Just back after a three night trip to Havana with my wife...first time in Cuba, and as I said in the introductions forum, this board was an amazing resource to plan the trip, and some cigar shopping. Below, a few notes on particular favorite meals and drinks, and some shopping reports, and one thing I learned about dealing with customs.
Eating/Drinking: Had a couple of awesome meals -- O'Reilly 304 was a particular favorite, especially due to some of the truly insane drinks they are serving there. I write about food and bars, and they're doing some of the weirdest stuff I've ever seen there, but it works somehow. They have a drink they call the Habana Londres, which is a gin and tonic topped with a blue frozen daiquiri. I know this sounds insane, but it somehow completely works. I will be replicating this at home, but without the intricate garnishes.
Also had great meals at Cafe Laurent, and El Cocinero. We loved the Fabrica del Arte Cubano next door to El Cocinero as well -- a cool cultural experience. Probably our favorite spot ended up being El Chanchullero for the tapas, the mojitos (the best we had in our stay), and the cool vibe that felt like it could be plunked down in a hipster neighborhood in Brooklyn.
Cigar Shopping: My wife had no interest in dealing with me and cigar shopping, but I was able to convince her. First stop was Club Havana, where I was able to have her go sit on the beach while I went to the store. Bought 25 Monsdales, and smoked one in the store with a coffee. From there, went to visit Alex at the Commodoro. It turns out it was his day off, but he happened to be in the store after playing tennis. We had talked over Facebook before the trip, and he was a gracious host -- gave me one of his coronas to smoke as we chatted, and then we pawed through boxes together to pick out things for myself and friends as gifts. Got a beautiful box of H.Uppman Petit Coronas from Dec 16, and a box of HdM Epi 2s from Oct 17. Also bought 25 of his coronas, which I loved. Marital harmony kept me from doing much more shopping, but was so much fun getting to meet Alex and talk about his life and work.
No marble ashtrays at the Nacional, either on the patio itself, or for sale. In a conversation with the concierge, he said they "were waiting" for them, and despite my best efforts wasn't able to persuade him to find one in the back.
Mentioned above that I'm a cocktail nerd, and I bought a case of various rums to bring back. I actually brought a special shipping box with me with cardboard inserts to protect the booze -- that was a very smart thing to do, as everything got home perfectly. The non-smart thing I did was write FRAGILE on the side of the box. That caused every customs agent to ask what was in the box, including the agent on our return to Newark. I told him it was 12 bottles of rum and that I was happy to pay the duty, and after being pulled aside in the customs area and having a short conversation with another agent, we were waved through without a duty being charged. Note to self -- next time, don't write FRAGILE on the box.
Again, thanks to all here for all the ideas, help and suggestions that we took advantage of. Happy to answer any questions, obviously.