Setting out on a mission to smoke my way through Miami, I quickly realized that South Florida is a tobacco puffer’s paradise. In nearly every decent cigar shop and factory discovered throughout the journey, there were the essential brand names such as Rocky Patels, Cohibas, Montecristos, and unknown treasures. There was also a great deal of wooden Indians sporting scowls and elaborate head dresses.
But the shops that made the list below brought something special to the table, whether it was authenticity, taste, originality, warm customer service or convenience. So, grab your lighter and put on your sophisticated disposition; it’s time for a smoke.
Puffing on Calle Ocho
Surprise, surpise. You can find incredible, Miami-rolled cigars off Calle Ocho, a street where men in Guayaberas and panama hats puff away while chatting in the blistering, afternoon sun.
El Titan de Bronze: the quaintest mom-and-pop shop I found on my tobacco journey, exudes an atmosphere of authenticity unmatched. On the counter sits a cigar-filled jar reading, “Smuggled Cuban cigars; stolen from Castro’s private stash.” Those stogies sell for only a buck.
But the real treasure in this shop is watching the artwork unfold. Skilled cigar rollers (all of whom hail from Cuba) tube tobacco leaves, slice the wrappers, and roll the cigars with a few pinches of vegetable-based adhesive. Co-owner Sandy Cobas says that each roller makes about 100 to 125 cigars everyday, and they stick to making only one kind of cigar. For example, Ernesto Pérez, 29, only makes Churchill cigars to master the art form perfectly.
“In Cuba, they make them the same way,” Cobas said. Her father, Carlos Cobas, opened the Little Havana factory in 1995. She recognizes that the cigar business is stereotypically regarded as a man’s domain. This is, however, the smoky world she grew up in, and the culture she loves. Stacks of cedar cigar holders line the floor of the store. The cedar maintains the cigars’ rich, nutty flavors. “Like oak is to wine, cedar is to cigars,” she explains.
The factory makes four different cigars: Titan de Bronze Gold, Titan Grand Reserve Maduro, Titan Grand Reserve Cameroon, and the Titan Redemption Sun Grown Habano. The tobacco is shipped in from various countries like the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Brazil. Individual cigars are very reasonable – only about $4 to $7, and come in boxes of 20 or 25. The enclosed humidifiers keep the tobacco fresh at about 70 degrees. The shop sells small, personal humidors ranging from $39.99 to $115.99.
The factory gets a lot of tourists customers and ships a lot of boxes to out-of-state aficionados. A group of young Belgium tourists snaps photos and admires the lived-in charm of the shop. “Hey, look at me,” one of the young men holding a cigar shouts to his friends. “I’m Tony Montana. Don’t F--- with me!”
My Little Havana journey continues. A man in blue jeans chops mangoes in the back of his pick-up truck, parked on the street outside Padilla Cigar Factory. I cross the street at 8th and SW. 15th St., where I can hear the rattling of dominoes from Maximo Gomez Park. I make my way into the factory, where Senior Customer Service Rep. Vincent Duran is showing a group of Asian tourists their collection of Padilla Miami cigars. Most of their customers are tourists, but “once the locals know about us, that will change,” Duran says.
Ernesto Padilla, the owner of the factory, opened his shop about a year ago, but has been making the Padilla Miami for about six years. His father, Heberto Padilla, was a famous Cuban poet who criticized the Castro regime and was subsequently imprisoned for it. A large photograph of Heberto Padilla walking with Ernest Hemingway hangs on the wall of the factory. Large leather chairs and a terrazzo floor give the lounge area a 1950s-Cuban style.
The factory has four rows of cigar rolling stations but they have yet to be used. Duran says they hope to start rolling the cigars soon. Now, they’re rolled in Nicaragua and assembled in Honduras, he said. Why Nicaragua?
“It’s probably the best tobacco world-wide,” Duran said. “Its resistant to mold, which makes the cigars taste harsh.”
Duran says the shop boasts seven blends: the Miami; the full-bodied Padilla Signature 1932 Churchill; the milder 1948; the mild-to-medium 1968; the medium Habanos; the full-bodied Dominus; and the Cazadores, with the Habano-Ecuadorian wrapper. The shop is ordering them all, but the Padilla Miami is available in the shop and received a 94 rating in the April issue of Cigar Aficionado.
I headed east on Calle Ocho, past the frantic, salsa rhythms sounding from stereos and a snow cone kiosk, where a little girl awaited her treat. I find a sign that proudly reads, “The Best Cigars in Town.” The place is called Calle 8 Cigars – a small, modest shop.
After a sweaty stroll through Miami mid-day, walking into this shop’s unusually cool humidor room is heaven. It’s even better upon discovering the room is choc full of well-known brands, such as Cohiba and Montecristo, for decent prices. Rocky Patel cigars sell for $7.50 each, and other popular Miami brands like La Gloria Cubana go for $6.40 a pop. A large statue of an Indian stands proudly in the corner.
Employee Marylin Aranda showed me around the shop, over to the small, flavored stogies she prefers, such as the Tatiana brand that sell for about a buck a cigar and the Café Crème – a box of five for $2.50.
El Titan de Bronze, 1071 S.W. 8th Street, Miami, FL 33130, (305) 860-1412, open 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. from Mon.-Fri. and 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. on Sat.; Padilla Cigar Factory, 1501 SW 8th St Miami, FL 33135, (305) 362-8773; Calle 8 Cigars, 1221 SW 8th St., Miami, FL 33135, (305) 285-1244.
Sabor Havana Cigars
With locations in Kendall, Doral, Palm Beach Gardens and Coral Gables, Sabor Havana has established a strong presence in South Florida. In the Coral Gables location, the bustling daytime crowd of Ponce De Leon Boulevard eats lunch among the swirling cigar smoke in the shop’s lounge area, and in the evening, a loud game of dominoes ensues at the corner table.
According to store manager Richard Lerga, the Gables shop offers more than 100 different kinds of high-class smokes, from the popular Arturo Fuente ($125 to $150 for a box of 24) to the Padron 1964 Anniversary Series ($150 to $400 for a box of 24). Fonseca Cubano Limitado Cabinet Selection cigars were awarded “Best of the Best” by Robb Report magazine in 2007. They sell for $7.50 each. The shop also carries the Casa Magna Colorado Robusto – awarded the 2008 cigar of the year by Cigar Aficionado magazine.
Lerga says the Doral location brings in the most business – the majority of customers there being Venezuelans. In the Gables, “It’s a little bit of everything: bankers, lawyers, businessmen.”
Sabor Havana has its own brand of cigars rolled in Miami, but most the cigars in stock are shipped in from the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua.
2309 Ponce De Leon Blvd, Coral Gables, FL, 33134; (305) 444-1764; open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Mon. – Thurs., 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Saturdays and closed Sundays. For info on various locations visit www. saborhavanacigars.com
Smoke at Deco Drive
Deco Drive Cigars boasts a respectable walk-in humidor and lounge bar. The shop and factory has four locations, three of which are on the Beach and one in is Weston. The Lincoln Road spot has an impressive collection of Davidoff cigars that line the shelves of its long, narrow humidor. Arturo Fuente Hemingway series sell for $15.95 a pop, and customers can smoke their cigars while enjoying a cocktail or a bite at one of two inside bars, or the outdoor lounge area on Lincoln Road. A Cuban woman sits at the door, methodically rolling cigars where rap music blares from nearby speakers. She’s one of three rollers the shop employs.
The Italian paninis, caprese salads, and the tiramisu are three of the most popular items on the café’s dining menu. For drinks, the “420” – a signature martini mixing GreyGoose vodka, Red Bull, with a splash of triple sec and cranberry juice – is the way to go. The fully-stocked bar also offers varied wine, champagne, beer, and hookahs with 16 flavors.
Owner Joe Bevilacqua is also the Partner and VP of Logistics and Distribution for Bogey Blunts – a line of cigars endorsed by rapper Lil’ Wayne. The smokes can in original, vanilla, and grape flavors and boasts a “patented twist off leaf,” according to its website, making it easier for smokers to unravel the cigar for reasons entirely unknown.
Deco Drive Cigars, 414 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach; (305) 531-8388; open 10 a.m. – 12 Mon. – Thurs., 10 a.m.-2:30 a.m., Fri.-Sat., and 11 a.m.-12 a.m. on Sun. Visit www.decodrivecigars.com for information on all locations.
Cocowalk and the Village
It’s Saturday night, and I walk towards the easy sound of a saxophone in Coconut Grove’s Cocowalk. I see the neon signs of Coco Cigars and ask Nathan Williams, a chatty 22-year-old employee, about the most popular smokes. He rattles off Romeo y Julieta. Arturo Fuente, and Padron 1964 Anniversary. The Grove is loud, with Commodore Plaza blocked off and a live band playing for the partying crowds.
“Out here,” Williams says of the funky neighborhood, “we’re just trying to keep the Grove alive.”
The shop displays quality cigar cutters, humidors and colorful pipes and hookahs. The shop sells a lot of cigarettes to the local bar hoppers and, according to Williams, the most popular non-tobacco items are the cutters. The Romeo y Julieta Museums are aged 10 to 15 years and sell for an economically friendly price of $40 per smoke – down from the usual $70 a cigar. Williams mentions that an owner of a Coco Cigars is also an owner of The Village Humidor in Mary Brickell Village (my next destination).
This shop is similar to Coco Cigars, but includes a nice lounge area, complete with a huge television and plush, red couches. Customer Kyle McGraw, 26, buys a couple of cigars, pops open a bottle of wine he brought to the store, and lights up. “I love it here,” he says among his smoke swirls. “I love the service.”
The shop gets a lot of the area’s professional crowd who come to watch the football game, equipped with wine and cheese. “If they know Brickell, they come here,” says employee Alejandra Hernandez. Every Tuesday night is Hookah Night, where customers can buy or rent a hookah and smoke any of the fruity tobacco flavors offered.
Coco Cigars, 3015 Grand Ave., suite 208, Miami, FL, 33133, open from 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. from Mon. to Thurs. and 11 a.m. to midnight Fri. and Sat.; The Village Humidor 909 South Miami Ave., suite 174, (305) 377-0557.