Luis García considers a finely rolled Cuban cigar to be a work of art.
He says the art is found in the process, as well as in the final product. The dried tobacco in the cigar, shredded and measured by hands, is chemical-free. Leaves used to wrap the tobacco are impeccably weaved together. The cut at the end of the cigar is flawless, the aroma pungent but smooth, and the taste is what García refers to as “authentically Cuban.”
“We were at a cigar tasting show in Las Vegas recently and a lot of people were trying a lot of different cigars,” García said. “Most of the cigars were very good, but at the end of the day a lot of people wished they could smoke a Cuban cigar, which you can’t get in the U.S. Cigars made from authentic Cuban tobacco have a taste you can’t get anywhere else in the world.”
If García considers one cigar to be a work of art, his office is a gallery. García, originally from Spain, is the general manager of La Casa del Habano, a new high-end cigar shop and lounge in Rohrmoser, west of San José. The large space, located 75 meters east of the U.S. Embassy, is a two-story home remodeled into an elegant wooded cigar parlor with a dining area and small bar.
La Casa del Habano is a throwback to lounges of a different era. It is sophisticated but unpretentious, classy but inviting. Large leather couches and seats are the décor in the central lounge, where glass cigar ashtrays sit centered upon small tables. Chessboards are arranged on nearby tables, and smooth jazz and sultry music drifts from overhead speakers.
Off the main lounge is the quaint dining area and small bar. A selection of fine wines and top-shelf drinks are available, while the menu is a savory mix of Spanish staples, such as tortilla española (Spanish tortilla), queso manchego (Manchego cheese) and jamón ibérico (Iberian ham).
Like any modern lounge, both the main sitting room and dining area offer televisions wired with sports networks and movie channels. Though La Casa del Habano isn’t a place to come and eat chicken wings and drink beer for Monday night football, García said the comfortable ambiance was created to make people feel like they are at home.
“We don’t want people to think this is just a cigar shop or uppity restaurant,” García said. “We hope people will come here and feel as comfortable as they would if they were at home.”
One thing that separates La Casa del Habano from most homes is a voluminous selection of the finest Cuban cigars on the market. The most prominent names in the cigar world are stored in a walk-in humidors off the entryway. In the small room, where the thermometer is always set between 20-21°C, sit rows of black- and yellow-labeled Cohibas and Cohiba Behikes, boxes of Montecristos, and assorted arrangements of Romeo and Julietas, Partagas, Punch, Bolivar and Trinidad cigars, to name a few.
García, who is a confessed cigar aficionado, do, considers cigars as works of art because he’s seen them made, by hand, in Cuba. He visited Cuba more than 20 times in the last year and a half and spent much of his time at tobacco plantations. He watched workers pluck the leaves from tobacco plants in the hot sun, spent time in the factories where the leaves were dried and chopped, and has seen a handmade Cuban cigar labeled, packaged and boxed. Several of the photos on the walls of La Casa del Habano are of tobacco workers in fields and factories in Cuba. García was the photographer.
“Once you see the process of how a cigar is made, you have a different respect for each one you smoke,” he said. “It gives you an idea of how much work goes into making a good cigar.”
La Casa del Habano also offers beautifully crafted humidors and cigar cases, as well as other cigar brand merchandise, such as hats, shirts, ashtrays and cuff links.
As for the musky smell that often accompanies cigar parlors, La Casa del Habano is void of odor. With windows lining the far walls, the space has a specially designed fan and air system that pushes the smoke outside to keep guests stench-free.
Perhaps the element that most defines the “feel at home” approach is that there aren’t set closing hours. García says that if someone calls him and says they’ll be there at 8 p.m., the doors will remain open as long as guests are still enjoying themselves.
“We hope that people looking to find a different type of place and experience will come to see what we have here,” said business director Federico Umaña. “There aren’t other places like this in Costa Rica and we hope people interested in a good drink, meal and, if they want, cigar, will realize that we are offering something unique to the country.”