There is something about smoking a cigar that lends itself to the romantic image attributed to the act. That image, of smoking a cigar while time slowly passes you by in the French Quarter, is a beautiful one. It helps explain why cigar shops had been a fabric in New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th century. It explains why cigar bars and stores are still sprinkled throughout the French Quarter.
Cigar bars in New Orleans were in the news earlier this year due to the smoking ban. The cigar shops ended up being left out of the smoking ban. I took a tour of some cigar stores and shops in the French Quarter, to see what each one has to offer.
La Habana Hemingway
533 Toulouse St.
When I arrived into La Habana Hemingway, I was greeted by owner Sergio Cabrera. He was enjoying a cigar with some members of the bar. We sat down at a table in the middle room with all the cigars to my left while we talked.
La Habana Hemingway has a setup, which includes a full bar (a rarity in cigar shops in the French Quarter). Cabrera touts his scotch collection, which he has an extensive collection of. He also has large television sets, and host parties for fight nights and soccer matches. Cabrera doesn't allow any other kind of smoke in the bar besides cigar smoke, keeping it purely a cigar bar.
La Habana Hemingway has its own cigar blend, the Jon Carlos NOLA, which is a "Nicaraguan blend, binder, filler and wrapper". It comes in three sizes: the Churchill, the Robusto and the Torpedo. The cigar comes in the Connecticut wrapper (shade), the Maduro wrapper, and Barbacoa (which is the Connecticut and the Cameroon wrapped around the cigar).
The shop has a grand room in the back called the Havana Grand Palace, which is used for private events. During these events, they often get food catering and a band (usually Cuban percussionist Hector Gallardo leading the band).
La Habana Hemingway also has a membership program. For $45 a month (or $500 up front for the year), you can become a member of La Habana Hemingway. This gets you your own personal locker (which contains a personal humidor), as well as allowing you to sit in the member's lounge and host meetings there. You can also buy a $1000 a year membership that gives you a $500 credit. This goes towards the bar ordering food for you and taking care of you if you so please. Cabrera thinks this is a great deal, since it allows you to sit back and enjoy a cigar, and if you get hungry or want something, they can include it in the service.
Mayan Import Company
320 Exchange Alley Pl.
The Mayan Import Company has the largest humidor in the French Quarter and carry a variety of cigars. According to Manager Robert Grand, they have over 700 kinds of cigars at one time. Grand takes pride in their collection of "Lancero" cigars, which are long and thin cigars. Tobacco Exchange also has their own in-store blend made for them.
Grand told me that they try to "have newer boutique blends". They also offer cigars that aren't allowed at some retailers, since they are strictly a brick and mortar store that doesn't ship cigars out of state. The Mayan Import Company has a quieter atmosphere in the store, for those looking to light up in a place with no televisions or noise from the hustle and bustle that other stores have that are on the main veins of the French Quarter. Most of their employees are certified in tobacco, giving them an extremely helpful and knowledgeable staff in order to make sure you walk out with a cigar you'll enjoy.
415 Decatur St., 925 Decatur St., 206 Bourbon St.
"If we're open, we're rolling," proprietor and Operations Manager Al Rushing told me with a big smile and a cigar in his hand. Rushing is extremely energetic and passionate about his cigars. Cigar Factory is the only licensed factory for cigars in the state of Louisiana. Here, you can walk in and watch as their cigar rollers work in public for you to see. The store has nine cigar rollers who roll every cigar in house.
Cigar Factory rolls Connecticut Shade, Connecticut BroadLeaf Maduro, Cameroon African Wrapper, and Brazilian and Nicaraguan blend leaves. The factory rolls everything from little puritos to double-wrapped cigars (with two different kinds of leaves in it), to flavored cigars (vanilla, cognac and Old New Orleans Rum flavored cigars). They pride themselves on making a lot of cigars every day, with something for everyone and nothing too expensive. Cigars can be as cheap as $3.50.
Cigar Factory also hosts a museum section near the back of the store, allowing cigar smokers to check out photos of old cigar stores and factories in New Orleans, and old cigar memorabilia. Rushing told me "[Cigar Factory is] bringing back tradition". You can find Cigar Factory at many festivals as well. (They were rolling cigars in front of the summer seasonal change event Havana Whites, in front of the International Hotel this past summer.) While there is no bar at Cigar Factory, you are allowed to bring drinks into the store, in order to have a libation while you smoke inside. As Rushing told me, one of the beautiful things about cigars is that "two gentlemen, who don't even know each other, can get together and talk about a single thing, while enjoying their cigar".
Crescent City Cigar
730 Orleans St.
Armando Ortiz is the owner of Crescent City Cigar. He is the oldest active cigar store in the French Quarter, having been open since 1998. It is exactly the kind of place where you would want to smoke a cigar in. When I walked in, Ortiz was sitting on the couch, smoking a La Palina cigar, and we enjoyed a nice conversation. After a short little talk, Ortiz led me to the humidor and picked out a couple of Teaser's from J Fuego.
Ortiz is the epitome of a cigar lover. We sat and shot the breeze for a few hours over a cigar and conversation. Ortiz has a couple of love seats in the front room, as well as a space in the back, allowing for different groups to enjoy the same atmosphere. Ortiz is a cigar aficionado, having been interviewed by numerous cigar publications. He personally places all the orders on cigars and has a house blend of his own. Ortiz is the epitome of a bar owner. If you buy a cigar, he is going to offer you to "sit with me" so you can enjoy a cigar with him. He loves cigars, it's not just his business, and can tell stories all day. On Saturdays and Sundays, the store is full of people with Ortiz poking in and out of conversations, making sure everyone is having a good time. Ortiz is the kind of owner that makes you feel like a regular from day one.