This past week I got to go home again, in more ways than one. It had been 20 years+ since I had been in Ottawa. I grew up there, playing hockey, going trick-er-treating with a snowsuit under my costume and discovering politics. I left Ottawa in 1992 after my mom’s death and it was interesting to come back as an adult. One of the things that was interesting was the number of cigarette smokers (I saw more there than I do in NYC) but the stiffness of the laws in Ontario makes it hard for a cigar aficionado to enjoy the variety of cigars out there. Ontario, as a province, has some of the stiffest tobacco laws I’ve ever seen (e.g., cigars cannot be out on display, tobacconists must get the cigar for you, no cigar lounges/bars, etc.). And this makes it hard to enjoy. But I did find a couple of glimmers for those that might be traveling to Ottawa at some point.
First, I will point out that Canada has no issue with Cuban cigars. Now, as a Canadian, that means I can legally enjoy them while in Canada but just not bring them back. Even if I could and with such a good exchange rate, I wouldn’t. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy but rather the provincial tax makes it almost absurd to do so (two little Romeo Y Julieta Short Churchills run at about $45 USD). If you are an American and you do enjoy a Cuban, keep in mind that you are technically breaking the law (I can honestly say that most Canadians probably wouldn’t care much but ya never know who’s lurking there in the background..).
Even if you could you really have no where to enjoy it unless you go in the summer, when the weather is warmer (ave runs about 65-75F but can be hotter) and you can enjoy outside. I did discover that the Crowne Plaza Hotel on 101 Lyon Street still has smoking rooms on their Club Floor (that also gets you a free continental breakie and hors d’ouveres in the evening). Although the hotel is 30+ years old and some parts show it’s age, it’s still a decent hotel. I got treated well with complimentary snacks, extremely friendly and helpful staff and it’s location downtown is close enough for action without being too close. I even had a great view of the Ottawa River, which, let me tell ya, looks amazing during the sunset.
Second to that, Ottawa only seems to have one tobacconist left: Ottawa Cigar Emporium in the ByWard Market. While you still can’t feel the cigars, you can at least look at them. I did see many favourites along with some I had never seen before. I got a RyJ Short Churchill and a Cuaba Distinguidos (they didn’t last that long that night). This lonely establishment is the last of its kind in Ottawa where you can really talk cigars with someone who knows and understands. It does have hours later than most other places in Ottawa (most of Ottawa will close around 4-5pm in the downtown core with exception of the Rideau Center and the ByWard Market). I’ve generally not enjoyed Cuban cigars but this time I got to. It’s a reflection of how well the Emporium looks after and maintains their stock. If you go, definitely put them on your list of places to visit. Although all the humidors are wall ones, it does have a decent stock to choose from that are usuals elsewhere (at least in comparison to the US). I will say that if Obama does life the Embargo, I’ll be getting a box of the RyJ Short Churchills. That was a nice, sweet little cigar while working on paper work and the like. It’s mild with a nice sweetness to it (for some reason, a tinge of honey came to mind — not sure why) that almost melted in my mouth as I went through it.
The only other place that has a decent selection is Comerford’s Cigar Store. This place has existed as long as I can remember. The hours, 4:30am until 4pm match that of civil servants (except for the 4:30am part) that make the bulk of Ottawa’s workforce. This store has, historically, specialized in cigars and pipe tobacco but because of it’s design the cigars and tobacco is being frosted glass (as per law). Comerford’s existed when I lived there so many years ago and even before me, given it’s 50+ year history. They have seen many changes of Prime Minister’s and such and they still forge forward. Whether it will continue with the present anti-smoking law in place is hard to say. It certainly has business beyond cigars and pipes but it’d be a shame to see that industry die and with it a piece of history. It’d be interesting to see if a change of provincial government might loosen some of those laws a bit. I certainly understand some of it but this is a bit far while yet encouraging kids to gorge on soft drinks and fast foods in an overly polluted environment.
I think the next time I go to Ottawa it will be to visit a friend and enjoy a cigar with him and his wife on their balcony along with a bottle of Jim Beam or a Forty Creek while we reminisce about our life before we became adults. Now that is truly the way to enjoy a cigar.