The return of frost on Toronto’s leaves marks the separation of the pretenders from true tobacco enthusiasts. As the temperature drops, cackling frat boys and label-flying philistines douse their cigars and call it a winter, while true aficionados simply bundle up while they smoke out of doors, banished by cautious government. Perhaps I ought to cultivate a more socially acceptable vice, like minding my neighbour’s business or exploiting tax loopholes.
Instead I spent the afternoon touring Toronto’s most worthwhile tobacconists. Toronto has no shortage of stores that deal in what King James I called the unsavorie Antidot, and too many of our stores are exactly that: unsavoury. The neighbourhood smoke shop with ten boxes in their humidor and fifty per cent of their business done in bongs and hookahs is a poor substitute for the respectable tobacconist.
I hurried to La Casa del Habano, located in Yorkville (and more broadly in Montreal and Windsor). It’s a sleek, modern affair that deals exclusively in Cuban cigars, carrying every major brand, save Punch, along with a few interesting minor ones, like Rafael Gonzales. The helpful shopkeeper also directed my attention to curated variety packages, which make ideal Christmas gifts.
Yorkville’s other tobacconist is Thomas Hinds, a cosy store from another century replete with carpets, overstuffed leather chairs and creaky wood. They carry cigars from around the world, along with their own house brands from Honduras and Nicaragua. Mulling over the choice between natural and a maduro, both from Nicaragua, shopkeeper Giuseppe DiLuciano advised that the stronger flavour of the maduro is better in the cold. I smoke it later that night, and he’s right. It’s toothy, but creamy and sumptuous.
My last stop for the day was F Correnti Cigars, which is on King Street, but tucked behind the main storefronts on a little laneway. They carry no brands; they import raw tobacco from Cuba and make their own cigars. Owner Chris Miller (the Millers have been making cigars since the 1880s) assures me that if I swing by on a Saturday afternoon, I can watch the rollers at work. They’re Toronto’s, and perhaps Canada’s, last cigar manufactory, and they’ve been at it since 1906.
I buy a robusto from Chris; he tells me that it was rolled last Saturday. I smoke it in the morning as the sun’s coming up, over Davin de Kergommeaux’s Canadian Whisky and a cup of tea. It’s an earthy thing with a pleasant draw, as good as any Cohiba or Romeo y Julieta, but it’s more than that. Shaking off the morning cold, holding something handmade, steeped in Toronto history and tobacco’s long tradition, is satisfying beyond taste.