I'LL CONFESS , I know next to nothing about cigars. It's all myths and legends to me. I get the blunt appeal of them, though.
I also get the appeal of pre-revolution Cuba. For some people, life was simpler and more romantic when Cuba's pre-Revolution sugar production was vertically integrated with colonial interests.
Combining the two, Havana Garage has a very woody, 1962 vibe. It's a cool place to hang out and detoxify from the modern world if you put your phone away and let the magic of the wood interior do its work.
It's a good place for conversation, especially about tobacco. For example, did you know that tobacco has character like wine? In its traditional form, it is nuanced and subtle. It can be earthy, yet sophisticated.
Cigars are a niche pastime for those who can afford a $9 stogie on the regular, but it's also a not-too-expensive rare treat for the average person. Even at $50, a great hand-rolled cigar is less than 14 cents a day and well-worth saving up for to sample "the good life." Check out the basement humidor for hundreds of options. Ask your bartender for tips if you're a newbie. (FYI, there are no Swishers in the humidor.)
Even for the OldMarket, Havana Garage occupies some prime real estate. With The Oven to the west and Ahmad's Persian Cuisine to the east, Havana sits on the north side of Howard near the 10th Street gateway to the OldMarket. It really is the most impactful and iconic location in the Big O, our version of Canal and Bourbon Street. On any given night, the patios and beer gardens on this well-preserved corner between the business district and Jobbers Canyon feel like the center of Omaha's true spirit. So Havana Garage has ambiance going for it, which is nice.
My running partner on this adventure was one of Omaha's most elite blues guitarists, a real musician's musician, Héctor Anchondo (find him at Havana frequently, at Omaha Lounge every Tuesday and at hectoranchondo.com — he's everywhere). Héctor likes the intimate, woodsy interior, especially the corner he gets to play in occasionally.
It was a great recommendation for a conversation about dreams and aspirations between two very manly men. Héctor had a Guinness, I had the Infusion Dominican Brown Ale ($4.50/pint). With really noticeable elements of genuine Dominican chocolate, coffee and vanilla, the ale has some serious high notes. Also on tap currently is Weihenstephaner Hefeweizen, St. Bernardus, Stella Artois, Kinkaider Brown Ale, Infusion Pistachio Porter, Brickway Havana Lager and Guinness.
My friendly bartender was manager Nate, who filled me in on a little history. You can find out most of it for yourself, as he's a talker, but the back bar is noteworthy. The antique wooden system of shelves, cubbies and drawers looks straight out of an Old West saloon. This one came from South O about 10 years ago. It's a wonder of carpentry, and once you really see it, you can't not see it again.
In those shelves, Havana has 790 bottles. Of those, 300 are bourbon, 300 are Scotch. "If you can't find it here," Nate told me, "you will be hard-pressed to find it anywhere else in Omaha."
Hope to see you there.
Where: 1008 howard st.
Hours: 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. monday through Thursday, noon to 2 a.m. Friday through sunday
Info: 402-614-3800 or thehavanagarage.com