Robaina's plantation

Wednesday 26 February 2014

Wine In Cuba (CENTRO COMERCIAL PALCO ) Miramar, Havana

              When I travel to Havana I never stay at a Hotel, I always stay in a private home. I go out for meals sometimes but usually I take more of my meals at the house I stay in. I'm forever looking for the best places to buy food and wine. People often ask me, 'Can I find wine in Cuba', and the answer is yes. There are a few places where you can purchase wine in Havana, some better than others. The countries of origin are somewhat limited; Chile, Argentina, Spain, France, Italy (mostly Spanish)... but that's not too bad. What's important is variety and proper storage. I have found through my many years of travel in Havana that the best stocked stores are in the Miramar district where you'll find most of the Embassies and many foreigners. Although I see a few Cubans shopping in these stores (more and more lately), they are mostly for foreigners. Here you will find many high priced items that are beyond reach for the average Cuban. As far as wine goes, you can find a few places in the city that carry wine but the best shops for variety (and proper storage) and quantity can be found in Miramar or a little further. In my opinion, the best of the best is at the Centro Comercial Palco at the far end of Miramar in the Reparto Flores section of the city. This is a Supermarket that offers all kinds of food stuff but as far as I'm concerned it offers the best selection of wine. There's also a section containing a decent variety of liquor as well. I had to fight to take these pictures....I don't know what's up with that. After a little talking however, I was able to take the pictures I've posted below. I hope this convinces some people that Cuba isn't as barbaric as one would think, they do have wine, you just have to know where to go. Check out the prices (hope they're visible on the post), some things are ridiculous but some stuff is priced cheaper than where I come from but all the wines are quite reasonable in comparison to Canada with all it's taxes. I forgot to take a picture of the front of the supermarket but the link below not only has a picture of the outside of the supermarket, it also has a list and description of a few more places around the city. I've yet to find a taxi driver that doesn't know where this place is. However, be prepared, it's way on the other side of Miramar. If you're staying in Old Havana, the price of a taxi there and back will be at least 20cuc.

Centro Comercial Palco
5ta Ave y Calle 188
Miramar, Rpto. Flores

Tuesday 25 February 2014

5ta Y 16 LCDH & Carlos Robaina Interview (Havana)

               I've loved this place from the first time I stepped foot in it a long time ago and like it even more now that my old friend Carlos Robaina is there overseeing the goings-on. Carlos is the PR man in the shop and restaurant and is always ready with a handshake and a bear hug. I met Carlos many years ago on my first visit to the Robaina farm, he too was visiting that day having renounced farm life for the city many years before that. This was when his father Alejandro was still alive, Carlos was visiting, like me.We hit if off right from the beginning and have been friends ever since.
               He's only been at the 5ta for a few years but in my opinion is a welcomed addition. I almost always drop by when I'm in town, I say almost because when I go by I have to make it for a few hours and take in the whole experience. The whole experience includes a meal in the back room and of course a sit-down with Carlos to catch up on whats been going on in the lives of my Cuban friends. If  I can't go by for at least a couple of hours, I usually don't go by at all. It hurts to stay for just a few minutes. After my meal I like to sit down with Carlos for an hour or so and smoke one of the fine cigars rolled by the expert (and lovely) house roller Maria while I sip a couple of Santiago de Cuba Rums. This time I decided to ask a few specific questions and jot some things down. It was time I did some kind of interview with the famous Carlos Robaina who just happened to be a friend as well.
                Carlos was born in San Luis, Pinar del Rio on April 22, 1951. He went to school on the farm until his seventh grade where he then went to school not far from the farm in the town of San Luis. Of course during this time he also had chores to do on the farm such as feeding the pigs....even after he went to school in San Luis. It wasn't until he was 18 years of age that he left the farm to go to school in Havana. In 1976 he even went to study metals in Japan. He eventually married and besides Hiroshi had a daughter as well who died in 1997. Hiroshi would later name one of his daughters after his sister that passed away, something that both pleased Carlos and brought back some deep felt emotions. When he finished school in 1975 he went to work in a factory in Havana for 20 years.

Q. What would you say is the most beautiful place in Cuba Carlos?
A. The Robaina farm.

Q. Other than the cigar's from your family's farm and the Robaina Factory Rolls, what are some of your favourite cigars?
A. I like some cigars from Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic as well as the Cohiba Behike 52 & Siglo VI and Trinidad Robusto Extra.

Q. Who is the most famous person who's shopped in the store since you've been here?
A. The tallest person in the world....a Turkish guy.

Q. If you could smoke a cigar with 3 people dead or alive, who would they be?
A. Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and my father.

Q. How often do you visit the family farm?
A. At least once every 2 weeks. The friends I have out there are real.

Q. How many cigars do you smoke a day?
A. I smoke about 2 cigars per day but I smoke cigarettes as well.

            It seemed to me that after all the years that have passed, the dying of his father, the farm going to his son and everything inbetween....father and son have a good relationship. I have found Carlos on the farm on several occasions and have always seen him in a good mood. While I was visiting him at 5ta and specifically while interviewing him, he was texting with his son Hiroshi at the farm. I can't tell you the words exactly but I can tell you I saw a lot of love there. It seems to me that Carlos has no regrets about the choices he's made in his life and is quite happy being exactly where he is. I for one am happy he's right here almost within walking distance from where I always stay. It's nice to know that when I want to spend some time with an old friend, he's not too far away.
           As far as the restaurant goes....I didn't do a full review but can tell you everything is very reasonably priced. The menu isn't extensive but I'm always able to find something to eat. The food isn't spectacular but depending on what you order, you can't go wrong, as I said, it's very reasonable. The service is pretty good too, they use this as a training ground for would-be waiters and waitresses so they try very hard. However, they're always trying to upsell you, part of their training I suppose. All in all, I enjoy my time here quite a bit and recommend you go by and visit as well. Famous people in Cuba are very accessible and Carlos is no exception, so go by and say hello.
              As far as cigars go, as I mentioned, Maria is the house roller and does an excellent job. The humidor is well stocked nowadays and there's always way too many cigars, that is to say I'm always past my limit by the time I get here. There's plenty of seating area scattered around the shop and if that's not enough they have a private VIP area as well. Let's not forget that you can smoke in the restaurant as well and if that's not enough, upstairs in the restaurant they have private dining rooms if you have a large group.

5ta Y 16 LCDH & Restaurant
5ta Avenida y Calle 16
Miramar, Playa, Havana
tel. (7) 204-7973

Main Shop Entrance

Main Restaurant Entrance

Bust of Alejandro Robaina


Private Dining Rooms Upstairs

Filet of Sole with and without Cheese and Shrimp

Lunch for 2 with 3 drinks and a pack of Cigarettes

Main Smoking Area

Carlos and I

Smoking Lounge Bar

Private VIP Room


Maria the House Roller


Carlos Wrapping up a Purchase

Sunday 23 February 2014

Hotel Comodoro (Cigar Shop) Havana. Has a New House Roller.

                 It's been almost a year since the famous Crisantos, the former house roller for the Hotel Comodoro Cigar Shop, retired and left a vacant spot at the store. They finally replaced him with someone quite a few years younger, Alejandro. It was unfortunate I was always in a hurry when I passed by the shop on my last trip this past January. I wasn't able to speak with Alejandro at length when I saw him, let alone interview him. I will make sure to do that on my next trip in May. He gifted me a couple of his Coronas (after a large purchase) and I smoked one while I was in Havana. It was too fresh and wet, I wasn't able to enjoy it. It wouldn't be fare to access him based on that experience. Below are a few pictures of Alejandro and the shop taken this past month. I'm sure my friend Massimo from Italy will post his opinion and maybe an interview when he gets back from Havana this month. If any of my readers have been there and tried Alejandro's cigars, by all means, post a comment. Thanks

Address: Calle 3ra y 84, Miramar, Playa, Havana