Light Up in Montreal

Most cigar smokers know what they want when border-crossings are involved: Cubans. Stepping through customs onto foreign soil, you can feel the pull to the nearest tobacconist. Maybe you drop your bags off at the hotel first, but that’s about it. As our nearest neighbor-at least from my part of the country-Canada is the top destination for Cuban cigars. In Montreal, go to the right shop instead of the closest one, and you will actually enjoy the results. La Casa del Habano should be at the top of your list.

Montreal is a world-class city, with top-tier dining, luxurious accommodations and a festival scene that includes independent film, comedy and the fine arts. If you’re on your way to Canada, Montreal should be your top priority, even beyond Vancouver and Toronto. There is a draw beyond illicit cigars, but for the cigar smoker who “just happens to be in town,” the fellowship of the leaf is a powerful force.

You have to be careful with Cuban cigars in Montreal. Counterfeits abound north of the border, and unfortunately, many smokers rush to the nearest cigar seller-specialist or not. The cigars may snap, burn unevenly or unwind … but who cares? They’re Cuban! Right?

If you’re a vanity smoker-showing off the label rather than enjoying the tobacco-then just hit the Duty Free store before you leave Dorval Airport. But, if you appreciate the complexity of a well-blended, property constructed stick, be patient. Grab a quick shower and a bite to eat before heading over to La Casa del Habano, Montreal’s premier smoking lounge.

Unlike most shops, which may have a few chairs along a wall, La Casa del Habano offers the full cigar-smoking experience-in a way that most jurisdictions in the United States don’t allow. Pick up a few sticks and settle into a comfortable lounge with a Cohiba Siglo VI or a Vegas Robaino. Sip on a glass of port. Relax. In addition to the full bar, the shop’s walk-in humidor is managed carefully. Whichever cigar you choose, it will not crackle in your fingertips. The lounge is designed to be an oasis, with soft leather chairs and couches offering plenty of comfortable seating. Ventilation is sufficient to ensure that you’ll enjoy every draw, without having to suffer those expelled by the other guests.

I’ve found that in cigar shops across Quebec, selections tend to be limited. The old stand-by brands are all available-Monte Cristo, Cohiba and Punch-but there is little depth. Fortunately, this is not the case at La Casa del Habano, which carries an array of Cuban cigars that would rival non-Cuban selections at the top retailers in the United States in terms of variety and desirability.

Too often, we have to compromise. At La Casa del Habano, this will not be necessary.

During the summer, La Casa del Habano is a brisk walk from Old Montreal-or a short taxi ride. If you happen to be up north on business, you’ll probably be right around the corner. La Queu de Cheval, Montreal’s premier steakhouse, is only a few blocks away. Bring a cigar with you to enjoy after dinner-or take one from the restaurant’s humidor. Either way, light up, and enjoy the fact that you have options.