: Cuba Blog, Day One.