While famous for its “coffee shops” full of recreational drug smoking, the city of Amsterdam has taken a decidedly different tact with tobacco. After banning cigar smoke in bars and restaurants, the city recently announced a crackdown on one of the it’s last bastions of humidor relaxation: hotel bars. The good news is that none of this affects Cigaragua, the city’s flagship standalone cigar lounge and tobacconist, home to one of the largest walk-in humidors in the entire European Union.
But despite its impressive size—nearly 900 square feet—it is the humidor’s singular contents that makes Cigaragua unique. As reflected in its clever name, the entire place is devoted solely to the products of a single country, Nicaragua, and while they stopped maintaining a detailed list when they hit 900 different brands, the humidor now has between 1,200 to 1,400 selections, all Nicaraguan.
Cigaragua sits in a prime location in the Museum Quarter, one of Amsterdam’s toniest neighborhoods, on a street reminiscent of New York’s Fifth Avenue, directly across from the grassy square that is home to the city’s three biggest cultural attractions: the Rijksmuseum, Stedelijk Museum, and the most popular of all, the Van Gogh Museum. It is also just a five minute stroll from the single most visited attraction in the entire country, the Heineken Experience brewery tour.
Upon entering Cigaragua’s glass doors, you find yourself in a retail lobby dominated by cases of lighters, cutters and humidors, including upscale brands such as Elie Bleu. Beyond this, the place splits into two levels: a few steps up is the humidor, occupying nearly an entire floor of the building, while a few steps down is the even bigger lounge.
The humidor is lined with packed shelves on all sides, plus seven large counters in the center, all of them so full that even more cigar boxes are stacked on the floor next to them. “When we opened two and a half years ago, the middle here was empty,” said manager Onno Boonstra. He explained that the Dutch entrepreneur behind the shop “smoked every cigar you can smoke, and came to the conclusion that Nicaragua had the best quality and value. Then he visited and fell in love with the people.”
This love is obvious, as the owner commissioned a beautiful coffee table book about Nicaragua’s cigar culture, history and leading families, as well as a short documentary film about the country’s tobacco trail, which occasionally rolls on the sole television in the lounge—when soccer is not on. The walls of the lounge are covered with oversized photos of Nicaraguan farmers and cigar rollers.
Many of the cigars here are part of a program where a portion of each sale is donated to ProNica, a charity supporting schools and children in the country. This adds up, as does the occasional charity event and auction, and last year’s giving totaled nearly €35,000. The Nicaraguan Consulate in the Hague buys its cigars here, hosts special events, and the country’s leading producers, including Rocky Patel of Rocky Patel Premium Cigars and Jonathan Drew of Drew Estate, have visited.
The selection includes some brands not sold in the U.S., such as the two styles and eight sizes comprising the La Sagrada Familia lineup, made for the brand owner by Joya de Nicaragua. Also popular is the Condega brand, which Onno describes as a very good value, mostly between €2.80 to €6,00. There are a lot of cigars around seven bucks, with Oliva occupying a fair amount of space here. So does Padrón, filling three large sets of floor-to-ceiling shelves in the back, with more than five dozen boxes to choose from. These include the store’s priciest offering, the Padrón 50th anniversary edition, which is sold in a white humidor of 50 cigars and is available here for €80 each.
The downstairs lounge is simple but comfortable and inviting, reminiscent of a business class airline club. One wall is full of cushy upholstered booths, the other side lined with padded armchairs and loveseats positioned near rustic, tree trunk-style coffee tables adorned with ashtrays.
It’s illegal here to serve alcohol or food with tobacco, so the libations are limited to complementary coffee-based drinks, as well as soft drinks. Still, the shop has a convivial feel where many guests strike up conversations, while others smoke and read, watch TV or peruse their laptops.
The shop gets a mix of local regulars and visiting tourists who seek the place out from all over the world. “We love to share our love for cigars with everyone from everywhere. It is our passion. We get people from Iceland, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Vietnam and China, who find out about us and make a point to come in, as well as the U.S. and U.K.”
Part of the reason is the consistently excellent reviews they get. Travel sites give Cigaragua near perfect ratings: 4.9 from Google. 4.9 from Yelp and 5.0 from TripAdvisor, all with lots of reviews. In fact, TripAdvisor users put the shop in the top 20 of more than 400 retail establishments rated in the city, and along with Yelp, both rate it as Amsterdam’s top cigar spot.
And once you visit, it is easy to understand why.
Van Baerlestraat 56
1071 BA Amsterdam
Open Every Day: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.