Not just a cigar

Club Havana brings an assortment of cigars all the way from Cuba.


Hani Taha May 10, 2011

LAHORE:


For Hamid Ali Khan of Club Havana, cigars are not just an idle occupation, but a profound passion. “Cigar, or ‘poro’ as they call it in Spanish, is a way of life. It is a lifestyle that you imbibe and when you go to Cuba, you understand what that lifestyle truly incorporates,” sighs Khan wistfully.


He speaks of cigars as one would talk of one’s own child — with deliberation and care mingled with pride. The sublime manner in which Khan speaks tells volumes about how deep-rooted his passion truly is. “You’re not selling a product, you’re selling a lifestyle,” he says. “These cigars have travelled all the way from Cuba. They deserve respect.”

Khan created this little utopia for cigars, aptly titled Club Havana, on the premise of ‘if you build it, they will come’.

“I used to buy from every place that I could possibly procure them from in Karachi, but would never be happy with what the stores offered. Finally, they got fed up of me and asked me to do it myself,” chuckles Khan, who then thought of a cigar room steeped in history and created Club Havana, a cafe with walls boasting antiques that are over 200-years-old.

It would irk Khan that cigars were stored so callously and incorrectly by local establishments. Hence, Club Havana has its own little repository to house these precious babies. “Cigars are very hydroscopic; they absorb everything around them and so leave a bitter aftertaste when smoked,” explained Khan, who is extremely particular about how the cigars are stored. The cigars are ‘massaged’ every few days so they release their flavour well. The products are safeguarded and maintained for clients who purchase them beforehand, and then are meticulously packaged and home delivered to patrons if and when needed. Since the smoking rooms can get dingy and claustrophobic, he has installed an extraction system so that the smoke is constantly sucked out.

While the operation in Karachi has been thriving for quite some time, the club opened its doors to Lahori’s just a few months ago. “My bankers thought I was mad when I discussed my plan to open up a cigar lounge,” says Khan, who does phenomenally well selling cookies and biscuits as a primary occupation. “There was no feasibility plan and this was purely a labour of love born by the love of the game.”

Seeing the crowds in Lahore being drawn in slowly but surely, Khan intends on expanding to locations such as Sialkot and Faisalabad, along with Islamabad, which surely should have been the first choice given its cosmopolitan nature.

But it’s not just cigars on the offering. The club prides itself on being a paradise for coffee lovers as well, serving authentic Sicilian coffee that Khan explains “has more gusto and doesn’t bite like Italian coffee.”

Apart from the usual diplomats, heads of corporations and other men of imminence that are known to have discerning tastes, Club Havana has seen some rather interesting patrons. Khan narrates the tale of one such captivating client: A gentleman who had spent a lot of time in Cuba, was friends with Fidel Castro and had even met Che Guevara several times. “He recounted his meetings with both of them, and how Che was very reserved and shy — the complete opposite of Castro,” said Khan.

As places like Club Havana become the point of convergence for illustrious and industrious men, Khan mentions how a young entrepreneur cut a deal of $15 million at the premises, and then shared his happiness with the unique gift of an antique rug.

“People call it their home. They see it as an extension of their living rooms,” beams Khan. The comfortable mahogany chairs do make it easier to sink into languid unabashed flow of conversation. “The relationships formed here have led people to group up and take cigar holidays together,” says Khan. “This lounge is an important part of people’s relationships and this is what gives me the joy to continue doing what I do.”

When asked about the best cigar that Club Havana offers, Khan said: “The best cigar is what you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be a high-end brand. You need to take out the time to figure out your own taste.”

Published in The Express Tribune, May 11th, 2011.

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