Monday, 28 December 2015

Havana Club Georgia and my Chirstmas Saviors

I am done apologizing for not keeping up with my blog posts. I turned fifty, so I believe I am pretty much done apologizing for anything unless I light you on fire. It has been very busy here in Tbilisi, not that anyone will notice, but between firing off a response to a request for a full manuscript submission and exclusive time to read it in full we have been doing the holiday thing in addition to the regular day to day. So I haven’t had much time to think really. I found I was being pulled back into the regular Canadian lifestyle of work, responsibility, and more work. This is Georgia! The focus is on Family, friends, and enjoying life. So why the hell was I falling back into this routine, complete with those nagging questions such as; “Is this story plot really tight enough?” “Did I go too far with the Countess (in Redemption’s Bullet)? Did I get too drunk on my birthday? What is with the holidays that makes people so crazy? Georgia has more holidays it has two calendars and so when you add the Canadian Christmas the madness of the season became a little overwhelming. So I did what I normally do when surrounded by pissed off elephants, growling leopards, or quiet smiling tattooed Russians. I whispered to myself; “Relax, take it easy ain’t nothing killed you yet.” This usually cues up the mental recording of Monty Python’s song Always Look at the Bright Side of Life and cures everything. Not this time!

Like only a whisper spoken in the dark can it caught in the chaos of “I wonders” and threatened to drag me with it. That only leads one to the bathroom mirror at two am with questions and concerns that the person reflected can’t answer. The situation was dire, threatening, a Fear Of The Dark Iron Maiden accompanied Joyce meets Hunter S. Thompson merging. I needed a cigar!

This thought brought to me by the labored spray of sweat as my last angel struggled in an unrecoverable flat-spin. Crashing on my shoulder back first, I couldn’t help but think “Bet she misses the good one now.” Instead,  I said; “Perhaps, I’ll have two.”  Cue AC/DCNo stop signs, speeds limits nobody gonna slow us down….

I jumped into a cab and sped off into the sunlit cool of this beautiful city that has been home for four months. While this may sound easy, enough, let me add a few disturbing facts. Taxi drivers are nice and helpful, saint-like sometimes, but I can’t speak Georgian, they can’t speak English, and we both speak Russian like seven-year-olds. Just to make it interesting Georgia has a very odd pattern to it’s streets and the cabs from one area have a very limited knowledge of other areas. I was going to Vake the richer area of Tbilisi from the working class area. The exhausted angel sleeping it off in my pocket wasn’t going to be any help.

We made it through the holiday traffic and managed to discover Davidoff Cigars. Mecca, in this case, was a small little shop with English enough staff. The section of cigars was splendid and with prices as close to Cuba as I’ve seen. They were very helpful and bent over backward to make my stay enjoyable. I enjoyed a small Robusto and reality returned slowly. Life is to be enjoyed. One should not be aware of their angels, just the blessings each day brings. I inhaled the aged Cuban leaf deep into my lungs and with each exhale felt a little more normal.

The other Cigar smoker in the lounge was Shawn. Shawn is not his real name. It is the name he kindly allows us English tongue handicapped people to use. This is a little example of Georgian hospitality. We enjoyed some small talk as Cigar lovers and became fast friends. He told me that he belonged to the Georgia Whiskey Club and that they were having a Bourbon tasting on Sunday if I wanted to come. I jumped at the idea.

Sunday came, and I met with an awesome, friendly group of locals from all walks of life. The evening's host was Giga Khatiashvilli, and he greeted me like an old friend when I walked into the restaurant-bar 11/11 located at 11 Galaktion, near Liberty Square. He wasn’t just a gracious host, but stepped up to be my interpreter for the evening as well. We sampled two offerings from Jack Daniels, and two more from Bulleit. The opinions of the evening were as varied as the palates they graced. I preferred the Bulleit offering distilled in Lawrenceburg Indiana. It contained  95 percent Rye and was a little more “layered.”

The tables were graced with various whiskey themed offerings as well. Chicken skewers finished in a Jack Daniels sauce and baked apples finished in the same manner with walnuts. Various finger food delicacies also found their way onto our table, and I had a good time trying to explain the haute culinary couture of a hush-puppy. It came down to everyone loves mashed potatoes, and deep frying makes everything better. The evening was tied in a bow with coffee, cigars, and a wonderful pumpkin pie.

During the evening, Giga introduced me to his friends and Shawn managed to get free of work to attend as well. I was introduced to Dimitri Gakhov and told he was Tbilisi’s resident expert on cigars. Turned out he is and it also turns out he is a super nice guy as well. Not at all like a stuffy expert! We shared the evening, and I forgot how much I was missing home and my traditional Christmas. While it might sound maudlin, but I wasn’t in the least bit drunk and the room truly was filled with the spirit of Christmas. People of all walks of life and income were enjoying a common love and sharing.

Dimitri invited me out to the Havana Club Tbilisi, as he was expecting the new 2015 Bolivars to arrive and I decided to take him up on his offer. I met him at the Havana Club and was immediately impressed at the design and offerings of this oasis. It is an inviting and yet elegant place, striking a perfect match rarely seen in cigar lounges. He greeted me in a rich dark suit, and I was formally attired in Puma T and antiqued Guess jeans. It was fine, and we both fit the decor. The humidor at the Havana Club is impressive, and I don’t say that with an “in Georgia” qualifier. Novice to the jaded smoker will find something to tempt and tantalize including rare offerings and aged beauties. The selection of spirits is as remarkable, and the staff are attentive and professional.

Dimitri and I talked about the Club and his visions for the future and enjoyed a couple of hours between tasks that demanded his attention. One of these was the delivery of the 2015’s and watching him open the boxes once again reminded me of Christmas. It is rare to see a man doing his job that is not a job but a passion and love. If you are within a thousand kilometers of this place, it needs to be on your cigar bucket list. If you are a true connoisseur and love travel, then this should be a destination stop. Georgia has incredible wine and not just the sweet stuff that gets exported to the Americas, but world class incredible vintage sips. I also heard that one of the most famous wine areas in a country known for wine is going to do a Port offering. Hey, I know a guy, and I feel better now!

Georgia is rich in history and culture, and while you can find that elsewhere you can not find hospitality like this anyplace. Add to this an easy visa process and incredibly gentle sin tax and you will not find a better place to smoke and drink while you check out a little history.


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