Friday started out very much like the other days I had spent in Cuba, but ended with quite a bit more history-making excitement than anyone expected.
Once again I was up early to try and get as much work done as possible before the day’s events started, followed by scarfing down a quick breakfast and a taxi ride to the hotel where the festival was being held.
Historically, the final day of the festival is not as hectic as previous days, if only because people are resting up and getting ready for the almost overwhelming spectacle that is the final gala. This year was no different in that regard, with not much scheduled other than the closing of the trade show, so I decided to walk around one more time and see if there was anything I missed.
Turns out there was one thing: a humidor made by artist Alfredo Gómez in the shape of Cuba’s National Capitol Building—also known as El Capitolio—which bears a striking resemblance to the United States Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Like the original building—which took 5,000 workers three years, three months and 20 days to build during the late 1920’s—the humidor was amazingly detailed, with multiple drawers for different sized cigars. It’s also massive, probably over 5 feet wide.
After completing another circle of the quickly emptying trade show, I took a taxi back to the Casa Particular, where Charlie and some of the people we were staying with were getting ready to walk around the streets of Havana a bit before the night’s festivities started. As such, we started by visiting El Floridita, a bar famous for both its daiquiris as well as for having been one of the places Ernest Hemingway liked to visit when he was in Havana.
Having been to the bar multiple times, I knew what to expect, but first-timers are usually surprised at not only how small the bar is, but also how many people are inside at any given time. In our case, while the bar was not overly busy, it was crowded, with people fighting for room anywhere they could find it.
After enjoying a daiquiri at the bar, we walked down the streets until we ended up at the Hotel Conde de Villanueva, which happens to be the location of a La Casa Del Habano run by none other than Reynaldo González Alfonso, one of the most famous custom rollers in Cuba.
Reynaldo was gracious as always—especially considering how many people were in the small shop—and was happy to sell us some of his custom rolled cigars in various sizes. In addition, he managed to find me a box of the San Cristóbal de la Habana La Cabaña, a 2019 Edición Regional for Cuba that seemed to be in very short supply wherever I went.
After that, it was time to walk back to the Casa Particular in order to have time to get ready for the Final Gala dinner, being held once again at the PABEXPO Center. The night’s festivities were centered around the commemoration of the 145th anniversary of the Romeo y Julieta marca and its brand new three-vitola Línea de Oro line.
While it looked the same from the outside before the estimated 1,200 attendees were let in, the front foyer featured some significant changes from previous years, all based around the story of Romeo and Juliet. In addition to a live orchestra and a tower straight from the story where people could have photographs take, attendees were given roses to go along with the first cigar of the night, a Romeo y Julieta Línea de Oro Hidalgos.
After being handed their first cigar—as with the rest of the dinners during the Festival, the final gift bag was handed out as people left for the evening—attendees entered the main ballroom, where the main stage on the right dominated the room, with the five humidors being put up for auction on either side: two on the left and three on the right.
Like in previous years, there were a large number of different instrumental, musical and dance artists that performed throughout the night, including Shina, Max Max, Carlos Vargas, Laritza Bacallao, El Noro and Cristian Alejandro as well as Camerata Guido López and the Maestro Patterson Orchestra. However, a British drum group was easily the most electric artist of the night, with a set that included neon lights, smoke machines and quite a bit of makeup.
As the night continued, attendees were given the remaining two vitolas in the Línea de Oro line to enjoy after each course, specifically the Nobles and Dianas. The final cigar of the night was a classic in the Romeo y Julieta brand, namely a Romeo y Julieta Churchill.
Also included in the festivities was this year’s Habanos Awards, the annual tradition in which three people in different categories having to do with Habanos cigars are honored. The winners this year included Alexander Avellar in the communication category, Jean Claude Reichling in the business category and Servilio Jesús Córdova Torres in the production category.
However, the night’s main event was the humidor auction, in which different custom-made humidors are auctioned off to the highest bidder, with the proceeds going to the Cuban public health system. Each of the five humidors—this year the list included Cohiba, H. Upmann, Hoyo de Monterrey, Montecristo, Romeo y Julieta and Partagás—include cigars, some of which aren’t normally available, Partagás 109 anyone?
You can read the full results of the auction here.
This year, Habanos S.A. brought in Dalia Padilla and María Eugenia Álvarez of Christie’s to host the auction. The auction started off with a bit of a surprise: a Ramon Allones humidor commemorating Hunters & Frankau’s 225 years in business that was donated by the family of Simon Chase, who had previously led the auctions before passing away last year. That humidor sold for a whopping €380,000, or about $425,000.
One by one, the other main humidors were auctioned off, until all that was left was the Cohiba humidor that contains 550 different Cohiba cigars, including 20 Behike BHK 52, 20 Behike BHK 54 and 20 Cohiba Edición Limitada 1966, among others.
While the humidor was expected to be the most expensive of the night, no one could have been prepared for what the final price ended up being: €2.4 million ($2.7 million), easily the most expensive humidor ever auctioned off during the Festival Del Habano. In total, the humidors raised at least €4.2.7 million ($4.86 million), also a record.
After that amazing part of the night, there was just one event left, as legendary singer Gloria Gaynor took the stage to sing hits such as “Goin’ Out of My Head” and “I Will Survive.”
All that was left at that point was to collect the parting gift—a gift bag with a sampler box containing all three sizes of Romeo y Julieta Línea de Oro, as well as a custom cutter and lighter with the Romeo y Julieta logo—and get a taxi back to the Casa Particular to try and get some sleep before an early flight.