The Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Taj Mahal of India, New York City's Empire State Building—each edifice strikes a chord of recognition for its place. In Havana, the building that enjoys such emblematic stature is the Partagás Real Fabrica de Tabacos. Born on Calle Industria sometime in the 1850s, according to Partagás, The Book, the orange-and-red façade of the four-story structure with the Partagás name emblazoned across the roofline has been a beacon for every cigar lover around the world.
No longer. The factory has moved.
The new Partagás Factory is on the corner of Calle San Carlos in Central Havana, about a block down from the Romeo y Julieta factory and less than a 10-minute drive from the former Partagás venue. According to local histories, the current factory has been home to other cigar brands over the decades. It was last known as the El Rey del Mundo Factory before being ceded to Partagás, which needed a new home due to the decrepit condition of the original factory. You're greeted by an imposing cream-colored stucco façade. Steps lead up to a large, colonnaded doorway. Inside is a small, high-ceiling, entry foyer that opens into a four-story atrium with ornate wrought iron bannisters all the way around each floor. A large Cuban flag hangs in the atrium on the façade of the elevator shaft.
The factory employs 400 people under the direction of José Ramon de Perez. On a visit in early 2016, about 209 workers were on the rolling floor, with space for nearly 240. According to a factory representative, it was producing about 20,000 cigars daily at the time. The layout of the rolling floor is virtually identical to the old Partagás factory. Windows in a long row reach from waist height to the ceiling. Rollers receive their carefully portioned leaves for their blends from a storeroom at the front. A small quality-control area sits off to the side, where draw machines test the finished product for the day. One slight twist: instead of wooden planks for rolling, some stations have steel plates, which a factory representative said keeps the leaves at a more constant humidity during the rolling process. As in all Cuban cigar factories, a podium is set up for a lector who reads the news to workers from 9 to 9:30 a.m. Two half-hour-long periods later in the day are devoted to novelas, or fiction books, of the workers choosing.
While the factory is the casa matrice, or home factory, for the Partagás brand, La Gloria Cubana, Ramon Allones, Quai d'Orsay and Bolivar cigars are also rolled there.
The facility is now one of the primary cigar factory tour stops in Havana, with hundreds of people being guided every day through the entry foyer and up the stairs to walk around the balconies, and along the outer aisles of the rolling room. Visitors are not granted access to parts of the factory other than the rolling floor. According to the factory rep, the leaf sorting room and the packing rooms are not included in the tour because they are all temperature and humidity controlled and constant traffic in and out would disrupt that.
While the new factory does not quite harbor the same soul as the original Partagás Real Fabrica de Tabacos, the sea of red Partagás workshirts and the large photos of Partagás cigars on the wall lend an air of history and authenticity to the new venue. It's worth the trip.