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Cigar Hunter: Tampa’s tobacco paradise at the GOP convention [SLIDESHOW]

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If you weren’t in Tampa, Fla., for the Republican National Convention, you missed a heck of a lot of good cigars.

The historic Ybor City neighborhood is home to more than a half-dozen tiny cigar shops that make and sell their own house brands. It also boasts America’s oldest working cigar factory and a giant cigar retailer-slash-coffee-shop that would be an amazing find in any other city.

You can walk into some of the smaller shops and watch torcedors roll cigars before your eyes. The Daily Caller had a cigar roller on the premises at our three-night party series, too. And the “strippers” at the JC Newman factory are, um — entertaining ladies. (RELATED VIDEO: “Hecho a mano” in Tampa)

You really had to be there, but these photos will give you an idea.

Click an image below for larger version.
  • La Faraona Cigars opened nine days before the Republican convention -- just in time for owner Lorenzo Gonzales and his wife, Odelma Matos, to show off how to roll a monster torpedo. This shop is definitely a family operation.  (Photo by Jerry McPhee)
  • What's a cigar store without a "Cigar store Indian?" This one guards the door at La Faraona.  (Photo by Jerry McPhee)
  • They call her a "stripper" at the JC Newman Cigar Factory, but don't get any ideas: This woman works at a machine that "strips" the center vein out of tobacco wrapper leaves. The result is two equal halves (shown in foreground), each of which will wrap a cigar. The machine has been in regular use since 1910.
  • This lovely lady operates a contraption that cuts wrapper leaves to a specific size, for inexpensive machine-made cigars. She said she doesn't smoke, but her boyfriend does -- either that, or she was asking me out on a date. (My Spanish is horrible.)
  • This is a near-completed pallet of JC Newman cigars, ready for the machine that puts on cellophane wrappers -- and then a box. If you're wondering, the full crate will eventually hold about 600 cigars.
  • Before a wrapper leaf can finish a cigar, it has to be pressed to hold its shape. This cigar press at the Nicahabana shop is stacked with full cedar wood molds. Each mold can be different on the inside, and each variation produces a different cigar shape and size 'vitola.'
  • Yordany Ogando, the owner of Nicahabana Cigars, shows off his humidor. Ogando's grandfather rolled cigars for 50 years, 20 of them in Cuba. Their Mexican Sumatra cigars are spicy bombs that you should try if you're in Ybor City.
  • "Barber pole" cigars are very much in vogue, and at least four shops in Ybor City make them. Two or more different wrapper leaves are overlapped and cemented with a flavorless vegetable glue to make the design, but beware: The different flavors don't always mix well together.
  • Roberto Ramirez' family has been growing tobacco and making cigars for five generations, starting in Cuba. Roberto somehow made it to the U.S. in 1992, and he now makes "La Herencia de Cuba" cigars in both Ybor City and Esteli, Nicaragua. These red label cigars are wrapped with a dark, oily habano leaf and finished with a decorative "pigtail."
  • It wouldn't be a Ybor City party without a cigar roller. This trained expert rolled about 100 per night for guests at The Daily Caller's three nighttime parties during the Republican National Convention.

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