Archive by Author

Commentary: Some of the Country’s Top Cigar Bars

11 Jun 2012

Smoke-filled rooms are a thing of the past. With advanced air-filtration systems, comfortable elbowroom, and high definition televisions on every wall, today’s cigar bars have become havens for aficionados to come together and enjoy their pastime in a friendly, upscale environment. A good cigar bar resembles the world’s greatest playroom: free WiFi, Nintendo Wii, pool tables, live music, quality food and drink, a friendly and knowledgeable staff, a full calendar of events, and, of course, a walk-in humidor with a bountiful selection.

It’s a world of great company. A specialized club with unspoken rules. A place where one can sit in peace with a cigar to watch the local sports game, enjoy a good read, or catch up with a friend. For some folks, cigar bars have become a regular hangout. Here are some of the best in the country:

Velvet Cigar Lounge, New York City

You can bring your own beverage to this classic club in Manhattan’s East Side Village. Its brick walls and warm environment provide city slickers with a perfect place to relax. And there’s more. This lounge sells their own private boutique brand of cigars in their store, and those cigars get pretty good reviews. (80 E. Seventh St.; 212-533-5582; velvetcigars.com)

Burn by Rocky Patel, Naples

This exotic Asian/Mediterranean/Caribbean influenced lounge is owned by Rocky Patel and features his complete line plus a selection of pre-embargo Cuban cigars. A vintage H. Upmann goes for $200 per stick or the big spenders can pick up a box of old Montecristos for $12,500. (9110 Strada Pl; 239 653-9013; burnbyrockypatel.com)

Grand Havana Room, Beverly Hills

It’s members only at this private club, a home to many of Hollywood’s elite. The centerpiece is a glassed-in humidor with 350 private lockers, each fixed with a brass nameplate etched with their owner’s name. With a private elevator and a calendar filled with special events, this secret cigar lair is one of the nation’s most high-end cigar clubs. (301 N. Canon Dr.; 310-385-7700; grandhavana.com)

Shelly’s Back Room, Washington, D.C.

You might run into one of our beloved leaders at the most popular cigar spot in the nation’s capital. Shelly’s has a full bar and a menu with everything from wings to bacon-wrapped shrimp. This casual yet elegant cigar lounge features eight large screen televisions and a special selection of rare cigars, including 10 of Cigar Aficionado’s Top 25. (1331 F St. NW; 202-737-3003; shellysbackroom.com)

-Mark M

photo credit: Various

Book Review: The Immigrant World of Ybor City (Florida Sand Dollar Books)

4 Apr 2012

Gary Mormino and George Pozetta bring us The Immigrant World of Ybor City, one of the best books on Tampa history. And in reading about Tampa, once the cigar-rolling capital of the world, we’re served a little-known slice of cigar history too. Starting with the history of Tampa’s Ybor City, home to more than 250 cigar factories during its peak, the authors take us through a turbulent century of labor disputes, the arrival of Italian, Cuban, and Spanish immigrants, and the rise of one of the world’s great cigar towns.

This excellent read is made for consumers of American history. Highlighting the Spanish-American War and the arrival of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in Tampa, through the city’s immigrant culture we glimpse into a world of American nostalgia and understand why so many who arrived from foreign shores decided to stay. Cigar makers were paid well, and their families had access to libraries, theaters, baseball fields, and affordable healthcare. It was the American dream at its finest. And Mormino and Pozetta have captured it all. From the evolution of Tampa as an urban center to the economic adjustments of the Great Depression. From the establishment of an immigrant culture in to World War Two and beyond.

This book was extensively researched and includes dozens of photographs from the early era of cigar making, from a cigar worker’s neighborhood roots in Italy, to the factory floors of the 1910s. See immigrant women stripping stems from stacks and stacks of tobacco and watch skilled tobacco-selectors grade and pair aged tobacco leaves. Look into the Cuesta Rey factory in 1924 and watch an animated lector shout from an opened newspaper while hundreds of cigar workers listen quietly and roll their product.

What struck me, apart from the vividly detailed history, was the sense of closeness the authors provided. Though many of the anecdotes are from long before the writers were born, they address the day to day activities of the average cigar maker with the familiarity of a man just home from a day at the factory. Their depictions of the local culture—the street-corner orators, the dinging trolley cars, the street vendors—with an intimacy that makes you feel you are watching some tropical Cuban version of The Godfather Part II.

A window into another time, a time when Tampa was the cigar capital of the world. The Immigrant World of Ybor City makes great summer reading for the curious cigar historian.

-Mark M

photo credit: Amazon

Commentary: A Cigar-Chomping Skipper

7 Mar 2012

“Wait until you see the painting of Tom Kelly!” declares the tour guide with a proud smile. We walk down the suite-level corridor at Target Field, home of the Minnesota Twins, and suddenly find ourselves staring at a giant painting of former Twins manager Tom Kelly chomping on a cigar. “This is his official portrait,” says the guide.

Kelly is having his number retired this year. After leading the team to two World Series titles and then sticking around to work in the Twins front office and occasionally moonlight as the color commentator on Twins TV broadcasts, it’s fitting that the franchise would retire #10. After all, he’s exalted in Minnesota baseball, the most successful manager in Twins history, and the only one to lead the Twinkies to a World Series title, which he did not once but twice.

So if one were to visit the suite level of Target Field, you’d see a wall covered with paintings of all the Twins managers. It’s sort of like a baseball hall of presidents, where a portrait of each skipper hangs in chronological order and stretches the length of a hallway. Painted by Max Mason, who used photos selected by Twins management, each painting depicts a Twins manager either in action, or posing for the shot. But none of them—and I mean none of them—stand out like the painting of Tom Kelly. The image of this cigar-chomping, prescription sunglass-clad skipper is already a classic.

“He was a big cigar guy,” says Joe Pohlad, marketing specialist for the Minnesota Twins. Kelly no longer smokes, but back in the day he used to stomp around the field with a cigar dangling from his lips and could sometimes be seen puffing on a stogie during batting practice. “We have some great photographs of TK,” says Pohlad. “This was a very iconic picture, where he has very stern look on his face. Ready to get it done.”

But it’s the cigar that makes this painting great. The Target Field tour guide says Tom Kelly himself chose the photo that would become the iconic painting. When pressed for the story, Pohlad confirmed that Tom Kelly did choose the image, and to the delight of the Twins front office. Says Pohlad: “If he didn’t pick it, we definitely would have picked it.”

Max Mason, the artist, is happy with how the painting turned out. Commissioned to paint portraits of all 13 Twins managers, Mason just completed a panoramic painting of Target Field that the Twins also purchased. View more of his fantastic work at his website.

-Mark M

photo credit: Max Mason

Excerpt from Chapter 16 of The Cigar Maker

20 Feb 2012

[Editor’s Note: The Cigar Maker is the story of a Cuban cigar maker who battles labor strife and vigilante violence in 1900’s Tampa. It recently won the Bronze Medal at the Independent Publisher Book Awards and has been named a Finalist in ForeWord Magazine’s 2010 Book of the Year Awards. Click here to learn more.]

“Boxing? I should sell you to the circus!” Olympia stood on the porch with her fists on her hips and glared at the boys below. Lázaro’s crooked nose was smeared with blood and Javier wavered in a drunken daze with blotches of red coloring his shirt and tie. “Get inside, the both of you, before I knock your teeth out!” Lázaro climbed the steps and as he passed his mother and entered the house, Olympia slapped his backside. Javier tried to follow but Olympia stood in his way. “And why didn’t you stop him?”

His jacket was folded over his arm and his hat was in his hand; his eyes sagged, tired and drunk from a long night on the town. Javier shrugged. “I’m not his father. He can do what he wants.”

“Be careful what you say or I’ll throw you out of this house!” They went inside where Lázaro sat on the couch in the parlor. Josefina was sitting on the floor reading a book, which she set aside when her brothers walked in. Javier joined Lázaro on the couch and Olympia stood before them with her fists still locked against her hips. She said to Lázaro, “If you spill blood on that couch, you will pay for a new one.”

“Fine,” Lázaro said and dabbed his nose with Javier’s bloody handkerchief. His eyes were closed, his head hurt, and he wished she would leave him alone so he could rest.

Josefina rose. “I’ll get ice and a fresh towel.” She crossed the parlor and disappeared down the hallway, passing Salvador as he entered the room. “Bring a dirty dishrag instead!” Olympia called to Josefina. “I don’t want to ruin another good towel with this one’s blood!”

Salvador came into the parlor with his shirt off wearing only his pants and a belt, almost ready for bed. He saw Lázaro on the couch a mess of bruises and Javier beside him with a bloody shirt. Javier’s normally perfect hair was disheveled and both boys looked guilty as thieves. “Now what is all this about?” He stood next to Olympia and glared sternly at the two boys.

“He entered a contest,” Javier began.

Olympia interrupted. “Let him say it.”

All eyes went to Lázaro, who sighed and looked to the floor. Finally he said, “I’m not going to sit at a factory workbench all day.”

Salvador and Olympia shared a glance; they had expected this moment. Inside of her anger, Olympia found that she understood, but she tried not to let it show by crossing her arms and tapping a foot. “You entered a contest?”

He nodded. “It was a great fight,” Javier said merrily. “All the men were cheering.”

“Javier!” Olympia pointed at her oldest son, “If you don’t shut your mouth, I’m going to break your nose!”

“What’s wrong with boxing?” Javier asked innocently. “He’s good at it, and if he keeps practicing, he can make money for the family.”

Olympia asked Lázaro, “How much money did you make tonight?”

He shook his head. “None.”

“Why not?”

“Because I didn’t win.”

Javier said, “I made ten dollars.”

“You bet against him?” Olympia asked. Javier shrugged his shoulders and nodded. Olympia held out her hand. “Give me half.” Javier was surprised. “I spent it already.”

“You already spent ten dollars?” Olympia said doubtfully as she took a step closer. She didn’t believe he already spent ten dollars and made sure her face showed him how angry she would be if he had.

He shrugged. “Most of it.”

“So you’ve just lied to your mother? Give me what’s left.” She waited with her hand extended as Javier reached into his pocket and handed her a couple of crumpled bills and some change. “Two dollars? You good for nothing fool,” she folded the money into her palm.

Josefina returned from the kitchen with a fresh towel and a handful of ice, which she handed to Lázaro. Olympia said to Javier, “Your father and I want to talk to Lázaro.”

Javier and Josefina dismissed themselves and went into the boys’ bedroom where they sat with E.J. and listened. The walls were so thin it was impossible to avoid hearing everything that was said. Salvador moved to the couch and sat beside Lázaro while Olympia remained standing, her hands back on her hips. Salvador said, “Let me look at your nose.”

Lázaro sat back, allowing his father to inspect his face. Black bags would form under his eyes, his nose and mouth were caked with dried blood, and his nose was smashed, but the bleeding had stopped. “Your nose is broken again but it doesn’t look too bad. Do you still have all of your teeth?” Lázaro clenched his teeth and opened his lips to show his father that he did.

Olympia shook her head. “You’re going to come home dead one of these days, little raccoon.”

Salvador said, “Lázaro, fighting and scuffling with your brothers is one thing but boxing is no way to make a living. You don’t make real money unless you turn pro and you don’t turn pro unless you fight constantly. In the meantime you’ll break your nose, your ribs, your hands, and your neck.”

Olympia added, “And when you’re hungry with broken hands you won’t be able to work any other jobs and you won’t be able to eat.”

“Boxing is a life for men with no other skills,” Salvador said.

“Boxing is a skill,” Lázaro insisted as he held a handful of ice to his nose.

“But it is not work. How are you going to feed yourself?”

“I won’t go hungry,” Lázaro said. “There is a man visiting town who trains professional boxers in New Orleans.” Olympia threw her head back and forced an exasperated laugh. “You’re going to waste your life on some circus clown?”

“He’s not a clown.”

“You are a clown for even considering this ridiculous stunt!”

Lázaro finally lost his temper and yelled, “Then why don’t you kick me out of this house so I can go about my life as I please?”

Olympia pointed at him. “The only place you’re going is back to the workbench so you can earn money for this family. You will do your part like every one of us.”

Then Lázaro said something that not only enraged Olympia, but hurt her feelings in a way that Lázaro would regret for the rest of his life. He shouted, loud enough for the neighbors to hear, “You don’t work! You don’t do anything!”

Olympia’s eyes opened wide and black as the volume of her voice became frighteningly lower. “What disrespect have you just shown your mother?”

Lázaro rose to face Olympia. Salvador tried to hold him back, but Lázaro broke away and stood face to face with his mother, looking down at her from above. “Papa, Javier and I work full time in the factory. Josefina is a nurse, and even E.J. is learning the trade. You stay home all day playing and bossing everyone around.”

She took a step closer so their faces were inches apart. Though she was small compared to her son, to Salvador she looked as if she had risen to the same height. There was a fury in her eyes unlike any Salvador had ever seen. In a deep, controlled voice that stifled her rage, Olympia said, “Are you telling me that I don’t wash your clothes and keep your bed clean? That I don’t fix your daily meals? That I’m not awake long after everyone has gone to sleep, and that I’m not the first to rise in the morning? When you were five and wandered over a beehive, and ran home crying like a baby, it was my shoulder you cried on! I was the one who treated your stings! I looked after you when you were sick, I picked you up when you fell, I carried you when you couldn’t walk, and I fed you when you could not eat. And when you were an infant, and didn’t know your foot from your ear, it was me who wiped your ass and cleaned you off after you had shit all over yourself! So if you think I don’t do anything, then get the hell out of this house and do it yourself!”

Her eyes watered and tears fell immediately. “I am so mad I can no longer look at him,” her voice cracked as she stomped down the hallway, into the kitchen and out the back.

-Mark M

photo credit: The Cigar Maker

Cigar Insider: Matt Urbano of Urbano Cigars

21 Dec 2011

I had the pleasure of meeting Matt Urbano of Urbano Cigars last month while visiting Tampa. He introduced me to his line of cigars and handed me a three-pack sampler with an Urbano Corojo, Urbano Sumatra, and Urbano Connecticut. Urbano Cigars is a boutique line offering three different wrappers. Their cigars are not mass-produced, or rushed into the market for catalog or discount wholesalers. Urbanos are solidly constructed with aged long-filler and binder tobaccos that have been triple-fermented. Urbano Cigars are rolled in the same manner as many Cubans to ensure a cool draw with an even burn, then finished with a double-cap.

I tried the Sumatra right away and was pleased with its bold taste, smooth even burn, and quality construction. Matt was on his way to the Ybor City Cigar Heritage Festival where Urbano Cigars had a tent beside the Arturo Fuente family and across the street from Cigar Rights of America (CRA). We talked cigar blends and production.

Stogie Guys: Urbano Cigars are relatively new to the market. Tell us how you got started.

Matt Urbano: My passion for cigars began 20-plus years ago while working in the restaurant industry. As an executive chef passionate about food, rich flavors, and complex textures, I worked in many restaurants and private clubs throughout the northeast. After I relocated to Tampa I quickly became steeped in the local area’s rich cigar history and became friendly with a master cigar blender that travels regularly between Tampa and the Dominican Republic. Trusting my new friend and his own palate I took my passion for flavor and teamed up with this cigar master to create the ultimate line of cigars. Urbano Cigars has a full line offering three different wrappers that will meet any cigar smoker’s needs from the casual smoker to the aficionado. I invite you to share the smooth draw and rich, complex flavors in each carefully blended and hand-rolled Urbano Cigar.

SG: Tell us a bit about the three different wrappers that you offer and a little bit about your philosophy on blends.

MU: The Urbano Corojo is a true Dominican puro with first-generation Cuban-seed tobaccos aged for three years and triple-fermented. It has a medium to full body with a reddish hue blended from carefully aged Dominican tobacco. You’ll find a hearty, complex flavor with a hint of spice at the open, followed by hints of roasted nuts and smooth cedar undertones. Wait till you spark one up: a Cuban-like flavor with nothing less than a mesmerizing and delectable aroma. Sizes and MSRPs: Robusto $7.00, Toro $7.10, Torpedo $7.20, Churchill $7.40, 6 x 60 $7.50.

The Urbano Sumatra is aged for two years and triple-fermented. It is medium-bodied with an eye-catching, chocolaty, satin wrapper. Enjoy this cigar from start to finish with the continuous flavors and solid white ash, sweet, earthy flavor turning to a creamy chocolaty smoke with a light leathery finish. The wrapper is Sumatra, the binder Indonesian, and the filler is Dominican. Sizes and MSRPs: Robusto $5.00, Torpedo $5.20, Churchill $5.40, 6 x 60 $5.50.

The Urbano Connecticut is aged for two years and triple-fermented with a beautiful, silky smooth wrapper light brown in color. Well-balanced with a cool, slow, even burn. It has tasty floral notes along with a bit of cinnamon and dash of nutmeg. An excellent choice for your morning smoke to accompany your favorite coffee. Wrapper is Connecticut Ecuadorian, and both the binder and filler are Dominican. Sizes and MSRPs: Robusto $5.00,Torpedo $5.20, Churchill $5.40, 6 x 60 $5.50.

SG: For a new cigar business, or for a cigar business in general, what kind of challenges do you currently face and what can you do about them?

MU: I strongly feel in today’s world the biggest challenges to a cigar retailer are the aggressive anti-smoking bans. Every cigar smoker, from the guy that smokes one cigar a year to the person that smokes regularly, should be a member of CRA. As a manufacturer the challenges of getting my line out to new retail shops is much harder than it sounds. You want to get to know your local retailer and get plugged into their event list. I offer brick and mortar cigar shops great deals throughout our product line along with marketing materials and support. We do not have order minimums and are open to working with the retailer to meet their needs.

SG: What sets Urbano Cigars apart from the rest of the marketplace?

MU: Our cigars are not mass-produced. We focus on quality, one cigar at a time. We do not rush the process and all of our tobacco goes through a triple fermentation.

SG: Are you offering any kind of special on your website? If I’ve never tried an Urbano Cigar, what is the best way to get started?

MU: We offer many specials on the website for people to start small and get an introduction to our lines by sample packs. We also offer excusive monthly deals though email to people that sign up to our list. I always say just don’t visit the site, sign up for our list. Our members get specials all the time. Our current special is a mixed box sampler along with a travel humidor and cutter.

SG: You had a booth at the Ybor Cigar Festival. What other trade shows or events do you plan to visit? Where can our readers meet you (other than online)?

MU: The main event that is geared towards retailers it is the yearly IPCPR. We had a booth last year in Vegas and will be in Orlando in 2012. I love to get involved with local events and am always looking to do more local events. I also support many of the local cigar store events throughout Tampa Bay. Cigar stores are my home away from home. Be sure to check out UrbanoCigars.com. Sign up to follow us and be the first to see what’s new and where we are heading!

Special thanks for Matt Urbano of Urbano Cigars for taking the time to talk with Stogie Guys. You can visit him online here.

-Mark M

photo credit: Urbano Cigars

News: On Location at the Ybor City Heritage and Cigar Festival

28 Nov 2011

Cigar Paradise came to Earth on November 19 in the form of the Ybor City Heritage and Cigar Festival, an annual event held in the center of Ybor City just outside downtown Tampa. Cigar Dave broadcasting live, a celebrity appearance by Rocky Patel himself, dozens of cigar vendors with special deals, a classic car show, a live band rocking some Sinatra, tents selling beer and burgers, and the sweet smell of burning stogies everywhere might be how you imaged cigar smokers’ heaven, and I can tell you that’s exactly what it was.

As soon as I arrived on this festive scene I lit an Urbano Corojo and began soaking up the sites. Over 2,000 were in attendance and though it was a packed house, there was plenty of room to maneuver and see everything that needed to be seen. Cigar retailers and manufacturers had set up tents all over the place, nearly all of them advertising specials and discounts on their products. As the voice of Cigar Dave boomed across the festival and patrons consumed Cuban food and discussed their favorite tobacco blends, I found myself browsing the tents and encountered deals everywhere I looked.

Upmann 4-pack samplers were selling for as low as $12 and you could find practically any kind of Cuesta Rey for around $5 a stick. I saw 24-pack sampler boxes sold in cedar humidors for $99, the Rocky Patel tent was stacked with boxes and boxes of stogies, and the Arturo Fuente tent displayed a large sampling of their line (a box of the 8-5-8 was nearly sold out). Cigar Rights of America was there signing up tons of new members and I found several vendors who didn’t sell anything even remotely related to cigars but had purchased tables to take advantage of the large crowd.

The center of the attraction was Cigar Dave’s stage. With dozens of tables surrounding him and a live band sitting ready to burst into a medley of classic show tunes, many patrons were happy to sit and smoke cigars while listening to Cigar Dave who was joined on stage by Rocky Patel. Later on Cigar Dave hosted an auction, selling everything from boxes of premium cigars to autographed footballs to expensive pieces of jewelry.

Here he is auctioning a box of 1976 Arturo Fuente Don Carlos brand cigars while Mr. Patel stands to the side signing autographs and posing for photos with fans. The ’76 Fuente cigars sold for $425 and demand was enough that the Fuente family put a second box of 76ers on the auction block and sold them too.

Other attractions included three Tampa Humidor tents, one including sofas and a large screen TV. A classic car show that boasted several beauties including a pristine ’65 Mustang in white and a spotless light blue ’57 Chevrolet Bel Air. The buzz on the street was that over 2,000 were in attendance and everywhere you went you could hear men exchanging philosophies on cigar flavors, blends, sizes and prices. There was a lot of excitement in all corners of the festival and a lot of energy throughout the day. With ideal weather for an outdoor festival it was the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

The highlight for me was that I was fortunate to shake hands with Rocky Patel and have my picture taken with the man himself. As I climbed to the stage I offered my hand and said, “Mr. Patel, I enjoy your stogies very much.” Patel, with a kind smile on his face, replied modestly as we shook hands. “Thank you, I appreciate hearing that.” He stood patiently and posed while my father fiddled with the camera, never impatient, never rushed. My impression was that Patel was as happy to be there as all of the patrons and vendors. He may be the Don of a lucrative cigar empire and I a lowly cigar blogger, but on that day I realized that not only were Rocky Patel and I both brothers of the leaf, we always have been. And that brotherhood, that unspoken camaraderie among cigar enthusiasts is what makes a celebration like the Ybor City Cigar Festival such a special event.

Thanks for a great day, Tampa. I’ll surely see you soon.

-Mark M

photo credit: Stogie Guys

Commentary: The Quest for the Perfect Cigar

7 Nov 2011

The quest for the perfect cigar does not always end in riches, but sometimes the accomplishment is in the journey itself. I rolled into Mexico last week with my wife and a couple of friends for eight days of R&R at a resort on the island of Isla Mujeres, off the coast of Cancun. Being in a tropical paradise and a country where Cuban cigars are legal, I obviously set out to find the perfect cigar. In the end, it was the experience of the adventure and the search for the cigar that yielded more enjoyment than the cigar itself.

The first stop was the duty free-shop in the Cancun airport. I encountered the usual Cuban staples: Partagss, Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta. Three-packs and five-packs, most in the $50 to $100 range. A total rip-off. Are they even real? They had the hologram and the seal from Habanos, but I knew those were easy to fake. I decided to give it a chance though— given that I was in a duty-free shop and not talking to some vendor on the street, I figured the odds were slightly in my favor. I bought a three-pack of Romeo y Julieta No. 5 cigars for $25.

Motioning for the attendant to unlock the glass case, he smiled and asked, “¿Habla Español?” I held my thumb and forefinger an inch apart. “Un poquitito.” Just a tiny little bit. “¿De donde?” He asked. Where are you from? “Minnesota.” “Ah,” he nodded. “Venezuela.”

“No,” I waved a hand. “Mnnesota.” I pointed to my baseball hat and quickly realized I’ve just pointed to the red and white Minnesota Twins TC embroidered on my hat, surely confusing the poor gentleman. He’ll never connect TC to Minnesota, I thought, so I quickly explain, “The Twin Cities.” He nodded and smiled and I’m not sure how much he understood, or how much he cared, because the next thing he did was point me to the cash register. I paid for my three-pack and the girl bagged my stogies in plastic and secured them with a twist tie. I passed through customs and an hour later, my party and I were on Isla Mujeres.

I knew the island would be filled with cigars and vendors pushing them on every corner and after five minutes I knew that even if these Cubans were real, I wouldn’t want to touch them. The vendors cared for their cigars the same way I care for my dirty laundry. If there was a bin they could have used to toss these cigars in for their store for display, they would have used one. I saw boxes of cigars arranged outside on the steps leading into a shop, probably boiling to death under the 90-degree sun or sopping under the 90-percent humidity. I saw wrappers cut and wrinkled like the cigar had been carried in someone’s pocket. I saw gnarly, makeshift variety-packs where a Cohiba shared a box with a pair of cheap Montecristos and a handful of nameless mix-and-match cigarillos. The prices weren’t bad but these cigars were so unattractive that I was happy I brought a six-pack of Sancho Panza Double Maduros from home.

I shared the Romeo y Julietas with the couple we traveled with, giving one to the husband, another to the wife, and keeping the third for myself. This would be the first cigar either of them had smoked and they needed a quick seminar. I cut their ends and demonstrated how to light it, and how to puff on the stogie. “Don’t pull too fast,” I warned them. “You don’t want to hotbox it.” “Do I inhale?” asked the wife. “No,” I said. “Just enjoy the taste.”

We sat on a cliff overlooking Mexico’s easternmost point, watching and listening to the waves, smoking Cuban cigars. After 15 minutes of peace and solitude unknown to the American hustle-bustle, it was time to move on. “How do you put it out?” they asked.

“You don’t,” I told them as I gently placed my smoldering nub on the edge of the cliff. “Just let it go out on its own. Respect the stick. Leave it here, and let it be.” They did, and we walked back to our golf cart and began the journey back to our hotel.

On the way back we passed a small baseball stadium with a capacity of probably 5,000. There was a bronze statue of a baseball player outside but we passed it too quickly for me to read the name. Then I realized, they have their own baseball heroes in Mexico. Their own great games, their own legendary moments. Mexican baseball was a whole new universe, and one where I could happily spend a lifetime.

When we got closer to our hotel, the vendors appeared with their calls to Cuban cigars. But aside from the Romeo y Julietas, the Sanchos were all I smoked. Sure, the vendors are constantly pointing to their, “Cigars! Cuban cigars!” They think that since you’re a guy, you’re going to jump all over them but these guys are clearly marketing to the cigar-ignorant, and based on the volume of product available, this is a market that thrives.

Sadly, I never found the perfect cigar. Sure, the cigars from the airport were good, but I was hoping to try an authentic Cohiba Behike. All I encountered was the bottom of the bargain bin. As I stared into the blue water I realized that every quest does not end in glory, especially the quest for the Holy Grail. My crusade would have to continue on another trip, to be resumed on my next journey overseas. Until then, I could only relish in the excitement of the search and the anticipation of another adventure.

-Mark M‘s latest project is a comic anthology called Germ Warfare.

photo credit: Stogie Guys