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  1. Taken from this post. Here's a recent list of rollers that was put together. See credits below. Roller || Address || Notes Alejandro Gonzalez Arias || Hotel Comodoro Cigar Shop at 3ra Ave. & Calle 84, Playa || Replaced Santos. Word is good on his sticks. Leopoldina Gutierrez aka 'La China' || Partagas LCDH at Calle Industria #520, Centro Habana || Great personality, excellent roller. Get whatever you can. She can't roll as much as she used to. Arnaldo Ovalles || Hotel Melia Habana LCDH at 3ra Ave. between Calle 76 & 80, Playa || Replaces Yolanda. Maria || Quinta y 16 LCDH at 5ta Ave. and Calle 16, Miramar || Unknown to me. Amaury, and Reynol || Club Havana LCDH at 5ta Ave. between Calle 188-192, Playa || Worth the visit for his Monsdales alone. His new Robusto Largo is also a winner. Reynaldo Gonzalez & Jorge || Conde de Villanueva LCDH at Mercaderes #202 corner of Lamparilla, Habana Vieja || Another master roller. Known for rolling monster sized cigars. Full bodied blends. Juanita Ramos Guerra || Hotel Melia Cohiba LCDH, at Paseo Ave. between Calle 1 & 3, Vedado || Ask about her Elefantes. Short, chubby cigars, packed with flavour. Milagro Morales || Hotel Nacional LCDH at Calle 21 & O, Vedado || Unknown to me, but a stop for a smoke here is a must. Arnaldo Alfonso Ibanez || Hotel Palco LCDH at 146 Ave. between Calle 11 & 13, Playa|| Great old guy. Can do it all. I like his shaggy foot Lanceros myself. Cueto || El Morro Castle. La Habana del Este, Havana, Cuba || Roller of the world's longest cigar (268.4 ft Guinness record). Credits: * List: Matteo Speranza for Cigar Inspector * Notes:My own.
  2. After a busy week in Havana, I got to take the new GoPro out for a spin. This might bring back memories for many.
  3. Some here that a few of us have eaten in before but I think some new ones too. La Corte del Principe I thought had gone downhill a bit last November. El del Frente is very nice, Tocamadera of course and Beirut Shawarma is nice but not brilliant. I hear good things about their new place, Amir Shisha.
  4. I got some images this morning from a friend in Cuba with details of the events in Havana for the 500th anniversary. Some of these will overlap with the Partagas event. Quite a bit going on. The big public event on Saturday the 16th, and probably the place to be, is a concert by Los Van Van on the Malecon by the Piragua, that's the space between the Hotel Nacional and the Maine Monument, basically in front of the Gato Tuerto. Anyway, here are the images.
  5. @nino just gave me the idea for this. Quite a few of us have just returned from Havana and some members will be going in the next few months, February etc. Any new paladares to recommend? Or any that have gone downhill since the last visit? Here's my, short, list to begin. Michifú It's very new, not even on the Alamesa app yet. I was brought there by a friend who lives and works in Havana. It's about 1/2 block east (towards Habana Vieja) from La Guarida. Great spot, smoking indoors and out with no complaints, in a courtyard style setting. I was there 3 times for dinner on the last trip. The food is Cuban/Spanish/French fusion. The mixed chicken/pork skewers are very good. So is the ratatouille. A friend had the pargo (red snapper) and was very impressed. It was opened by the original owner of Sia Kará (one of my favourite cafes in Havana). Very cheap. Starter, main and a couple of beers won't be much more than $20. Casa Nostra Currently my favourite Italian in Havana. Very close to El Sauce. The owners have another place (Il Rustico) in Habana Vieja. They have their own herb and vegetable garden in the back. I test Italian restaurants with a plate of penne and pesto, with the thinking that if they can get simple right... The pasta is homemade as is the pesto from basil they grow on site. It was brilliant, as good as I have had anywhere. They have a wood fired pizza oven. I was told by a friend in the know, to order the octopus. They put the octopus on the pizza spade and shove it in the pizza oven for less than a minute. It comes out crispy on the outside and perfectly cooked inside, extraordinary. I was in the mood for a White Russian (not on the menu), they apologised that they had no cream, until they magicked up a bottle of cream from somewhere about 15 minutes later. Great service. I highly recommend. On the downslope Unfortunately, La Corte del Principe I hate saying this, as it was one of my favourite restaurants in Havana. I was going there with a friend on one of my first days and was warned by some ex-pat friends in Havana that it had gone downhill. There was still a good crowd there. The grilled eggplant and cheese is still very good. But the pasta was stale or poorly cooked and the prices have really gone up. Service wasn't great either. Some of the staff are still the same and I believe it is still owned by Sergio but something has changed. We were charged $66 for two for lunch, what would have been $40 in February. 2 starters, 2 mains, 4 beers and coffee. Honourable mentions of other good places. Tocamadera, ate here a few times again, met @nino there one of the days. Good dining, but I really like the hamburger there, new comfortable outside furniture. Owner and staff are great. La Guarida, still brilliant. Was there for Punch Joe's birthday. Those marlin tacos.. Bone'Ma, I can't remember where I heard of this place, none of my Havana resident friends had heard of it. On Calle 21 between L and M. A block uphill from the Hotel Capri. Very nice spot, lovely staff. Very clean. And they do a doner kebab. Some people will disagree, but I sometimes get an urge for one and had never seen one in Havana. Very decent. They do chicken kebabs but had lamb on the menu in a different dish, they were happy to make lamb doners for us, and the chips/fries were great too. A rare thing in Havana. I brought Stuart there on his first night. I think I saw a tear. Muelle There is a new fairground area at 1 av and 70th in Playa. Bouncy castle, rides for kids etc. It is surrounded by bars/restaurants, chiringuito style on the beach (it's a rocky/concretey beach but nice view of the sea). Muelle is the one closest to the Hotel Panorama (to the west) and is owned by the same people as Espacios. Obviously very new and they're still shaking it out but service was great. Drinks cheap and a great view. I didn't eat there but I heard decent reports. Very nice spot for a sundowner, along the lines of 7 Dias. Espacios Still great staff, good drinks at a reasonable price and very decent pizza as a quick bite. Espacios was our launch pad on many nights.
  6. After 18 months away from Havana I was again able to go for a few days with a small group of the cigar gang here in Toronto. This seems like a good opportunity to provide a quick update and also include a few photos from the trip. The photos are mix of phone and DSLR, so the quality will be different. The colour/lighting/exposure are based on my preferences so that may not appeal to some. Considering the weather we've been having in Toronto it was an excellent reason to get away. Here's what I was leaving behind on the day of the flight to Varadero from the back of the cab: I thought for sure that the flight would be delayed quite a bit but as luck would have it we only took off 2 hours past the scheduled time. Of course leaving on an afternoon flight to Varadero with a two hour bus ride to Havana meant we would not make it to the hotel until late Wednesday/early Thursday. But, that's no matter when the thought of Havana beckoned. We got into the hotel around 12:30-1:00am. Check in, drop off bags and head straight to the back of the Nacional for a quick night cap. The next day i got up early, had a quick breakfast and again headed out to the back for the first morning smoke of the day - can never get enough of this place: First smoke all done, the rest of the gang started to stumble out into the 30 degree (celsius) heat (sorry all, that's up to the attendees to post their own photos). We had to figure out what our day was going to shape up to be like, cigars then shopping, shopping then cigars or shopping cigars and food or some other combination. We decided to have a couple of more cigars at the back then head out to the old city to visit Conde de Villanueva. That is a Reynaldo custom sublime - great cigar. That done we decided to walk around a bit and head over to the Partagas store. It's sometimes nice to get there when there's no festival going on to get the fill of the place, and that we did. We almost had the back room to ourselves. A nice small cigar (sorry no photos, and I can't remember what I smoked) and an espresso rested us well from the heavy workout we had with walking over from the Conde to Partagas. Quick update; neither Conde nor Partagas had anything other than regular production cigars. This was true of most everywhere we went. After the walking trip around the old city what could we do but head back to the Nacional for more smoking before dinner. Again, not many photos of this as I was too busy blissing out on the cigars and cocktails. When dinner time came we headed out to La Guarida: (sorry about the cutoff fidel quote, I was too busy trying to get the flag into the frame and missed) And of course, after dinner back to the Nacional for more, you guessed it, cigars (and some music): (like the cut off head?) Onto Friday. The big day. Rent a car and go cigar shop hopping. First up Melia Cohiba for a quick look at the humidor, all regular production. We then went to Club Habana to pick up some customs there (and I found the first stack of 50 cab Punch DCs. Of course I had to get one). Then onto El Aljibe for some chicken. Too busy eating to take photos (mainly). Popped into the shop there, not much to see. After lunch we headed over to 5y16, again mainly regular production but there we a couple of boxes of Libertadors there. After that onto Comodoro for some puntillas and talk to Alex for a few minutes. Then onto Melia Habana for some coffee - a few more Punch DC 50 cabs here too. Then back at the Nacional for a quick drop off the cigars/coffee, and of course another cigar. Then off to Terazza for an early dinner and then back to the Nacional for a cigar and some more music (are you noticing a pattern here?). The next day was a bit lighter with most of our time spent at the Nacional, but we did make a jaunt out to Parc Centrale for lunch as well as a quick stop off at the Cohiba Atmosphere lounge to check out the stock there. The Cohiba Atmosphere was the only place we saw the Monte Maltes and Dumas together, as well as the only place that had an open box of Cohiba Esplendidos @ 50% markup though (32 CUC). Which reminds me, for the first time in a long time there were many more Cohibas in Havana than the last few trips I made in 2016/17 - Robustos, I, II, III, IV, V and VI could be found in most places. There was one shop that had three pack Esplendidos but I forget which one. As for the Monte 1935 line, there were some Dumas at a few spots. Nacional had four boxes of the Maltes, but they were gone within a day. No Leyenda in any shops in Havana. The last bit of the trip was pretty uneventful. Just lounged around the Nacional mainly. Monday (March 4) was the end of the trip so we headed back to Varadero for the flight back to Toronto. What could the trip be without walking around the airport to check the cigar wares there? There were a few boxes each of the Monte 1935s - Dumas, Maltes and Leyenda. There was a lone box of Cohiba Talisman at one of the counters. And, there were boxes and boxes and boxes of the Punch 2017 - Regios de Punch - LE in the main humidor at the airport. Here are the final batch of random photos from the trip as well as the haul I brought back (the same as the one posted in the Cuban Haul thread).
  7. Gotta love reading the reviews from visitors to Cuba: Quick quiz, which one is by a clueless American? The Penthouse is beautiful and it’s right on the Malecon, 3 min wall to National Hotel and restaurants. The breakfast every morning was wonderful with fresh fruits , veggies eggs and juices. Juvie and Adrianna took care of our every need . The place is absolutely amazing. The views from every room are spectacular. Excellent choice. Would definitely recommend. Isabel is definitely a superhost! This air bnb is outstanding. We came here to celebrate our 40th bday. (Guys trip from college). The place is spectacular. The location is amazing. The views are fantastic. We looked at tons of places in CUBA and this place surpassed all expectations. The rooftop was superb. The rooms were clean and spacious. The showers were modern. We had Juve and Adriana as our in house hostess and they were both extremely helpful and made our trip run smoothly. They are like (Hidden by Airbnb) . They helped with reservations and making sure we had what ever amenities we needed. Honestly I have stayed in a lot of airbnbs and this is by far the most amazing unique one I have ever stayed in. Our entire group could not stop commenting on how amazing this place was. It felt like the four seasons airbnb. Spectacular! We can't express enough how amazing this place was. The location was perfect, far enough away from the touristy cruise ship crowds but close enough to everything that it is extremely convenient. There is a gas station across the street that made stocking up on bottled water very easy but there is a mini fridge stocked with waters and sodas if you don't want to be bothered. Hotel National is right next door which made getting a taxi super easy. The views from this place go on for days and we enjoyed watching the sunsets from the balconies each evening. The housekeepers were available for everything we needed at any time and the breakfast feasts they prepared each morning were delicious! We were only 2 but this place could easily accommodate much larger groups without anyone feeling cramped. Cuba is HOT so the AC's in the bedrooms were much appreciated after long days in the sun. We loved our 9 days in Havana and are looking forward to future visits and would not hesitate to book Isabel's place again. On a side note we would recommend a day trip to Vinales- Beautiful! We also did a walking tour of both Old Havana and Central Havana through freewa (Website hidden by Airbnb) that were phenomenal and were blown away that they were free (except for tips of course). A great way to get aquainted with the city too. THE ADVERTISEMENT WAS COMPLETELY MISLEADING! The house DID NOT have air conditioning throughout. It was only in the bedrooms and two (2) of the units did not work well. There were several plumbing issues. The tub backed up water, there were times when we had no water or only cold water. We could not flush toilet paper, it had to be placed in the trash can next to the toilet. There was no continuous access to WIFI as listed in the advertisement. There was no free parking on premises. There was street parking only. We DID NOT have access to a kitchen and could not prepare meals. Everything that was available was for an additional fee including WIFI and laundry. The WIFI did not work even when we purchased hourly access cards for $2 per hour. There was someone living in the unit with us, which was not disclosed on the advertisement. The first person (Juvi) was very hospitable and pleasant. The second person (Adriana) had a guest stay over night in her room and was often unable to be found when we needed things. The rate changed from $167 per night when viewing in the app to $379 per night when booking. The mattresses were very uncomfortable with springs pressing through into your back so we could not get a good nights sleep. Overall this unit lacked creature comforts. The only upside was the location was close to everything; however, there is constant traffic, noise from the busy street below, the smell of carbon monoxide coming in the windows and load music from the club right next door that blasts music Thursday - Saturday night. I would not recommend this place to anyone nor would I ever stay there again. My family and I feel deceived and ripped off!! Our Stay in Cuba was amazing! We stayed with a group of friends and this was the perfect place to stay and enjoy the beautiful views below from the balcony. The place is even better than the pictures and the hosts were very nice and accomodating. They helped us in making dinner reservations and giving us tips on where to go. There is very limited wifi in Cuba so it would have been difficult to organise our trip without the ladies help. The breakfast was great and the very early morning coffee made before our flight on the last day was a lovely final touch. Thanks so much for having us! Laura Please note all were comments from Americans..... All reviews here: ----- For us it was: Fantastic place - we had a great time. Perfect location (Tangana!), very spacious and comfortable, outstanding service, highly recommended. Huge props to Isabel, Juvi and Adrienne!
  8. I posted a great review of Paladar Marea this year on my blog - now I am hearing bad things about it from knowledgeable people. Update 07 Sept. 2018 : Looks like the Cuban Paladar disease of "earn 500 CUC today and lose 5.000 CUC tomorrow has affected Marea in Miramar. Good and knowledgeable friends lately have reported shitty food, frozen Tuna and bad culinary experiences there. I spoke today with a group of Scottish friends who had dinner last night there and they reported it was terrible as well as expensive. So be warned - might have been taken over or the cook has been "kidnapped" by higher earnings somewhere else - happens frequently in Havana .... 😧 Nino
  9. My son, @Ethernut clued me to a post yesterday, from @GotaCohiba who is on a cruise to Havana, and having immigration procedure delay issues. I'm in Florida for the cold months, and scheduled to sail on this cruise, with Royal Caribbean, on Sunday from Miami. We stop in Nassau, Key West, and Havana (7am to 5pm) on Jan 25. To be legal, we scheduled a 3-4 hour tour, and will have 3-4 hours to ourselves and the Cuban taxi drivers. The tour is actually looking pretty good, with a drive down the Malecon, and stops at Revolution Plaza, the Capitol, Morro Castle, El Cristo del la Habana statue, and a drive through Fusterlandia. Royal Caribbean makes trip certification easy by using the following procedure: For ease of completion, of travel docs, Royal Caribbean has arranged the affidavit Into 3 parts: Part A: Guests exclusively participating in the Royal Caribbean tour program should select Part A and complete the identification information in the last section. Part B: Guests traveling on a self-guided people-to- people exchange program should select Part B and complete the identification information in the last section. Part B does allow for guests to split their full-day schedule between tours purchased from Royal Caribbean and activities organized on their own. I chose Part B, and looking forward to a day of full of running around and enjoying Havana for a day. If anything unusual happens in the procedure, as with GotaCohiba (above), I'll post back here.
  10. Hello fellow brothers / sisters I will be traveling to Havana Jan. 13-17 2018 if anyone will be in Havana let me know we can meet for drinks and cigars. If you will not be there during those dates let me know when I travel to Cuba every two weeks. Thanks Robert Rogers
  11. Here is a good tip if you like to take a free tour in Havana and help students in their spare time practice English. One of them is the sister of a good friend of mine, a fantastic roller, Alejandro Gonzalez of Comodoro fame. . Thank you ! I’d like to start the new year with a nice project that a group of students is running in Havana. They offer free tours of Havana in their spare time so as to practice languages and earn a small tip if the tourist is satisfied with the tour. They speak Spanish, English and French and their starting hours are 10 am and 4 pm. Tours take two to three hours. One of the students being the sister of a good friend of mine, Alejandro of Comodoro cigar roller fame, it is a pleasure to promote this project. Here is their contact data : The guides always carry a RED UMBRELLA. Find them at Parque Central, across the street of The Grand Theater Of Havana. Mobile : +53 5 3575087 And their Trip Advisor ratings : Here is their own description : Free Tour Havana was born as the result of an Andalusian friendship who believed in us and, with many friendly hands, it was materialized. Our purpose is to show Havana´s contrasts. Don´t look and see only the superficial things of our city, ask and know about the worries that usual Cubans have today, uncertainties and hopes of Cuban society. Our tours usually lasts around 2 and 3 hours, depending on the group. On these tours you`ll discover differents life styles within the city. Different traditions, different ways of seeing things. We are a trully mixed society and is our goal to show you all. Nino
  12. I will be in Havana from November 20-27th with a couple other brothers. If anyone will be there during these dates would love to meet for drinks and cigars. Thanks Robert Rogers
  13. Just got back from Havana. Went with some old friends and made some new ones. A slushy Mojito with a Trinidad Vigia. My first ever Vigia. Loved it. The gang relaxing with a smoke at the Melia Cohiba (I think) Browsing the humidor at 5 y 16 The new Kempinski hotel in it's shining glory. Very shiny, but antiseptic. Like an Apple store. We had a smoke on the second floor lounge in the Kempinski. Prices were good, service was great, the ventilation was excellent but IMO, the decor was not fitting for a cigar lounge. Once again, too polished. I prefer smoking in the Partagas VIP lounge. Enjoying an early 1940's H Upmann Cristales with my espresso. A very good smoke that sadly is past it's prime. It had some interesting flavours throughout but had some bland points now and then. Glad I had the chance to smoke one though. My Havana haul (toaster and Nespresso machine not included) Two boxes of Trinidad Vigia Two boxes of Partagas E2 (5 counts) One box of Bolivar Liberatador Bundle of Monsdales (25 cigars) Four Alex PC and Robusto custom rolls. Two Robaina Lanceros and Four Laguito No 5's Four HdM Petit Robustos we split down there. Hotel Nacional ashtray, medium sized (2nd largest one) Ron Mulatta 7 Years Coffee. One Serrano and two Turquino One Cuba word champs hat.
  14. Cheers I'm currently en-route to Havana, Cuba re-routing me from Atlanta airport which has closed in/out flights from now till who knows to lovely New York airport now. Then will take straight shot away from Irma to Havana, Cuba to arrive on Tuesday 9/12/2017......finally! Havana is slowly regaining power back and should be back on at least in Havana by Tuesday when I arrive and the water not exactly sure but I just took a shower in the sink at the airport in Kansas City with couple hand fulls of water.....😁 As for the flooding in Havana it should reside a considerable amount by Tuesday when i arrive. Have a full itinerary and have extended our stay since the crazy cancellations. Have made sure NO damage was done from the wind to Hirochi Robaina tobacco farm. Unfortunately I cannot say anything 2 hours down the coast opposite of Pinar del Rio to the far end as it was damaged considerably. Those areas sustained a direct hit from Irma and in shambles......sad! Will post many pics once back from trip and cheers all! Robert
  15. Just got in last night with tons of pics from Havana..... unfortunately, I am afraid the storm here has fried my desktop. i will do my best using my phone and hope it gives me same quality as my desktop. it was a BLAST , Enjoy 🤠🙌🏽🇨🇺
  16. Hey all! I've been putting off making this post but you all have given me so much in my time on the forum that I knew I needed to give back in my small, but hopefully special for somebody, way. Background: I've been smoking cigars for about 10 years now and been getting much more into cubans in the last 4years or so. I watched a few docs and saw a few different pictures of Cuba and knew that I needed to go. When I took a new job with an unlimited and flexible vacation policy, I knew how I was going to take advantage of it. So I convinced my wonderful wife to do a 10 day trip, 5 days in Varadero with only drinking and beach for the wife and then Vinales for 2.5 days and Havana for 2.5 days for me. Without further ado, let's dive in. Varadero (days 1-5): We stayed at the melia las americas. My wife and I went to an adults only resort for our honeymoon 3 years back and swore that we'd only go to them from that point forward. The hotel was nice enough, food was miserable but all-inclusive is definitely going to do that. Got to play a round of golf at the Vardero golf club (rental clubs were atrocious but it was only $30 for the cart rental). Course was nice enough and it was great to get off the resort for awhile. The beach was great and on day 3 we walked down to the LCDH in plaza las americas. Overall the selection and service was acceptable but not astounding. The #1 thing I found there was a box of sir winnies which I immediately bought. I also purchased about 3lbs of coffee as they had a massive selection. Their singles selection was lackluster and the staff actually screwed me on the purchase (didn't feel like calling them out over $5) of about 7 singles. Our last night there we went to the Hotel Xanadu (An estate that the DuPont family had owned) and went up to the top floor. The entire top floor is windows and so the sunset was astounding. There was also live music although the drinks were more expensive (5$). On day 5 we got a very, very early cab to the viazul station where purchasing a ticket was very easy. Pictures below: Because of the length of my write-ups for Vinales and Havana, I've moved those sections to new posts.
  17. Just did a four day stint in Havana with some good friends. No debauchery, just some good, relaxing times. A Trinidad Topes EL 2016 outside our "hotel" which seemed to be a running joke with the other hotels. Not going to bother with this release myself. Hanging out at Club Habana after emptying the place out of Monsdales. Enjoying a mid 1970's Sir Winnie at 5 y 16 LCDH with an espresso. I like bringing these old classics to their birthplace to smoke. While at 5 y 16, Carlos Robaina handed me his cigar for the day to enjoy. Smoked it later that night at the Nacional. Simply brilliant! Probably the spiciest, full bodied Cuban I've had since the RACF. Some silliness in an old Chevy. Lot's of silly faces in this one. La China rolling at Partagas whilst singing to herself. Enjoying the Partagas VIP lounge all to ourselves. Love this building. So glad they finally finished the restoration work. The leg of lamb at La Terraza. It just doesn't get any better than this. FYI. The clay pot chicken at El Aljibe is worth the 45 minute wait (while you smoke of course) Enjoying a modern classic. El Capitolo facelift coming along. Looking better since my first trip in 2012.
  18. It’s about time I got some pictures of my last trip up here. Great time as usual, one of the best trips yet. I had an old Chicago friend, Sue, come down and join me for a week. One of my closest friends, I hadn’t seen her in ten years and it was great to catch up. My flight got delayed in Paris by just over three hours, for some reason they upgraded me to business, so I didn’t complain. I used some miles to get up to business on the way home too so all good! I got in the Wednesday before the festival, had to check in to two apartments, then straight to the Gato Tuerto. Refurbished but many of the old faces and still smoking allowed everywhere, which is good. The next morning, did a tour of the shops, got a few boxes of SLR Marquez and picked up my usual custom rolls, no shortage of those. Sue flew in that afternoon, then straight to the Habana Libre for more cigars/coffee, then the Nacional for a mojito. Dinner in La Guarida that night, great as always though very, very busy these days. I had made a reservation weeks before. The marlin tacos there are one of my favourite dishes in Havana. Closed the Gato again that night. Juana Bacallao was on, great stuff. Friday morning, over Finca Vigia, Hemingways house, Sue wanted to see it. Much, much busier than it was three years ago when I was last there. Probably 300 people wandering about the grounds. Last time, maybe 50. Worth a look though, interesting stuff. Lunch of Bruschetta and pizza in Nero Di Seppia. Great food, service and a lovely spot. That afternoon over to Conde de Villanueva to see Reinaldo and book the TV for Ireland v France in the rugby the following day. Reinaldo on vacation and the staff didn’t seem too interested in much of anything. The shop was empty. Shame to see that, the Friday before the festival. Some pictures and more to come. Decent rum deals in Dublin duty free Cigar prices in Charles de Gaulle Humidors for sale in the Partagas shop Sue with Hemingsways boat "Pilar" at his house, Finca Vigia The view from his writing desk. Inspirational. More to come.
  19. Havana 2017 I just recently returned from another trip to Havana, my first since 2015. Having been down to Havana multiple times in the past, it’s always interesting to reflect on any changes I’ve experienced in the city. Mental note: don’t do a 7 day cigar trip to Nicaragua and then roll right into a Cuba cigar trip. The positive takeaway is that I already had my ‘Cuban head’ on before I landed in Havana. In the past we’ve always flown through Varadero for a multitude of reasons. The problem with Varadero is that it’s filled with tourists and as a result everything becomes painfully slow. You can bank on taking an hour and a half to get through customs, retrieving your luggage, and the point at which your bus leaves to Havana. Then you get delays from all the various hotels they stop at on the way to Havana. This year some of us flew through Varadero and some of us flew through Havana, for me it was my first experience. Things have improved significantly in Varadero with our group arriving almost exactly on time factoring in the bus ride. They commented that their luggage beat them passing through customs. Impressive. The experience in Havana was similar. Customs went rapidly with a minimum of delay. Baggage came out almost immediately, and from tarmac to taxi it was approximately 35 minutes. Eliminating the almost 7 hours of bus travel from the trip makes the overall trip far less exhausting. CADECA experience In all the times I’ve travelled to Havana, we have always had multiple members of the group ‘taxed’ when changing money. That ‘tax’ either comes in the form of one of your Canadian bills mysteriously disappearing, or some of your CUC not being in the pile. This has lead to us being extremely clinical about changing money. After several money changes, both at the Havana airport and at hotels, I am happy to report that not a single member of our group was ‘taxed’ a single CUC. Prices are up & down, service a mixed bag Hotel pricing is at a level that surpasses premium hotels in Las Vegas. The rack rate at the Nacional is at $375 USD per night, and the Parque Central was $750 USD per night. Now Cuba being Cuba, it’s very possible that most of these rooms are being bundled for tour packages so they have no need to offer reasonable rates outside of those packages. Service at the hotels is at an all time low. The typical Cuba pace of things has reached flat out disinterest at some points. Problems that would typically be resolved by the end of the day drag on several days. People at the business centers are annoyed to even talk to you. Service at the restaurants is at an all time high. Food out 15 minutes after ordering? Mojitos replenished at the tables in less than 5? I’m not sure what is driving this but at times it’s a welcome change not to wait 55 minutes for your food, and 25 minutes for a new set of drinks. Scams are down. Are they gone? In past trips you could always bank on having at least one restaurant experience where extra appetizers or drinks inexplicably show up on your bill. You’d always have a handful of cabs overcharge you for rides. In 2015 my cab scam experience reached an all time high where you’d have to confirm the price being quoted applied to the total ride and not individual occupants. I’m very pleased to report that we did not run into a single restaurant bill issue, and we had several interactions where cab drivers undercut us on price, and refused to accept more. The Americans are here The flood gates have opened to Havana, but the number of American travelers has reduced somewhat. I can’t speak to whether that being a result of the luster of Havana now rubbing off, or prices skyrocketing, but gone are the massive crowds downtown and in various LCDHs. All the Americans we ran into were friendly, respectful, and engaged in great conversation. There were more than a few people who were trying out cigars for the first time, and the questions and interactions were entertaining. I’m confident the some elevators in Cuba are not rated for a group of Americans. I mean that in all sincerity, as many of the people who we ran into were easily 150 – 200% our size and weight. Construction Construction on the El Capitolio building has progressed nicely, with renovations and construction projects being present all over Havana. The speed at which some of these builds are progressing is much faster than the typical Cuban pace. It will be interesting to check in next year to see if it continues. Habanos quality Big ring gauge cigars are here to stay, and it’s clearly the direction Cuban cigars will be going towards in the future. From 65+ ring gauge custom rolls, to EL / LE product arriving at 58+ ring gauge, small ring gauge is out and big ring gauge is in. I am completely disappointed at this shift. I feel I can say that objectively Cuba has had the best small ring gauge and small vitola cigars in the world, for some time. Larger ring gauge product is going to be a tough market in places like Canada and Australia where a combination of taxes and experienced Cuban cigar smokers are going to drive many customers away. There does seem to be greater care and focus on the quality of cigar in terms of the construction and consistency of blends. We definitely sampled some Edicion Limitada cigars that clearly need more age, but regular production stock was smoking very well. Footnote There has been a lot of debate about whether to freeze cigars brought back from Cuba. I’ve known for some time that product not marked for export is not frozen or fumigated. A person who I know and trust implicitly tested a set of cigars rolled from the same tobacco leaf. One cigar was subjected to the freezing process, while the other was not. Both cigars were smoked blind to determine if there was any impact to construction, or flavor. Freezing had no detectable impact. I learned a new cigar party trick. We observed significant background police presence all throughout the city. You could not walk more than two blocks without spotting a uniformed officer. We also observed, with great entertainment, an encounter with two locals which resulted in police on scene in under 10 seconds. The entire exchange was handled in typical Cuban ‘manyana’ fashion. I was able to enjoy some truly exceptional cigars that I no doubt would have never had if I wasn’t on the trip.
  20. I spoke with Prez this morning and he agrees that it would be a great idea to have a gathering for any FoH members who will be in Havana for the Habanos Festival next month. The Habanos Festival is from Monday Feb 27 - Friday March 3. The event will be in the restaurant VIPHavana in Vedado from 4pm to 7pm on Wednesday March 1st. A fairly new restaurant, it's a really nice space and great tapas. Not stuffy at all, it'll be relaxing, fun, a few drinks and cigars, absolutely in the spirit of FoH. A time to share stories of our week so far.. Finishing at 7 pm as some members will be going on to the mid-week Festival event, in which case at least you'll have had some food before the "dinner". For those not going to the mid-week event, we'll be in the middle of Vedado so there'll be plenty to do afterwards. I am hoping to get final numbers before February 14th so I can give the restaurant some idea of how many we'll be. For anyone going to the festival, please PM me if you can come. Hope to see you there, it'll be a laugh! VIPHavana
  21. Just got this in the mail today. I've mentioned this magazine here a few times before but this issue is dedicated to Cuban cigars and tobacco. Interviews with Hector Luis Prieto and quite a few of the people working for him, including Miguel's son. I haven't read through all of it yet but looks like some good stuff. Plus, for the first time this year I see the venues posted for the Habanos Festival events. MONDAY, FEBRUARY 27 7:30pm Welcoming Evening dedicated to H. Upmann Sir Winston Gran Reserva Cosecha 2011. Cocktail at Club Habana. So a welcome box of 2 Sir Winston Gran Reserva Cosecha 2011 handed out that night. The opening night was in Club Habana 3 years ago. It's a nice venue for it, lots of space, and outside space. Food could have been a bit more organised, I had to share a fork with Simon Chase and his wife. Eat before you go, same goes for all the events. WEDNESDAY, MARCH 1 7:30pm Evening dedicated to the Quai D’Orsay brand . Venue: El Laguito Protocol Hall. Free Quai d'Orsays that night FRIDAY, MARCH 3 7:30pm Gala Evening dedicated to Montecristo and its new Línea 1935. Traditional Humidor Auction. Venue: PABEXPO The full list of festival events is on page 69 but lots of good stuff in this issue. As I've said before, for anyone going to Cuba I'd recommend downloading this as a pdf to their smart phone as an offline guide. It has always been handy for me for restaurant numbers and addresses. Link:
  22. Looks like paladares are a thorn on the side of the system .... Permits for new ones have been stopped and tighter regulations announced for existing ones. No more Paladares in Cuba ... too crazy an idea, but here are the news :
  23. Hello Chaps, A dear friend of mine is going to Havana later on this month and has offered to bring back some cigars.. Having been there myself, last year, I know how sometimes poor the selection is in the local tiendas. Has anyone been there recently and seen what is widely available in stock that is worth bringing back? Thanks in advance!
  24. Welcome to the future ...

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