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Feel free to contact me with any questions about my commentaries, cigar reviews or cigar hunting in Costa Rica.

A Churchill Makes a Better Line

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

 

Smoke In Style at Bogies Cigars In Homewood, IL

Back in November on a trip up North I was invited by my uncle to a project meeting with a few friends of his where they were discussing the development of a Cigar Shop and Smoking Club. The group was charged up to move pretty quick, but I saw the project a long way off. I was wrong...

Last month when I went back, we went to visit their creation and I was absolutely impressed. Their vision was beautifully realized in the warm and classy way that they had sketched out on paper just a few months before.

Located in a strip mall, part of their plan, you see a few neon cigar signs (including an elaborate one of their logo). From the outside, you might be deceived into thinking that you are entering a run of the mill corner smoke shop, however once you go through the door the experience changes.

You are greeted by fine wood humidors, and an island in the center with some additional display cases and the cash register; a unique layout that feels more open and less like a retail store. Behind the island they are staffed with several of the most attractive smiles you will find in the Chicago-land area. This, being only half of the place, already feelt unlike most of the cigar shops that I have visited; enticing and chic, but not at all pretentious. They nailed it.

Beyond the island in the center is an inviting Moorish arch (Casablanca-esque) that goes into the other half of their location; their smoking lounge. The layout is simple, on one side you have luxary seating and on the other you have a coffee bar (with bar seating) and their "Premium Humidor" with their top-shelf cigars and private cigar lockers that are available to a limited number of clients.

The seating is laid out well and allows for multiple groups to converse independtantly on plush leather chairs. In addition there is a 4-top which would let someone eat or work comfortably on a laptop. The bar seating is ample and comfortable (but no Keith-style drinks unfortunatly).

The Casablanca feel contines with murals representing some memorable scenes from the movie framed by more of the distinctive arches. And, of course, they have a well place large screen television that does not pollute the character of the space.

The smoking club experience was right on. The air extractors were realativly quiet, the ceilings were high, and the ambiance posh. It was well staffed, but did not feel one bit like a bar or restaurant. They were attentive, but not pushy- and who can complain about an attracitve woman cleaning your ash tray.

Beyond the experience, which is nothing less than 5 star, their selection is very complete. They carry all of the top brands as well as a good variety of fair priced cigars. Although I am a BYOC guy, I selected a Joya De Nicaragua Torpedo (Belicoso?) for my father- one of my old favs.

My experience at Bogie's Fine Cigars was a great in every way. It was especially satisfying to see the vision of the owner's become a reality. Anyone in the Southeast Illinois / Northwest Indiana area that enjoys cigars should definalty pay them a visit.

Bogie's Fine Cigars
17816 Halsted St
Homewood, IL 60430-2012
(708) 798-4914
www.bogiescigars.com

TC-Keith

UPDATE: July 26, 2008


Cigar Review has a piece related to Bogie's Grand Opening including some photos of the store. Although it appears to be a couple months old, I just heard of it now:
Bogie's Fine Cigars & Smokehouse Holds Grand Opening

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Friday, June 08, 2007

 

Bush's Ban On Cuban Cigars in 2004, Just Plain Stupid

Wow... I bumped into this insightful observation, and I was in shock. It is pretty short, and worth the read.


No Cuban Cigars Abroad Too?

I will be the first to admit that I do not keep up with US laws as they come and go, but this one is a real shocker. Apparently in late September of 2004, a law went into affect that not only makes importation of Cuban merchandise (including cigars) illegal, but EVEN buying them abroad is illegal. I am speechless. This is the stupidest waste of time I have seen since the $12 million sting operation to arrest Tommy Chong (of Cheech and Chong fame) and 55 others for selling glass pipes.

I am not going to go into all the other things that US Government should be doing, because we all know what is going on, rather I am going to ask a few questions. Drop your morality here, and just think legally:
  • Is having sex with a prostitute in Canada illegal for a US citizen?
  • Is smoking a marijuana cigarette in Amsterdam illegal for a US citizen?
  • Is drinking a beer at age 16 in Austria illegal for a US citizen?
  • Is consensual sex with a 15 year old in the Czech Republic illegal for a US citizen (not from South Carolina)?
  • Is driving 100 mph in the United Arab Emirates (where they allow it) illegal for a US citizen?
I understand some of these laws are state laws, but I am making a point.

The "land of the free" needs to look the word "free" up in the dictionary, because that "freedom" is the rationale they use to send the "brave" into battle. Let us smoke in peace.

TC-Keith

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

 

Bringing Cuban Cigars Back To the US

DISCLAIMER FOR US CITIZENS: The information contained in this post is for entertainment purposes only. Any use of this information in violation of any US federal, state or local law is prohibited.

I received this message a few days ago:

From: Jim in Tampa

To:
keith@truecigars.com
Subject: great blog sir!

I want to congratulate you on your excellent cigar blog. Particularly useful to me was your recommendations on reliable shops in San Jose to purchase cuban cigars as I plan to visit next month for the first time.

This may be a dumb question, but I'm sure you have other readers who may be curious about this as well;

Is the matter of bringing back cuban cigars from CR to the US as simple as taking the labels off of them? Is it better to bring them on carry on or checked in luggage? Please let me know your opinion on bringing back a few cuban cigars to the US in the safest and most discreet way.

keep up the excellent blogging!

cheers

Jim in Tampa

Jim,

Thank you for your kind words about the blog. I will try to expand the Costa Rica Cigar Hunting information in the future. I have often thought about adding a section specifically dealing with all of the cigar stores and dealers in San Jose- but I do not want to make too many enemies in the city where I am living... Good to hear that you are coming to Costa Rica for a visit, it is a great travel destination.

On the subject of bringing Cuban Cigars back the the Unites States; no- not a dumb question at all. I have not touched on this information before, and, although I have never looked for it before online, I have not read about it online much either.

Indeed, you initial assumption is correct, it can be as simple as just taking off the rings, but there can be a little more to it. I have seen many people bring Cuban Cigars back to the US from Costa Rica, and other locations, and I have some tips to make the most of the process.

First of all, you will need a travel humidor, or an empty cigar box(es). This of course will depend on how many cigars you would like to bring back. However, if you are going to make the investment in trueHabano cigars, I recommend that you take care of them in the proper conditions. This is something that people do not often plan for, and I have heard some horror stories of cigars drying out, wrappers cracking, or worse.

Now that you have the proper conditions to stow your cigars, you need to think about what you will be buying. I stress this part, because depending on where you go you will have a great variety to choose from. For cigars that you plan to travel with, go for the gold- spend more than you normally would and pick up some super-stars (Like aCohiba Siglo IV or Sublime for example). In addition, most locations will let you inspect and smell the cigars before you buy them- do not be shy. Make sure that the cigars smell fresh, and are not overly dry.

After you have purchased the cigars, you will have to remove the rings. Some shops will help you do this, but it would be at your own risk no matter what they say. Depending on your manual dexterity you might want to do this yourself. However you choose to do it if, make sure you make a map so that you know what is what. You might be surprised how similar two different robustos might look.

It is not necessary to throw the rings away. If you take them off with the right amount of care, they can be put back on, but if it is a matter of damaging the rings or the cigar wrapper, you know what to do. Before you leave home take a decent quality envelope with you. By decent quality I mean one that is not easy to see through. You could also use a "tri-folded" piece of paper inside the envelope. While in Costa Rica, you can send the envelope back home for less than a dollar. Any hotel will help you get the appropriate stamps and post your letter. It may take a couple weeks to arrive.

You can put the rings back on using white glueor a glue stick. Use another cigar from your collection to get the proper location set, and be very conservative with the glue. Put a 'dab' in the same spot where the dry glue is and paste the cigar ring to itself.

Traveling into the United States with "un-ringed" cigars from Costa Rica should not be an issue, as several of the local factories sell "un-ringed bundles." Be sure to declare you "Costa Rican Cigars" on your customs declaration form, as you are required to declare all tobacco.

Enjoy your trip to Costa Rica, and be careful when you go cigar hunting.

Sincerely,

TC-Keith

DISCLAIMER FOR US CITIZENS: The information contained in this post is for entertainment purposes only. Any use of this information in violation of any US federal, state or local law is prohibited.

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Friday, May 04, 2007

 

Chicago-land's 8 to 8 Cigar Shop Rocks!

If you are in the Chicagoland area and want to check out a hell of a cigar shop swing by 8 to 8 Cigar shop in Villa Park. Although the guy running the show didn't appear to be serious cigar smokers, they provided all of the conditions to please us die-hard smokers.

I was absolutely impressed with 8 to 8 Cigar Shop. This was a very large square foot free standing store with a HUGE variety of cigars. In addition, they had a small coffee area, and much to my liking, a good selection of hookah shisha. I picked up 3 - 50 gram boxes on a nice 3 for 2 special. The shop was laid out well, and it looked good with wood cabinets, tile, and pub like green walls. If I was to have one complaint, it would be a ventilation issue, but I am sure the place was not designed for a 40 person crew all smoking cigars.

Prices seemed reasonable and fair, but i must again harp on the selection- it was great. From good to bad, from humidors to shisha, they had a little bit of everything.

I arrived at the cigar shop just by chance on my recent trip back to the US. My uncle heard of a cigar night/poker event held there, and we were to meet up with some friends of his that are looking at opening a Cigar Lounge and Shop. Very sharp groups of guy, I will be keeping my ears open about the project.

The event was sponsored by Camacho and had specials, free food, and a poker tournament that "prized" the top 3. The nice people at Camacho put on a nice event. I will be doing a review of a Camacho cigar soon. Probably a 65ish cigar on my scale.

Again, anyone in the area should give this cigar shop a spin.

TC-Keith

For more information:
8 to 8 Cigars
302 E. St. Charles Road
Villa Park, Illinois 60181
Phone: (630) 993-1234

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Monday, September 11, 2006

 

Cigar Hunting In San Jose, Costa Rica ::: Part 2

San Jose Costa Rica
Based on my previous post, I received an email asking for further detail, so we will continue the conversation a bit... Thanks Phil

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: True Habano's in San Jose
From: "Phil"
Date: Sat, September 09, 2006 4:09 pm

Hi,
What a refreshing relief to find your commentary on finding true Cuban cigars in Costa Rica (San Jose). I found an article back in 98 that talked about how to identify a falso, but Im not sure if it remains true today. I've pasted it into a MS Word document that Ive enclosed.

I was planning on visiting the La Casa Del Habano in San Jose but Im not sure if they will try and sell me fake Cuban cigars. If I come in looking like a tourist who does not know much about Habanos, might they try and rip me off? Or will I be safe in that store? Should I inspect them according to the enclosed article?

I will be there in November. What can I expect to pay for a box?

Thanks!
Phil

-----Original Message-----
From: keith
Sent: Sunday, September 10, 2006 11:25 AM
To: Phil
Subject: RE: True Habano's in San Jose

Phil,

The article looks fairly dated, but there is some good information in there. The truth is if someone wants to produce a fake box of cigars, everything except the tobaccco can be produced here (In Costa Rica), Cuba, even in the US. The cigar falsification industry is huge, world wide. The only trick to buying is buying from a trusted dealer.

La Casa Del Habanao is pretty trusted in my opinion. I used to know the general manager there well, but he has recently moved on. I use the term "pretty trusted" becasue I do not know who is running the place now, and what has happened at other places is that their own staff was bringing in fakes and selling them. I doubt that is happening, but it is a risk.

I doubt that they will take advantage of you as a tourist. Although some places in Costa Rica use that philosophy, La Casa Del Habano is owned by an Italian family who knows that you can "shear a sheep many times, but skin it once." They should try to make you a long term client, but if you like send me a list of what you might be looking for and I will write you an estimate on what they should cost- just so you can be safe. Prices depend greatly on what brands and vitolas you are interested in.

If you are interested in a boutique cigar, I will recommend Don Benigno. I smoke his cigars almost exclusively with the exception of gifts and reviews. They are excellent, and go for $100 to $200 per box (depending on vitola). They are sold at a popular mall on the west side of town call "Plaza Major." If you can pick up a few sticks, and if you are interested in purchasing by the box you can visit the factory and get a nice little tour.

Drop me a line with what you are looking for,

Keith

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: True Habano's in San Jose
From: "Phil"
Date: Sun, September 10, 2006 11:24 am
To: keith

Thanks Keith, great info.

I saw your blog post on Don Benigno and was thinking of checking that out.

Ok, you've uncovered my ignorance in regards to cigars. I'm very much a novice who doesn't get much past smoking a mild Macanudo but wants to take advantage of my trip to Costa Rica.

So I like mild cigars. When I drink an IPA, a harsh cigar makes it impossible as an IPA is a strong beer and they are too powerful as a combo.

So I know enough to know that I've probably not tasted a truly good cigar (not sure if Macanudo's are considered good quality). I say mild probably because I've had some harsh cigars... I don't smoke cigarettes...

So what do you think? I've looked at all the various brands of cuban's, but figured I would ask the shop owner when I get there to recommend something for me. If you can help me out that'd be great.

Perhaps this should be on your blog as comments to help others? I got your blog info from a forum poster on a message board as a quality blog with good info. I sure appreciate your time in this matter!

Thanks,
phil

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: RE: True Habano's in San Jose
From: keith
Date: Mon, September 11, 2006 12:39 am
To: Phil

Phil,

First of all, thanks for the repeated kind words about my blog, I hope that people find it useful, so thanks for saying as much. Greatly appreciated.

Excellent idea on posting the messages! I don't post emails because I worry about jeopardizing people's confidence (and I hate to ask). I have made a Part 2 of the Cigar Hunting post that is on my blog.

No need to be bashful, we were all novices at one time- and as a very serious cigar smoker, I am glad to see the hobby/pastime grow. Before moving abroad, I smoked many Macs, they are indeed mild, but I still smoke one from time to time. I still find mild cigars pleasing to the pallet. You are right on however, take advantage of this trip to check out some new cigars.

On that note, let me explain that Cuban cigars are strong, but they are not harsh. Even some experienced smokers that have not had access to Cuban cigars make the mistake of thinking that they are mild, because they are not harsh. You will have one up on them.

Cuban tobacco should not burn or scratch the throat. They are smooth and creamy. If you inhale a little, you will see their strength, but it is not necessary. It is hard to say where to start, but make sure you buy some singles before buying a box. Mareva is a great starting point, but if you are feeling adventurous, you will enjoy a Robusto.

In terms of brands, the best is Cohiba. All the of parts of Cohiba are from the Vuelta Abajo zone of Cuba- it is the best of the best. That being said, the other big names are all respectable as well- don't get too caught up thinking a Limited Edition is something special, normally it is just means a different wrapper and additional ring.

Prices start around $350 a box, but you are looking at more for some of the more popular brands. A box of Cohiba Robustos will be about $500. I should point out that cash (dollars) should get you a discount over using a credit card.

If you have any other questions, feel free to ask.

Sincerely,

Keith

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

 

Cigar Hunting In San Jose, Costa Rica

San Jose, Costa Rica is a great place to visit, and a wonderful place to live, however in the world of cigars, it has it's darker side.

San Jose is kind of like the Mos Eisley of the world for cigar smoker... As Obi-Wan put it, it is a "wretched hive of scum and villainy."

You are certainly think... "How can this guy say something so strong about San Jose, Costa Rica... this is his adopted home... how bad can it really be?"

Well, yes- my words are extreme, but only because I recommend that you hunt, shop, and buy with EXTREME caution.

My research show that there are no less that 40 cigar producers in the country. However, if you look in the yellow pages, you will only find one. I understand that the yellow pages is not a great guide, and it is a bit of a mafia in itself, but use that example as a metaphor for the situation in Costa Rica.

As many tourist locations outside the US, there is a huge market for fake Cuban cigars, however due to Costa Rica's popularity combined with it's proximity to Nicaragua (to provide rollers and tobacco), the number of fake cigars out there is enormous.

Nearly everyone know the street is full of fakes, but that is not where it ends. Many hotels, restaurants, and even tobacco stores are tainted- mainly unknowingly, others foolishly.

That being said, there are a number of places where you can find real Cuban cigars. La Mata De Tobacco (Multi-Plaza), Don Benigno Cigars (kiosk in Plaza Mayor), La Casa Del Habano (San Pedro near the mall), to name a few.

There are good and bad fakes, and you my find a fake cigar that you enjoy, but truth be told, it is not right, proper, or healthy (who knows how the tobacco was cured).

I am writing this because it is very important to me that cigar smokers get access to great cigars, and purchasing fake cigars in San Jose, Costa Rica is bad for tourism, but is worse for the cigar smoker who gets them.

Proceed with caution when cigar hunting in San Jose, Costa Rica. There are plenty of opportunities to find the "real deal" so do not be foolish. Enjoying a great cigar is a wonderful experience, and following my advice can make that wonderful experience a reality while on a trip in San Jose.

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Saturday, June 25, 2005

 

Don Alejandro Robaina

Don Alejandro Robaina

About 20 minutes outside of Pinar Del Rio we turned left off of a simple highway onto a bumpy dirt road. The previous 20 minutes had been spent diving on the two lane road that goes into San Juan and San Luis, both sides of the road brimming with picturesque tobacco fields.

This dusty road took us left and right in a difficult route, finally putting us at the home of the humble yet famous Alejandro Robaina. I knew very little about the license plates in Cuba, but I know that the blacks one were for important people... there were 2 parked out side. As we got out of the car, an ox driven cart passed full of bright green leaves, something that has done thousands of times before, for over a hundred years.

We turned the corner and entered the porch, there were 4 or 5 other guests puffing on cigars. Apparently they had been waiting sometime, because Alejandro was taking a nap. Shortly after our arrival they left. His cousin or brother, who served as the host, invited us to some cigars and rum. I passed on the rum and finished my single robust that I bought from the Tobacco Roller in the Casa Del Habano earlier (True Cigar Tip: Always take care of the tobacco roller).

Don Benigno, my dear friend, who grew up in Pinar Del Rio knew the entire family and staff at Alejandro's home. It was Don Benigno that took me to Cuba with him and that drove me out on this very interesting tobacco tour. After some brief conversation, someone went inside and came out with the a older man that looked worked to the bone, yet one of the most distinctly comely men I have ever met. Don Alejandro Robaina is neither tall nor short, he is skinny, but omits strength, and portrayed such a distinct humility that I was immediately enamored with him.

Don Alejandro RobainaAfter some additional customary conversation about their family, things got deep- deep in the form of some very technical conversation about the crop, rain, and some studies that had been done on the soil. My Spanish is pretty good, but I get lost in technical conversations, especially between masters. I was finishing up my cigar, and Don Alejandro invited us to some special cigars that he made to give out at the Habanos Festival. What a cigar! Again, a robusto- with a wrapper that looked like a dark chocolate. Don Alejandro invited us across the way into his special reception and guest house that the government had recently built for him. This very nice home, by any standards, had beautiful wood work and was chocked full of thousand dollar humidors. We passed into the back room, the bar- with couches and very attractive ashtray holders. The conversation continued, and we continued to smoke. Don Alejandro took only a few puffs here and there, as I found out that he has had to be cautious of his health- I could tell he missed being able to smoke like he used to.

This special day is something that I will always remember. On my next trip to Pinar Del Rio, I hope to visit him again, and spend some more time with one of the most famous tobacco farmers of all time. There are many others like, him but his humility and work ethic earned him the respect of the world and of his own dictator. His namesake cigars are one of the top lines offered by Cuba, and out of respect to him I suggest every smoker try to keep at least one of his cigars in their humidor.
Vegas Robaina Box

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