Seeking Cubans In A Foreign Country

A glorious Winter day in Vancouver (taken from the Granville St. bridge as I walked to the cigar store)

Tonight I’m bundled up like an Eskimo out on the penthouse deck of a downtown Vancouver BC hotel drinking Glenlivet 12 and smoking a Cuban Cohiba Maduro 5 — very nice in spite of the 30+ degree temp due to the rare, clear Winter night sky. The locals get just as giddy from two sunny, fairly warm days in a row as we Puget Sounders do — people are out walking with big smiles on their faces, motorcycles are everywhere and the clothing is a strange mix of Winter and Summer garb; shorts with parkas, etc. I was just about to email my brother, Eric, as we were trading Scotch tasting notes back and forth, that I wished he was here but on 2nd thought, I’d rather smuggle my Cuban cigars to LA and be smoking them with him poolside while conducting single malt taste tests. I swear I used up all my inclement weather smoking points while growing up in Chicago and yet, here I am blogging with one ungloved hand on my tablet on a cold, dark night with a cigar and a coffee mug of Scotch. Go figure!

Yes, it is very cool to walk into a cigar shop and legally purchase Cubans but I’m here to tell you that we Americans are blessed with superior pricing and selection on the non-Cuban sticks. In fact, you might briefly contemplate giving up cigars if you saw the Padron, Rocky Patel and LFD prices. The cigar shop guys said there’s a lot of non-Cuban sticks they never get to try and only get to read about — sound familiar, my fellow Americans? Were we not just joking the other day about how pre-1963 embargo Cubans run from $50 to $3,000 in the States? Well, the #1 cigar in Cigar Aficionado’s 2010 ratings is the Cohiba Behike from Cuba and the price here at a superb locals’ store is $75! Good thing I inherited a pile of Canadian bills from my beloved mom in law, eh? Speaking of currency, it is rather novel to be visiting a country where Canadian coins are welcome in the vending machines but even more amusing was to see the reaction of store clerks to the Canadian bills I was handing them. It turns out that the bills we had were printed back in the Eighties and retired in 2001. An older clerk asked if I had gotten them out of my collection and the younger ones were mystified by them but luckily for me, it’s still legal tender and perfect for spending on Cuban cigars.

While Canada doesn’t have a political axe to grind with Cuba….hang on, pardon me while I interrupt this blog for some soapboxing —  Dear President Obama: The nuclear missiles were withdrawn in 1961, the Berlin Wall is long gone along with the USSR, Communism didn’t sweep the planet and Fidel is damn near dead — demonstrate some major dudeness and stop the insanity — restore free trade with Cuba!….Canada does have smoking bans to rival New York City. While I don’t condone smoking indoors in the company of adult non-smokers and children, our fellow leaf lovers in the Great White North have been evicted from their cigar lounges and from city parks. Can cigar second hand smoke really be a problem outdoors from a parts-per-million particulates point of view? Whoopi Goldberg is right — let’s get serious and ban internal combustion engines first! I was amazed at how the guys at the cigar shop have heard about some of our lovely Native American cigar lounges and Club Vertigo in the Seattle area and plan to visit them the next time they have the nerve to visit the Crazy States of America.

I spent some time talking to a rural BC couple out on the deck one evening and upon parting company, they declared that they could now tell their friends that they had finally met a “nice” American. They admitted they have yet to visit the States and as I marvel at the US media propagated lunacy myself, I can’t say that I fault their perception of us. Up here, Canadian TV screens are filled with nothing but hockey games and downhill skiing; flip to a US channel and the “reality” TV broadcasts from Washington, DC to Hollywood to the latest shooting incident loom rather large. I hope they get the chance to one day experience first hand how “nice” most Americans are even though yes, as the couple from BC pointed out, many of us are toting hanguns and clinging to our disastrous, obsolete health-care system that ranks statistically at the bottom among the first world nations, something that mystifiies Canadians who in large measure are quite satisfied with their single payer system and only own hunting weapons. Ok, so most of us are nice and crazy and proud of it.

City Cigar in the Fairview neighborhood of Vancouver

Ok, enough with the social commentary, let’s get to the fun stuff. Vancouver is an amazing global city and I can see why it ranks repeatedly as one of the most livable cities on the planet depending on whose rankings survey you consult. It also features a world class cigar shop that I can personally vouch for. It’s the only one I visited during my visit but I have a hunch I stumbled across the best one. I purposely sought out what I thought would be a store for locals versus the tourist oriented stores and once again, my instincts were spot on. David, his lovely wife, and the top notch City Cigar staff are very welcoming, deeply passionate, highly knowledgeable and amazingly attentive to detail — they easily rival my favorite B & M shops in Seattle, Orlando and LA. Point to a cigar in the case that you’d like to take home and they purposely sift through the box to make sure you get the very best one on hand. The store itself is a treat — from the cigars cases arranged in a linear fashion from most affordable to most expensive to the humidor display room to the hookah and pipe room. They have two shop dogs on hand and they insisted I bring Robbie in along with alerting me to the best off-leash dog park across the street. As the dogs romped on the floor at our feet, we conversed about the characteristics of Cuban cigars. After all the experience I’ve racked up regarding non-Cuban brands, it was rather sobering to think that I know little or nothing about the Cuban brands except for their mystique. I pulled up the Cigar Aficionado website in the store on my tablet and after largely ignoring their Cuban reviews, I marveled at the consistent 90+ scores they earn which puts the relentless effort of the non-Cuban cigar companies over the years to match, rival and in some cases, surpass what comes out of Cuba into delightful perspective.

I selected a number of Cuban cigars from Cohiba, Partagas, Romeo y Julieta and Montecristo to smuggle back home and while in Vancouver, I smoked two Cohiba Maduro 5s. The first was the petite corona and as it was after 10 PM and the penthouse deck was closed, I lit it up and strolled down Granville Street through the vibrant club district on a Saturday night. As I savored the delicious maduro flavors, I marveled at the mini-skirts and stiletto heels queued up in front of the clubs while bouncers checked IDs. In this particular shape, the dark reddish brown wrapper had a lot to say and it was absolutely perfect as I chuckled at the thought of smoking a Cuban cigar in a foreign city.

The next day I broke out the same cigar in the Corona Gorda size and with the greater degree of filler, the wrapper was not so pronounced but instead, a masterful blend of eerily smooth flavors emerged and once again, I realized how superb a Cuban can be and why they are so vaunted world-wide. I was drinking water with it so it was just the cigar and me, bonding on a sublime level with Robbie napping at my feet, no doubt wondering when we’d get back to having more fun.

As we approached the border, I was filled with apprehension with the thought of some over zealous American border cop deciding to rifle through my belongings and making me watch as he cut my Cuban stash into little pieces. But my fears were for naught as he spotted my tattooed arms and he said, “Hey tattoo man, what’s going on here?” I extended my arms out the window for him to inspect and explained one crest was Scottish while the other was Japanese. He frowned and asked if I was a member of a gang to which I replied, “Yeah, a Scottish one but it’s called a clan.” He laughed but then freaked when Inga pulled up a shirt sleeve to give him a preview of her right arm. “Wow, she’s got you beat, man!” I said, “You have no idea. There’s a lot more to see than that.” Shrugging, I added, “I’m a lot more conservative than she is.” He asked if I was thinking about getting full tattooed sleeves and I admitted that I’ve considered getting doing so, one arm Scottish and the other one Japanese, but that she uses up all the tattoo budget in our household to which Inga quickly added that was because I spent my all my money on motorcycles. “Fair enough. Have a good day!” as he rolled up his shirt sleeves to reveal his heavily tattooed arms with a huge smile on his face. Driving away, I remarked that I think we were just profiled!

Covered with goose bumps in the most liveable city on the planet,

Leafmeister Duncan */:-)

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