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Hansen: The sweet smell of Communist smoke

May 01, 2013|By David Hansen
  • Uncle Sam watches over Cubana Cigars in Laguna Beach, making sure no real Cuban cigars are enjoyed.
Uncle Sam watches over Cubana Cigars in Laguna Beach,…

There is a famous story about President John F. Kennedy buying more than 1,000 Cuban cigars the day before he authorized the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba in 1962.

Knowing full well what he was doing, he did it anyway — insider cigar trading for personal gain.

Now more than 50 years later, Cuban cigars are still beloved, carrying an undeniable reputation and mystique, which is why there are Cuban cigar shops in the U.S. even though they don't sell Cuban cigars.

In a strange, accepted form of advertising, we don't seem to mind.

"No other Communist country is promoted as a business in the U.S. like Cuba," said Douglas Kang, co-owner of Cubana Cigars in Laguna Beach.

Admitting it's a unique situation, Kang said that perhaps the reason rests in the quality of the cigars.

"Cuban cigars are unmatched," he said. "Cheap cigars get bitter as they get shorter."

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Once you've had a great cigar, Kang said, "it's hard to go back."

So what is it about Cuba that makes us so enamored?

There are no North Korean barbecue restaurants in the U.S.

No Pol Pot party stores.

OK, maybe that's not quite the same.

But we have made something normal that is entirely abnormal, or at least unfamiliar to most people: Cuba and Cuban cigars.

Kang's lounge sits enticingly on the second floor of a small building at 1400 S. Coast Hwy. It is, most likely, the only place in Orange County where you can smoke a cigar, drink a glass of wine, catch a ballgame and watch an ocean sunset all at the same time.

Approved smoking ordinance. Approved beer and wine license. Approved Cuban culture.

"The vibe is very casual, very Laguna Beach-ish, not very pretentious," Kang said.

It's as if you're sitting on someone's private deck with oversized patio furniture, flat panel TV and brews in the fridge.

Guys — yes, mainly guys — hang out as you would expect, cajoling, unwinding, networking and telling stories.

It's not a huge tourist place — primarily regulars, some with their own cigar lockers.

If you know your cigars, you're probably smoking Cohiba, Davidoff or Padron. The more expensive cigars in this shop range between $25 to $40. But there are many more approachable ones for less than $10.

"The best cigar in 2012, according to the magazine Cigar Aficionado, was the Flor de las Antillas," Kang said. "It was about $9. It doesn't have to be expensive to be good.

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