One of the more alluring, enduring
features of cigars is their often romanticized history.
And one of the most historically
significant American cigarmakers is none other than LA PALINA, since 1896.
Most cigar enthusiasts associate heritage
cigar manufacturers and marcas (brands) with Cuba, however, they’re wrong to presume that
the Golden Age Nineteenth-Century Cigar Juggernaut (the original 'Cigar Boom') came to an
abrupt halt at the Tropic of Cancer.
It didn’t. Cigar making and dark tobaccos
migrated effortlessly all the way north to the Connecticut River Valley, and Northwest to
the Great Lakes, specifically Chicago, the birthplace of La Palina Cigars (né Congress Cigar
THE GILDED AGE
In the first half of the 1890s,
the Windy City had some 300 cigar operations within the city limits. But a young and
entrepreneurial Ukrainian émigré, Samuel Paley, saw opportunity for there to be at least
CONGRESS CIGAR CO.
1910 - 1960
Sam worked his way up at
other cigar factories, first as a lecturer, then a roller, then a manager. Eventually, Sam
founded Congress Cigar Factory in 1896. Its first cigar range was “La Palina ” named in
honor of Sam’s wife, Goldie Drell Paley, and at its height, Congress Cigar was making 1
million cigars—Per Day!
Three decades later, the
Great Depression arrived, and Congress lamentably suffered the fate of most contemporary
cigar concerns and folded with little fanfare—but not before providing some substantial
investment capital to the fledgling Columbia Broadcasting System, a radio network helmed by
Sam’s son, William S. Paley.
Of course, Columbia
Broadcasting would go on to become CBS, one of the original big three American
television networks. So, while CBS took off in radio in 1928, by 1930 Congress Cigar
Factory would have been a mere footnote were it not for Sam’s grandson and William’s
son, William “Little Bill” Paley.
“Little Bill” is the son of the television industry “Tiffany Network” titan William
S. Paley, as well as Barbara “Babe” Paley, a fashion editor at Vogue who went on to
become one of the twentieth century’s best-known socialites and fashion icons. “Babe
has only one fault: She’s perfect.” Truman Capote once observed “Otherwise, she’s
perfect.” As such, he was graced with business savvy and unparalleled panache.
THE NEW LA PALINA
In the early 2000’s, Bill
undertook the self-directed mission to revive La Palina as a “personal signature luxury
cigar”, in the manner of his grandfather’s dedication to excellence and his parents’
meticulous attention to style—“Creating cigars emblematic of the original,” he said at
Like many cigar companies today,
La Palina 2.0 is a negociant—meaning it does not own its own factory, but it does own
its tobacco, finished products and brands. After many years of planning, in 2010, the
revived La Palina was launched with great fanfare on a rooftop bar in New York City.
During that time, La Palina collaborated with the
Bahamian owned Graycliff Cigar Company. The reason behind this alliance was
because the Paley family had an estate, called Lightbourne House, that was
located on Lyford Cay in the Bahamas. Bill frequented the nearby Nassau
five-star eatery, which also boasted a boutique cigar factory. Working with
Graycliff turned out to be short-lived, however, forcing La Palina to look
after relaunching the La Palina brand, Bill partnered with two stawart cigar-industry
veterans, Samuel “Sammy” Phillips, previously of Rocky Patel Cigars and Alec Bradley, and
Clay Roberts, also formerly of Alec Bradley and AJ Fernandez. With Sammy and Clay onboard,
the company took shape to become the cigar company it is today, with highly-rated premium
and ultra-premium handmade cigars that are crafted in Honduras, Nicaragua (working with
tobacco master AJ Fernandez), the Dominican Republic and Miami, USA. Miami is where the La
Palina cigar portfolio apex limited-production cigars, the La Palina Goldies, are rolled at
the touted El Titan de Bronze Fábrica de Puros Factory.
All this has far
outgrown Bill Paley’s original vision of a “personal” cigar. He remains a principal in, and
chairman of La Palina Cigars, however, the company is now under the stewardship of Sammy and
Clay who collectively share and maintain an unwavering commitment to quality and tradition
redolent of the inimitable bon-vivant Paley style.
Old Sam himself
would be proud.