I picked up the phone in my hotel and pressed zero. A pleasant voice answered.
"Hola. Necesito un cenicero, por favor," I said. I was looking for an ashtray. My room in the Meliá Cohiba didn't have one.
"No cenicero, señor," came the voice, before switching effortlessly to English. My poor Spanish had betrayed me. "There is no smoking in the rooms here."
I asked again, to clarify, but was rebuffed. No smoking at all? In any of the rooms? No. Not anymore. No smoking in the rooms, no smoking in the lobby, no smoking anywhere inside the hotel except for the Casa del Habano and inside El Relicario, a cigar bar.
Now in most parts of the world having a cigar bar and a cigar shop with a spacious lounge would be quite satisfactory for a cigar lover. But I was in Cuba. In a hotel named after Cuba's most famous cigar brand. In a hotel where smoking was once so ubiquitous that I would occasionally bring my lit cigar into the elevator as I went from lobby to room. No smoking? Really?
Things have changed at the Meliá Cohiba hotel since my last visit in 2015. The hotel long was divided into smoking and non-smoking floors; even in a non-smoking room I was able to call for an ashtray when I wanted to smoke.
The lobby bar, a spacious area with a good rum selection and 24-hour service, was once cigar friendly, at least in spots. Gordon Mott and I would end each Habanos Festival evening with a glass of rum, a final cigar and reflections on the trip. No more.
The circular bar on the other side of the lobby, which serves a good espresso, was another spot where I would have a cigar, typically after a long day in the city, pecking away at my laptop while smoking something delicious, reflecting on what I had seen and getting my blogs back to the home office. No more.
Those two cigar-friendly areas? Fantastic. But they were both closed by the time my nights ended each evening in Havana. That cigar I was still smoking? If I wanted to continue or finish, my only option was outside.
It's a sad day when a guy has to go outside in Cuba to smoke a cigar.
We've long recommended the Meliá Cohiba to our readers: it's a modern hotel, with comfortable amenities (especially on the "Level" floors, which offer a modicum of VIP service) and a convenient location. But now, I'm pointing people in a different direction. Next time I'm in Havana, I plan to stay elsewhere. I doubt I will be the only one.