If You Have to Smoke, Savor It

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If You Have to Smoke, Savor It

When the United States slapped an embargo on Cuban exports, Cuban cigars became even more of a prize. But luckily, cigar lovers in Korea do not have to tango with the law to buy pehaps Cuba's most prized export.

Until recently though, Koreans also had access problems. There is a basic economic equation that relates supply to demand. Five years ago, if you wanted a cigar, you were one of very, very few. Simply finding a cigar store was difficult.

Today, if you want a cigar, you have your choice of swank bars in Cheongdam-dong and a variety of hotel venues, which, starting Thursday, will include Casa del Habano at Hilton Hotel.

Cigar culture has arrived, but it is not yet fully fired up. Compared to Spain, the cigar scene here is still young and peripheral, according to Bradley John Mitton, sales and marketing director of Grand Havana.

At Grand Havana, a restaurant in Cheongdam-dong with a cigar lounge on the second floor, 70 percent of its clients are locals and 30 percent are expatriates. At Havana Cigar Divan in Grand InterContinental Hotel, 40 to 50 percent of its clients are Korean. At Casa del Habano, Koreans have made up only 20 to 30 percent of the total clientele since its preliminary opening in February. Its owners expect the percentage of Korean clients to go up after the store officially opens.

Cigar smokers form a niche market, but numbers are steadily increasing and the pleasures of cigar smoking are reaching a younger age group. Cigar smokers usually range from 40 to 60 years old, but Kelly Song, manager of Casa del Habano, points to growing interest from a younger generation of venture capitalists.

Mr. Mitton caters to young executives, business meetings, couples on dates and a regular group of ajummas (older married women) at his lounge. More women are starting to smoke cigars, but Mr. Mitton still pegs the female proportion at only 2 percent, adding, "They're usually women on dates."

by Joe Yong-hee

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