South Florida Sunshine



Key West – Cigar Paradise

Laura Murphy of Key West

As ocean breezes stir the sultry night air and the Key West night life begins to heat up, in many parts of town you can hear the sensual rhythms of Cuban bands.  It is but the first taste of the significant influence that the descendants of immigrant Cuban cigar makers have had on this little island.

Excerpt from “A Key to History,” by Ann Boese as published in the November/December 1997 issue of Cigar Aficionado.

Key West is finally blowing the dust off an unheralded chapter of its heritage–the cigar industry. Few realize that at the turn of the century, Key West was the nation’s number one producer of clear Havana cigars, and that today the island is saturated with the descendants, remnants, landmarks and symbols of the industry. Between the onset of Cuba’s Ten Years War, which began in 1868, and 1900, thousands of Cuban cigar workers had crossed the Florida Straits to relocate on this tiny island. Only 90 miles from Havana, Key West was a place where they could escape Spanish rule and continue to roll the prized Vuelta Abajo tobacco that made Cuban cigars the best in the world. In little over 20 years the island had transformed itself from a fishing village to the primary producer of clear Havana cigars.

With Cuban workers rolling clear Havana tobacco in Key West, manufacturers were able to produce the best cigars at two-thirds the cost of production in Cuba. The workers were paid as much as $30 a week, and sent money to Cuba to support the revolution, which raged from 1878 to 1898. The Cuban revolutionary José Martí organized the collection of $20,000 to $30,000 a month to support the Cubans’ fight against Spanish control.

Opportunities rose, and the people poured in. Key West’s population grew from 700 in 1840 to more than 18,000 in 1890, with Cubans by far the cultural majority. Cigar factories in 1885 numbered 86, and 20 of those employed more than a hundred workers each, with the Eduardo Hildago Gato Cigar Factory leading the way with 500. By 1890 the number of factories had grown to almost 130 and cigar production had risen to 100 million. Today there are 28,000 year-round residents or Conchs (for a local mollusk), as natives and inhabitants of the Keys are known, and two million annual tourists. The Cuban influence remains strong, with Cuban-owned restaurants, coffee shops and bakeries open every day. The number of cigar shops has increased from two to nine in the past five years. Five sell house-brand cigars, hand-rolled in some cases by elderly Cubans who have come out of retirement to revive their craft, selecting and handling their tobacco and tools.

To read all of Ann Boese’s original article please visit the Cigar Aficionado Library

Keep in mind that Boese wrote that article 13 years ago.  You can’t stop anywhere along Duval Street that you aren’t but a few paces from a fine tobacco shop.  Here are just a few of the suggestions from the cigar connoisseurs that know at CigarGroup.com

Tony Trupiano

Key West Havana Cigar Company

Toward the top of Duval street, you’ll find the Key West Havana Cigar Factory – owned and operated by Tom Favelli. Located in the landmark Speakeasy Inn, this tobacconist boasts one of the best assortments of “classic” cigar brands, along with several wonderfully complex house brands.  Relax in the island atmosphere of their comfortable smoking area or sit out on the porch and watch the world go by. Perhaps you’ll meet some of the “locals” like Paruchio – a 90-year-old cigar smoker who’s full of tales of Old Key West and the fascinating cigar factories of the 30’s….

The Conch Republic Cigar Factory

Another classic Key’s style shop, located on Green street just a block from the Famous Sloppy Joe’s bar, is the Conch Republic cigar factory. A small but interesting shop, their house brand may not be for everyone…

Historic Cigar Alley

Located across from the historic Gato factory, this smoke/wine shop is Key West’s hot spot for smoking cigars, enjoying a fine bottle of wine, and  discussing Key West’s historic cigar legacy. Its friendly patrons, Becky and Chris will introduce you to their favorite wines, an excellent array of cigars from the largest humidor in Key West, and  love to discuss Key West’s cigar legacy. The relaxing ambiance for cigar smoking or wine tasting in the shop extends outside to a large  gumbo limbo tree shading an outdoor patio. It is perfectly located adjacent to several excellent restaurants.

Rodriguez Cigar Factory

One of Key West’s oldest traditional rollers, a true small factory, can be found almost across the street from Caribbean – the Rodriguez Cigar Factory. Owned and operated by Cuban rollers who remember Key West’s cigar days, this is a must-see on your cigar tour of the city.

Lisa Wade

Original Key West Cigar Factory

A true Key West tradition, don’t miss this stop on “Cigar Alley” – it’s as much of a museum of old-style cigar paraphernalia as a cigar shop.  An on-site roller creates several of the house-brands here, and you’ll see old cigar molds, photos, tins, presses, you name it, in every nook and cranny of this shop. A recently added walk-in humidor contains some modern classics, and you’ll find plenty of their locally-produced smokes for sale!

Cigar City, USA

Near the end of Duval, is a unique cigar shop and exhibit area. Located right along Mallory Square in an old brick warehouse once used for tobacco products, Cigar City, USA is the place to find exhibits, reproductions of antique cigar art, and a large modern tobacconist. Cigar City USA features an awesome collection of cigar art collectables – on mugs, coasters, calendars, placemats, and framed reproductions. There’s also a small exhibit of Cuban history and a wonderful outdoor cafe.

Cork & Stogie

Cork & Stogie was established in September of 2009, and has been welcomed into the community ever since. Their specialty is Wine and Cigars.  Featuring the most intimate porch on Duval St.

Key West Cigar Club & Smoke Shop

Matt and Laura Murphy

Featuring fresh rolled cigars that are made daily by our two Cuban Rollers, brothers Raul and Saul, you can join the crowd in front of the store as they watch through the window as our masterful rollers create our fresh rolled cigars. Or enter into the store and walk into our large humidor and look over their shoulders as they create each fresh rolled masterpiece.

While you are in the humidor check out the wide variety of cigars. You will see the famous names, the hard to get, special editions, and boutiquette brands. The staff at Key West Cigar Club & Smoke Shop know the cigars, the blends, the taste, the strengths. They can help everyone from the beginner to the aficionado select the perfect cigar for your palate.

Cuban Leaf Cigar Factory

A real treat for vacationers in Key west is a visit to the street-front kiosk of the Cuban Leaf Cigar Company on Duval Street right across from the Hard Rock Cafe. Featuring many inexpensive brands of cigars, this open-air shop manufacturers their own tasty La Liga line.

For more information about planning any Key West activities as well as bookings please just ask me either by leaving a comment, by email, or on Twitter. I would be happy to help.

Related articles of possible interest:

Key West and a Local’s Favorite Bars

Key West: Coffee Island Style

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