If the cigar bars of a decade ago celebrated the cigar, what is clearly required in the twenty-first century is a commitment to the cigar. Fortunately, in many ways, the cigar store has taken up the challenge and created a sanctuary, a destination for those of us on the road who just want an hour of tranquility with our favorite torpedo. And maybe a libation.
Many cities have reached a sort of "tipping point." The cigar "bar" most of us find today is a tobacco store with some seats, maybe a couch and a flat-panel HD set on which to watch a game. Maybe Eric is offering a great glass of wine at The Big Easy in Studio City, California. Maybe it's a little pulled pork with John and Matt on a "First Friday" at W. Curtis Draper in Washington, D.C. Only if your favorite cigar bar was grandfathered in will you likely be able to smoke there in this decade. In other places, the battle is still being waged or has been partially won. But greater Miami, the U.S. home to many of the great cigarmakers, is no longer particularly cigar-friendly, unless you happen to find Havana Smokers in Coral Gables.
Havana Smokers is not the only cigar shop in the Miami area in which you can smoke. It just happens to be the one I was close to after a business dinner on a recent Monday night near Merrick Park, the highfalutin' galleria of shops off Ponce de Leon Boulevard. Havana Smokers is on Ponce and I happened to notice it as I drove by because of a big enough sign that advertised the place as a "cigar lounge." My dinner ran late and I didn't have time to check out the shop. But I made it a point to do so later in the week.
To be clear, Havana Smokers is no lounge. At first glance, it's a very familiar scene. A smallish cigar shop and walls cluttered with humidors filled with the great cigars of the day camouflage the two domino tables in the middle of the floor. They look like high-top bar tables. There's a Cuban cacophony of argument spilling out of the mouths of the players. They are all smoking cigars and enjoying cocktails or wine. Suddenly, the tobacco store seems more like a clubhouse.
"That's really what it is," explains Enrique Garcia, Jr., one of six friends who are also partners in Havana Smokers. "We all became partners because we wanted a place to get together."
The partnership was formed after the death of one of the original owners. His partner, Roberto Tapanes, who still runs the shop, was thinking of closing up until the regular customers threw in with him. The result is a very welcoming, bilingual, bicultural nonstop gabfest.
Garcia and his business partner, Ben Sardinas, are sitting at a table on the sidewalk arguing in good fun about who has the longest line of B.S. Ultimately, Sardinas can't compete. This bonhomie combines easily with regular Wednesday night tournaments of dominoes and mentirosa, a version of liar's poker. Of course, a constant flow of Cuban coffee fuels the proceedings.
That's what happens, Tapanes shared, when "a group of cigar aficionados decide to convert their hobby and passion into a great cigar-smoking environment." Here, here for passion.
Havana Smokers is proof that high-priced decor and cigar lockers, staples of the 1990s cigar bars and some of today's finer private clubs, are not necessary to create a great location in which to have that hour with your favorite torpedo. In the case of Havana Smokers, obviously, it's not such a quiet 60 minutes.
Havana Smokers Cigar Lounge
4061 Ponce de Leon Blvd.
Coral Gables, FL 33146
Open until 10 p.m. most nights.
Serves wine and beer and, they say, the best Cuban coffee in town.