There’s little question Paris is one of the finest destinations for fine dining and shopping, but it’s also a fine city for cigars. I recently spent a week there (though I’ve been a few times before) and put together a few notes for enjoying cigars in the City of Light.
A Rich Tradition of Cigars
SEITA, the French tobacco giant, is part of what is likely the largest cigar company in the world, since it merged with the Spanish tobacco monopoly to form Altadis. Altadis owns a 50% share in the Cuban cigar distributor Habanos and is also the parent company for Altadis USA, which makes the non-Cuban versions of Montecristo, H. Upmann, Romeo y Julieta, and many others.
SEITA also created (along with Habanos) the Quai d’Orsay cigar line, which is named after the street where the SEITA headquarters are. The line was blended to French tastes and calls for a milder blend. Quai d’Orsay can be hard to find outside of France, but within Paris shops you’ll find it regularly.
Where to Buy Cigars?
Tabacs are everywhere in Paris, though most have only a few premium cigars, if any. (All the “Tabac” designation denotes is the store is licensed to sell tobacco.) Those that do carry cigars stock their shelves with mostly Cubans, though there are some other brands you’ll see regularly like Davidoff and Flor de Selva. Prices are tightly controlled so there is little variation in cost from shop to shop.
One of the things I’ve found in Paris cigar shops (though not the two listed below) is that cigars are often kept at a slightly too high humidity. It isn’t so high that the cigars develop mold, but it does mean you’ll often run into burn issues if you immediately smoke a cigar after purchasing.
À la Civette is the oldest cigar shop in Paris (founded in 1716) and a place I always visit. The walk-in humidor doesn’t have a huge selection by American cigar shop standards, but it has a nice selection of Cubans including all the recent French Regional Edition cigars and quite a few Limited Edition Cubans. Located just a block from the Louvre and across the street from the entrance to the Palais-Royal, the shop’s customers over the years have included Louis-Philippe d’Orléans, Voltaire, Churchill, and Micheal Jordan. (After you buy a cigar here, head over to the interior garden at Palais-Royal and light up under the trees on a park bench or at one of the outdoor cafes.)
Publicis Drugstore is a small, high-end department store on the famous Champs-Élysées just down the street from the Arc de Triomphe. I visited it for the first time in a previous visit on the recommendation of Tatuaje owner Pete Johnson, and it didn’t disappoint. In addition to an excellent selection within their recently renovated Cave à Cigares, you can eat at one of the finest restaurants in the city (L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon) and check out a superior selection of wines and luxury goods.
Where to Smoke Cigars?
Like so many places, Paris has been hit with a smoking ban that limits the indoor spaces where you can enjoy your cigar. There was a time not long ago when a cigar cart was a staple in the city’s fine restaurants. Now, sadly, you’re limited to a few indoor spaces specifically designated as cigar bars. The Hemingway Bar at the Ritz Carlton is currently being renovated, but it should return to being a great locale when it is completed. (Speaking of Hemingway, Paris Walks offers a two-hour English tour of Hemingway’s Paris that has an interesting glimpse, for just 12 euros, into the famous cigar smoker’s time in the city.)
Despite the limited indoor smoking locales, as long as the weather is nice there are plenty of places to enjoy a cigar outside. And unlike in the U.S., Parisiens aren’t likely to shoot you a dirty look for enjoying a fine cigar in their vicinity. The city’s plentiful cafes practically all have outdoor seating where smoking a cigar with a cup of coffee or an adult beverage is not out of place at all (just let them know your plan so they can seat you accordingly). In addition, there are lots of great outdoor public spaces, like the Luxembourg Gardens, Tuileries Gardens, or the previously mentioned Palais-Royal where you can grab a chair (the recliners that are in many public parks are actually quite comfortable) and do some good people watching.
photo credit: Stogie Guys