Robaina's plantation

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Club Havana LCDH (La Casa del Habano) Miramar, Havana

                 I've come to this La Casa del Habano more than several times during my many visits to Havana. It's one of, if not the best stocked Cigar Shop in the city. It seems that the famous 'Enrique Mons', ex-boss of quality control for the Cuban Cigar Industry years ago, has a lot of influence when it comes to stocking the humidor at this LCDH. You never know what goodies you'll find on the shelves or tucked away in some corner of this well stocked Humidor. Enrique later entered the retail end of the business and is thought to be the most knowledgeable person on the topic of cigars in Cuba. He managed this store for awhile but recently stepped down from that position. He was still there most days if he wasn't travelling somewhere but by this time he may no longer be. Rumour had it that Enrique was retiring from the store. Mons had always chosen the blends and vitolas of the cigars rolled by house roller Jorge. They even renamed the Lonsdale he rolls, the 'Monsdale'. Every good Aficionado knows the Monsdale. It will be interesting to see what happens when he's gone....who's going to choose the cigars to roll. I'll be there in a few days and hope to interview Jorge while I visit the store.
                  The shop is located at the old Biltmore Yacht & Country Club which today is known as 'Club Havana'. To enter the grounds you will have to pass a security check. Just tell them you're going to the Cigar Shop and they'll let you pass. You can see the store on the left side of the complex from the gate. When you enter the shop you have the counter directly in front of you with the impressive walk-in humidor to the right and the roller's table down in the end. To your left is the door to the entrance of the Smoking Lounge. The Lounge is fairly large for the amount of chairs it has. Tall ceiling with lots of natural light, a little different than the norm. The room contains two groups of big, comfy leather chairs and seats 4 per group. Besides a few stools at the bar, that's it for chairs in a rather large space. The bar is stocked with an assortment of liquor and beer. The day we were there Enrique Mons was celebrating his 70th birthday and witnessed Jorge presenting Mons with a replica Antique Cigar Jar filled with cigars he had rolled specially for him for this occasion. The Jars are made by a friend of mine in Havana, Ramon Iglesias Centeno for a reasonable price but not filled with smokes.

Club Havana
5th Ave. e/188 y 192
Miramar, Playa, Havana
tel (53 7) 204-5700

The Lounge

Jorge (house roller) presenting Mons with a Birthday Gift


Roller's Table

Walk-in Humidor

Thursday, 18 April 2013

El Laguito Cigar Factory (Havana) A Return Visit

                It's been a few years since my last visit to El Laguito and I have to thank a Canadian friend who allowed me to tag along with a larger group that was visiting that day. The group was being led by my new friends Nino Munoz at and Rob Ayala at, both great sites. Thanks guys. The factory is actually a large mansion located in the Municipality of Playa surrounded by other large mansions which are now Embassies and Protocol houses owned and managed by the Cuban Government. The house is on a wide boulevard with a driveway leading up to the main building. It sits on a fair sized, immaculately manicured piece of property. They were mowing the lawn with some homemade contraption while we were walking to one of the buildings. It used to be the house of British Industrialist Casimiro Fowler Jimenez, a sugar trader but was abandoned when the new government took over in 1959. In 1961 the house began to be used as a school for rollers.
                 The Cohiba Brand was created in 1966 with a little help from Fidel, it was the first cigar brand to be created after the revolution. 'El Laguito' became a factory in 1967 and was to take on the task of being the only one to roll the new Cohiba Brand and nothing else. It would be that way for years and still to this day they only roll Cohibas here at Laguito. At that time the workforce at Laguito was 100% female. It was it's founder, Celia Sanchez Manduley's (Fidel Castro's Secretary to the Presidency of the Council of Ministers & Major Participant of the Revolution) idea to add women to the social activities of the Cuban People in order to release them from the stereotypical role women had up to that point. Although Cohiba's creator Eduardo Rivera and later the famous Avelino Lara, both men, were the first 2 directors of the factory, Emilia Tamayo took over the position in 1995. She would be the first and only female factory director at that time and there wouldn't be another for 10 years. By then Emilia had been working in administration for 20 of the 30 years of Laguito's existence. It wasn't until the early 90's that men were added to the workforce for equality reasons.
                  Originally Cohibas were rolled only for diplomats, visiting dignitaries or heads of state but in 1982 the Cohiba was launched as a new brand and sold to the general public. Cohiba Cigars are the most expensive to buy but with good reason, the tobacco used to make these cigars is picked from the finest tobacco leaves selected from the best Vegas in the San Juan y Martinez & San Luis growing areas in the Vuelta Abajo Region in Pinar del Rio. They put the Cohiba's filler leaves through a third fermentation in barrels (the only brand that does this, other brands do only 2) which gives the blend a smoothness unlike the others. Today, Celia's picture hangs in the entrance to the main building, it's almost as if she's overseeing the goings-on of the factory from beyond the grave. Celia Sanchez died in 1980 of lung cancer but her legacy lives on. The factory is no longer staffed with 100% female workers but they do outnumber the men. It's a very prestigious place to work at and jobs are handed down to family members of current workers. Unless you have a family member working there, it would be next to impossible to get a job at 'El Laguito'.
                  The allure of this factory hasn't faded through the years, I was still very excited to be here. We were led by a charming lady named Berta, an expert roller who now works in quality control. She guided us through the entire process of the making of a Cohiba cigar at Laguito, from start to finish. It's a beautiful set-up with the various rooms of the house being converted to different departments of a factory. By normal standards this is a small factory. The couple of hundred workers can't possibly keep-up with the demand for Cohibas. Over the last few years most of the other factories around the country have been rolling Cohibas to help meet that demand. I did notice an awful lot of Behikes being rolled on the day of my tour. What does this mean?? The demand for Cohibas or the best Cohibas has not diminished through the years, if anything it's increased with the new emerging markets.
                  It was a great score to have been able to take this tour and show all of you what an amazing place it is. It really is the mecca of cigar factories. Unfortunately it's closed to the public and not an easy access place. Hopefully I'll get to go back but for now I hope you enjoy the pictures and video clips.

Copy and Paste the links below if you want to check out a couple of video clips taken inside the factory.

Celia Sanchez

Homemade Lawnmower

 Adding moisture to the tobacco before processing

The Lector's table

Our tour group

Our terrific guide Berta

Nino Munoz and Rob Ayala

Monday, 15 April 2013

Carlos Javier Abreu (Artist - Pinar del Rio) New Exhibit

                 I met this young artist in his home town of San Luis in the Pinar del Rio Region last November. I wandered into a town hall that was showing some of his works. He wrote me recently to let me know he has another show coming up. He sent me pictures of some of the pieces he'll be showing as well as some that date back to 2008. The new exhibit is called "Angeles del Silencio" (Angels of Silence).

The Artist Carlos Javier Abreu. All the pictures above are from his latest exhibit called "Angels of Silence"

All Pictures below are from earlier works