Budding aficionado James Fryer learns how to enjoy Havana’s finest, where to buy them and the best places to smoke them in the UAE.
Cigar smoking isn’t the latest fad to hit the country. In fact, it’s a natural, ritualistic tradition that dates back more than 500 years to when Christopher Columbus and his crew stumbled upon Cuba where they first enjoyed a smoke or two. Since then, the rolled, fermented, tobacco leaves have secured their place in world history and to this day are seen as a symbol of success,wealth and possibly virility – a common. Today’s world of cigar smoking spans a lot further than a token of good luck or a congratulatory present to the father of a newborn baby, particularly in the Arab world and the UAE. What’s more a plethora of famous figures are remembered for their love of cigars: from King Edward VII (who famously said ‘you may smoke gentlemen’ at the end of a dinner party despite Queen Victoria’s disapproval) and Picasso (reputedly the youngest cigar smoker having inhaled smoke during his first breath) to Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. In the 21st century you needn’t look further than the front cover of a Middle Eastern business magazine for the classic image of a cigar between the teeth and how many times have you seen Darren Clarke with a golf club in one hand and a cigar in the other? Or P Diddy blinged up on the red carpet with a fat cigar in his chops? Explaining why he switched from cigarettes to cigars, Jack Nicholson once said ‘The only way to break a bad habit was to replace it with a better habit.’ We’ve taken Jack’s advice and hunted down the best of all things cigars in the country.
DUBAI CIGAR BARS
The Cigar Bar
Tel: (04) 3325555
As the name suggests, there’s no messing about when it comes to this smoker’s paradise. Oversized, dark, stiff leather sofas and armchairs are positioned a good distance apart, making an intimate meeting difficult, but perfect for letting the plumes of smoke bellow out overhead as you puff away on a fat cigar. A walk-in humidor at one end of the bar stocks a huge array of Cuban cigars, some from the Dominican Republic and even a variety or two from Nicaragua. Even if you’re not a seasoned smoker, there’s no doubting the beautiful craftsmanship and art behind the cigars and their cedar-made boxes, something any one of the well-trained staff will gladly talk you through. As expected, the temperature and humidity are carefully controlled, as with the private drawers which are rented out for a year at a time for Dhs2,000 by well-to-do individuals and businesses from the UAE.
Be careful of ordering a delicious eight-years in the making rum cocktail – it comes in a margarita glass, in fetching pink, but don’t be shy about asking for assistance, especially when it comes to choosing a cigar. Someone will be on hand to make a recommendation based on everything from what you had to eat that day, what you’re drinking and what you usually smoke, and will prepare and light your selection for you. Then all you need do is sit back, relax and let your worries drift away.
The Library & Cigar Bar
Tel: (04) 3994000
The Library and adjoining Cigar Bar is an intimate, comfortable and stylish venue epitomising the spirit of Ritz-Carlton class. A premium range of malt whiskeys, cognacs and vintage wines have been selected to complement a smoker’s menu. Leather sofas and winged chairs float on a sea of rich carpets and tapestries, providing the perfect stop off for a nightcap and cigar after dinner. What’s more during the month of April if you buy a box of cigars you will receive a personally engraved cigar ashtray to keep in the bar for subsequent visits.
Tel: (04) 3198088
It has more of a lobby than a lounge feel, and is probably best suited to the seasoned cigar smoker as beginners may find the necessary expertise isn’t on hand. But, the unique spectacle of the view is worth a visit alone. Not only can you peer out onto the bustling Sheikh Zayed Road through the full sized windows, but look up and you can’t miss the futuristic elevator pods floating upwards and downwards through the tower.
ABU DHABI CIGAR BARS
Tel: (02) 6909000
Tucked away inside the three billion dollar palace, a five minute stroll past a few of the 1,002 Swarovski crystal chandeliers and 3.9 million cubic feet of imported marble, you’ll come across a place where old gentleman’s club meets Cuban nightclub, where natural, calming colours and textures are married with an abundance of wood and leather, evoking feelings of opulence and luxury. Immediately drawing the attention is a backlit humidor running along the entirety of the back wall, tempting aficionados with a range of fine cigars, including a full selection of Cohibas. Nestled nearby are a few sofas and classically designed hardback chairs, the perfect setting to enjoy one Havana Club’s exceptional choice of cognacs; an Otard 1795 Extra or Frapin Cuvee Rabelasis perhaps? If you’re celebrating a special occasion then there’s always the Hardy Perfection – the world’s oldest known unblended cognac. Perhaps the Dhs7,858 (plus tax) price tag for a 40ml measure is the reason the bottle’s seal has remained unbroken.
A small step down leads to a red-marbled floor and an overflowing bar with an impressive stock of Cuban spirits. Ask Tony to conjure up a classic mojito – one of the best I’ve ever tasted. Whatever your tipple, Lino, the resident Cuban musician, will transport you to another world. The white suit, black shirt and slick-back hair only add to the spectacular, authentic rendition of Latin American classics. And, the lively atmosphere the lounge enjoys probably explains the reason you’ll find a good few members of the fairer sex in attendance. From the soft up-lighters casting shadows off the tall potted plants to the huge tobacco leaves impregnated into the marbled walls and the golden gas cigar lighters adorning tables, every last detail has been thought through to make this an authentic Cuban hideaway of palatial standards.
Cristal Cigar & Champagne Bar
Millennium Hotel Abu Dhabi
Tel: (02) 6262700
Cristal has more of a spacious and elegant feel than you might expect from a typical cigar lounge, which comes as no surprise when you consider it pitches itself more as a cigar and champagne bar. It’s relaxed without being sleepy, and elegant without being pretentious. Live piano music coming from one end of the long room drifts throughout the space, and is enjoyed by businessmen chilling out after a hard day’s work, and couples enjoying a romantic meeting in the shadow of the soft lighting.
Cloud Nine Cigar Bar
Sheraton Abu Dhabi Resort & Towers
Tel: (02) 6773333
Head up to the first floor and you’ll be greeted with the Dallas of the cigar lounge world – funky cum classic seating makes for a charming lounge, complemented by the live jazz pianist and elegant décor. As well as the usual Cuban cigars there’s a decent cocktail offering and the food menu includes some attractive options too, from foie gras to beef Wellington.
CIGARS & ACCESSORIES
Las Casa Del Habano
Emirates Towers Shopping Boulevard and across the UAE
Tel: (04) 3303308
If you’re serious about cigars then a visit to one of the UAE’s five La Casa Del Habano stores is a must. The chain specialises in the ‘Habano’ – a Cuban cigar born from 500 years of tradition using the finest tobacco leaves rolled my master torcedores (or rollers). On our visit to the Emirates Towers branch we were taken back by the vast selection of authentic slim and fat Cuban cigars, including selections from Cohiba, Punch and Partagas, preserved in a modern, walk-in humidor to maintain their quality. Private lockers are available for discerning customers to store their personal collections, and a small cigar lounge with battered green leather and polished wood frame chairs is perfect for savouring your favourite Habano before buying a box or two.
You’ll also find a selection of beautifully crafted Italian, Spanish, French and Taiwanese cedar humidors ranging from Dhs500 to Dhs12,000 to keep your home collection of cigars in perfect condition, as well as a vast range of cutters, lighters, ashtrays and cases. We even came across books about cigars, including Min Ron Nee’s An Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Post Revolution Havana Cigars, not to mention a Cohiba rack of ties to make sure you look the part.
Mall of the Emirates
Tel: (04) 3410641
This particular outlet of the British luxury lifestyle house stocks a beautiful range of jewellery, watches, pens and leather goods, as well as some very high-end cigar accessories. You’ll find single and double Asprey-branded cigar holders, chic ashtrays and a modest but classic choice of humidors.
Deira City Centre and across the UAE
Tel: (04) 2950293
One of the UAE’s premium retailers of luxury men’s fashion, leather goods, writing instruments and jewellery stocking brands including Baccarat Swarovski, not to mention an impressive array of ST. Dupont cigar accessories including cases, humidors, cutters, Chinese lacquer lighters and ashtrays. Luxury of this standard comes at a price.
Have a cigar
The Fairmont Dubai’s resident cigar buff David Beaufort-Dysart can talk about cigar smoking for hours – and he does. We’ve whittled it down to the basics…
What’s the obsession with cigars?
They’re completely natural, there are no additives and are handmade – using the same techniques employed centuries ago. You either love them or hate them.
Do certain cigars go with certain drinks?
Cigars and cognac are two of the finest things in life. But, the best drink to go with a cigar is black tea because of the tannin – it dries the mouth so you can appreciate the taste.
The best cigars are from Cuba, right?
Yes, because of the quality of the soil, the amount of rain and the master craftsmen who have passed on their skills through the generations. The Dominican Republic exports very good cigars, often made by Cubans who left when Castro came to power.
What should you look for in a cigar?
Make sure it’s been properly humidified. It should slowly spring back to place if you pinch it – a cracking sound means it’s too dry. Anything that says “Congratulations, it’s a boy!” should go in the bin.
How do you remove the end of a cigar?
It requires a sharp cutter and a steady hand: Cut the tip of the cigar just below the capper.
I’ve got my Zippo here, do you need a light?
You should use long matches made of cedar wood or a butane lighter. A petrol flame lighter will ruin the taste. The surface of the cigar should ‘kiss’ the flame evenly while you rotate it in your hand – you want the entire surface to burn evenly so that the cigar is perfectly ‘toasted’ or glowing before you smoke it.
Should the band be removed?
I keep it on until halfway through so I truly appreciate whatever cigar it is – although some believe it’s snobby to do so. Bands were created to protect the aristocrats’ white gloves while they were smoking in their carriages.
What’s the deal with inhaling?
Never inhale – you will make yourself sick. Breathe the smoke in gently allowing it to circulate in the mouth and appreciate the flavour before exhaling. Never stub your cigar out – let it die with dignity.
What about cigar smoking in restaurants?
No, that’s what cigar bars are for.
What should we look for in a cigar bar?
Any decent place will let you feel the cigars. The servers should ask what you usually smoke, what you had for dinner, and what you’re drinking. The best places have soft lighting, understated music and high ceilings. It’s important for the air-conditioning not to be turned up too high – smoke passing your nostrils as you exhale is part of the experience.
Cigarettes are cheap, are cigars worth it?
You can buy a decent cigar for Dhs40 – plus you don’t get physically addicted to smoking cigars. Smoking cigarettes is like wolfing down a Happy Meal – it’s a quick fix. Relaxing with a cigar is like savouring a chateaubriand.
Famous 5 - David's top cigars
- NAME - BOLIVAR - BELICOSOS FINOS LOWDOWN – This Campana is smoother than the Montecristo No.2, has good draw and excellent combustion. It’s the strongest of the Bolivian offerings and a powerhouse of a cigar. WHEN TO SMOKE IT – After a dinner of classic beef chateaubriand. HAVE IT WITH A – Fine vintage Bordeaux red.
- NAME - MONTECRISTO – EDMUNDO LOWDOWN – Named after Edmundo Dantes, hero of Alexandro Dumas' famous novel The Count of Montecristo, the Edmundo was the first size to be added to Montecristo's standard range since 1971. It delivers the classic, bittersweet, tangy flavour that has made Montecristo the world's most popular Havana cigar brand. WHEN TO SMOKE IT – Best after a hardy strong dinner. HAVE IT WITH A – Full-bodied red such as an Australian Shiraz Reserve.
- NAME - HOYO DE MONTEREY – PETIT ROBUSTO LOWDOWN - A classic among Robusto lovers, this cigar has gained fame through its subtle floral nuances, and is perfect for both the occasional and regular cigar smoker. WHEN TO SMOKE IT – Perfect after a light dinner of seafood on a fine summer’s evening. HAVE IT WITH A – Fruit driven wine such as Gewürztraminer.
- NAME - COHIBA – SIGLO 1 LOWDOWN – Exceptional construction, fairly rapid burning and loaded with flavours that will test the cultural diversity of your palate. This little Cohiba will suit the fast moving aficionado looking for quick moment of escape. WHEN TO SMOKE IT – Watching a sunset with great friends. HAVE IT WITH A – Fruity Sangria.
- NAME - PARTAGAS SERIES 4 LOWDOWN – Next to the Cohiba Robusto, the No.4 is probably the best loved and most well known Robusto - a rich, earthy blend with an unmistakably full flavour. WHEN TO SMOKE IT – After a dinner of seasonal game. HAVE IT WITH A – Peaty aged single malt in front a crackling log fire.