Cigars play a major role at the Graycliff Hotel in Nassau

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Caribbean editor Gay Nagle Myers dined, sipped, rolled and puffed during a too-brief visit to Nassau's historic Graycliff Hotel. Her report follows:

NASSAU -- Avelino Lara let me hold his chavetto. I was flattered beyond words.

It's been with him for 67 of his 78 years -- ever since he rolled his first cigar at the age of 11. To a cigar roller, a chavetto is as important a possession as life itself. Lara's chavetto, worn smooth from years of use, accompanies him everywhere.

The small metal instrument, used to trim and cut cigars, resembles a utensil that would be used for dicing onions. Cuban-born Lara, now the master roller at Graycliff, created the Cohiba cigar brand in Havana in 1966 and was cigar roller to Fidel Castro.

He learned his trade from his grandfather and father. Enrico and Anna Maria Garzaroli, owners of Graycliff Hotel & Restaurant since 1973, recruited Lara to join the family operation in 1993.

The newest pool at Graycliff Hotel. Until 1998, when the Graycliff Cigar Co. began producing seven different cigars under its own label, Lara sat at a small table in the parlor of the main house and rolled cigars for restaurant guests.

Today, he presides over a staff of 14 Cuban-born rollers in a first-floor, glass-enclosed viewing room in the new Graycliff Cigar Co. It's here that Lara demonstrates his art to hotel and restaurant guests.

"There are 87 different steps involved in producing a cigar, from planting to shipping," Lara said in Spanish (translated for me by Anna Maria). When the cigar rolling operation is at its capacity of 20 staff, close to 1 million cigars a year will be rolled in that room.

The tobacco leaves are airfreighted in from six different countries -- Brazil, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Honduras, India and Paraguay. Cuban tobacco is not used because of government restrictions.

Each roller can turn out between 90 and 140 cigars on an eight-hour shift, depending on the size of the cigar. All Graycliff cigars are aged for up to six months in strictly controlled conditions of 70% humidity and 70 degrees.

The price for a box of 25 cigars ranges from $195 to $480, depending on the category and size of the cigar.

The new Graycliff Cigar Co. is an annex just a few steps from the main Graycliff Hotel on West Hill Street in downtown Nassau near Government House. In addition to the cigar-rolling room, Graycliff Cigar Co. also features a large walk-in humidor, the Humidor restaurant, a lounge, a gift shop and seven guest rooms.

Each of the guest rooms is named after one of the Graycliff cigars, such as Elegante, Presidente, Corona Especiale and Grande Dame.

Amenities include cigar memorabilia, antique furnishings and linens as well as air conditioning, ceiling fans and private baths. The large double rooms have sitting areas with windows that open to a covered veranda.

Nightly rates start at $235, double, including breakfast.

The Humidor restaurant serves lunch and dinner from both an a la carte menu and a Cigar prix fixe menu, accompanied by a selection of cigars. Garzaroli said that the new Humidor restaurant is outfitted "with an elaborate smoke reduction system. Guests will not be affected by cigar smoke nor will their hair or clothes [smell like smoke]."

The average dinner for two with wine costs about $150. A bar and lounge are open daily from 11:30 a.m. to midnight, serving light fare and beverages.

Scheduled to open at Graycliff by September are a spa, a gym and a beauty salon. The property also features two pools and gardens. The Graycliff Cigar Co. annex complements the 13 guest rooms and pool cottage suites at Graycliff Hotel.

No two of the hotel's rooms are decorated the same, although all have air conditioning and private baths. The Pool Cottage, where Winston Churchill stayed, and the Baillou, the original master bedroom in the main house, evoke an old tropic charm.

The Mandarino Cottage features an extra-large bathroom with a whirlpool. The hotel's restaurant has four air-conditioned dining rooms and an outdoor area. Garzaroli said the hotel is sold out for the millennium period.

Graycliff Cigar Co.

Phone: (242) 328-7050

Web: www.graycliff.com

Graycliff Hotel

Phone: (242) 322-2796

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