Santo Domingo: The Colonial City by the Sea
A statue of Nicolás de Ovando stands atop a marble base in the middle of a piazza that dates back to the 16th century. Cast in bronze, he’s a bit shorter and a bit stouter than his famous contemporary Christopher Columbus, but his pose and dark patina are no less dignified.
Columbus might get all the glory for discovering the New World, but here in the colonial section of Santo Domingo, Ovando is the real rock star. A respected figure in this part of the Dominican Republic, Ovando helped to found the capital city of Santo Domingo and is properly memorialized for it.
Cigars aside, one of Santo Domingo’s biggest attractions is its famed Colonial City, a seaside district set on the Ozama River whose ancient fortresses and massive defensive walls have miraculously survived modernization, making this part of town the oldest permanent European settlement in the Americas.
Here are our preferred spots for enjoying this special city.
Hodelpa Nicolás de Ovando
Here’s a curious fact: Santo Domingo claims to be home of the first, and oldest, paved road of the Americas. The road is called Calle Las Damas, or “street of the ladies.” On that street is Hodelpa Nicolás de Ovando, a hotel built in 1502 and the former home of the Spanish nobleman and governor responsible for so much of the city’s beauty.
After standing for more than 500 years, the Nicolás de Ovando hotel has been upgraded to include all the amenities of a modern facility without losing its historical character. The beauty lies in both its overall architecture and the attention to details—ornate arcades open up to outdoor, cigar-friendly courtyards tiled in terra-cotta, while interiors are appointed with tapestries, iron candelabras and other period furnishings to enhance the Spanish colonial ambience. Rooms begin at $140 per night, in season.
Calle las Damas, Colonial City, (888) 403-2603
RECOMMENDED CIGAR ATTRACTIONS
One of the main star cigar attractions of Santo Domingo is undoubtedly the ABAM factory. This is the place where Villiger produces most of its premium cigars, most notably the Flor de Ynclan, which was named the No. 10 Cigar of the Year by Cigar Aficionado for its Robusto size last year. It’s a short car ride outside of the colonial district in the northern part of the city.
A scheduled visit will get you a tour of the factory, a bunch of cigars and drinks at the bar in the factory’s second-story lounge. Like most cigar factory tours, you’ll get to see how tobacco is treated along its entire industrial journey before it becomes a finished cigar.
In addition to serving as Villiger’s primary producer of premium cigars, ABAM is the home of the Villiger Lounge, a beautifully appointed walk-up space located on the second level of the factory. It overlooks the factory floor with a great panoramic view of the rolling gallery.
According to lounge lore, the gnarly tree-trunk base used for one of the tables was repurposed from a tree that used to belong to former Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo.
Zona Franca Industrial de Villa Mella Nave #6, Buena Vista Primera, Villa Mella, (809) 569-9494
Arturo Fuente Cigar Club
If there is an ultimate monument to all things Fuente it’s the Arturo Fuente Cigar Club, which is probably the most upscale cigar bar in the entire country. It’s a bi-level building with common areas downstairs, private lounges on the second floor, conference rooms, a bar-restaurant and even a stage for live performances.
The humidor is flush with entire verticals of Fuente, Don Carlos and Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars, as well as hard-to-find OpusX sizes, and at very reasonable prices (or at least reasonable for OpusX).
The club is the brainchild of Ciro Cascella, a Dominican restaurateur and businessman who also serves as executive vice president of Fuente’s cigar operations in the Dominican Republic. Start with a cigar and a drink in the intimate atmosphere of the common seating areas before getting a bite to eat at the bar-restaurant and attenuating the night with more cocktails and cigars. We recommend that your clothes match the environment. You don’t have to wear a suit and tie, but it wouldn’t be out of place. This is not a spot to wear your shorts and flip-flops.
Av. 27 de Febrero No. 211, Ens. Naco, (809) 683-2771
If you’re spending a few days in Santo Domingo and wish to eat beyond the walls of the colonial district, we suggest stopping by La Cassina, a Mediterranean restaurant with plenty of atmosphere and a great kitchen that takes its pasta and risotto as seriously as its meat and fish. No matter what you order, be sure to sit outside in their garden-like oasis where smoking is more than welcome.
Av. Roberto Pastoriza 504, (809) 363-4444
Restaurante 1502 at Nicolás de Ovando offers fine dining in the convenience of the best hotel in Santo Domingo. The room is quaint and the cooking seems to court the Michelin star set by attempting to elevate traditional Dominican fare. It’s certainly one of the fancier options in town. All the seats in this restaurant are indoors, meaning your cigar is not welcome while you dine, but cigar-friendly courtyards and bars are just a few steps away.
Calle las Damas, Colonial City, (888) 403-2603
Take a short walk through the picturesque city streets of Santo Domingo and make your way to the Plaza de España, a gorgeous square abuzz with casual restaurants situated right on the piazza. We recommend getting an outdoor table at Pat’e Palo. There are plenty of safety options on the menu like steaks, salmon and even a burger, but the native dishes are far more interesting and immersive. Be sure to try their chivo encendío, a hearty, signature entrée of stewed goat and risotto.
Feel free to light up a cigar at the table before, during or after your meal. The waiters won’t give you any trouble. They’ll simply give you an ashtray.
Plaza Espana, Ciudad Colonial (809) 687-8089