ON AND OFF THE BEATEN PATH :: Havana House

by David Daugherty on August 7, 2011

Ed.: Jumping, once again, out of sequence in Dave’s travels through the west, we present a recent adventure near his boyhood home.

Northeast Ohio has gone through a great deal of changes since I left in the late 1970’s.  I grew up in Youngstown Ohio, and seeing the city and surrounding areas as they are today is tough.  There are a lot of negative things to say about the area- long gone are the massive steel mills which now stand like the rusted remains of a skeletal dinosaur, and most manufacturing and labor jobs are south of the border and overseas, creating high unemployment. You could see the destruction of this area coming from a mile away back then, which prompted me to join the Air Force and settle out in the desert of the American Southwest.  All the devastation considered, when I returned to the Youngstown/ Warren area, I thought it might be difficult to find a nice place with a laid back atmosphere where I could relax and enjoy a good beer.

Believe me, there’s nothing about this area that even vaguely suggests “laid back.”  But as this is what I do… I’ve kept searching.  I’m now happy to say that I’ve finally found some positive amongst all the negativity!  A place that more than met my expectations, this may be Warren Ohio’s best kept secret. Surprisingly, for all my researching and driving around searching for interesting places, this never hit on my radar. In fact, I drove past this place a couple times but from the outside, you would think that this is just another smoke shop – a place to buy cigarettes where there may be a small case containing a dozen mid to high end cigars with a little lock on the plastic humidor sitting next to the register.  Well it isn’t, not by any stretch.

The Havana House, located at 5801 Youngstown-Warren Rd., Niles, Ohio is the kind of place I have been searching for.  With a pleasant atmosphere from the moment you walk through the door, the Havana House offers not something for everyone, but everything for everyone – free Wi-Fi, recliners, chairs, tables, a leather couch and stools at the bar – all to make you feel comfortable.  Artisan coffee (more than 25 styles) is served, along with cult wine (more than 400 brands), craft beer (over 800 single bottles), cigarettes, pipe tobacco and a very decent line of premium cigars (almost 400 different single cigars), more than enough to make any connoisseur happy.  Needless to say, I immediately grabbed some of my favorite cigars and a craft beer (Erie Brewing’s Railbender).

I had an opportunity to meet owner Anthony Bellatto and we had a great conversation about the cigar business, craft beer, and his particular love for wine.  Anthony attended Miami of Ohio and received a degree in Political Science.  Realizing that he wasn’t interested in politics enough to try to make a living at it, he decided to get his Masters as a Sommelier.  For a young man in his 20’s, Anthony impressively holds a WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) degree from England and is an Advanced Sommelier, personally handpicking every bottle of wine that sits on the shelves at Havana House.  He manages to keep both Havana House locations going, their other location in Boardman Ohio, while writing for Cigars In Review magazine, as well as appearing every other week on the All Patriots Radio Network show, The Tony Katz Radio Spectacular.  You can follow him on http://cigarsinreviewtony.wordpress.com/ which will link you to the radio program.

Havana House was started in 1970 by Anthony’s grandfather Lou Bellatto.  He wanted to give the Youngstown area the finest cigars and tobaccos not found anywhere nearby. Anthony’s father, Geno Bellatto continued the tradition by offering small production hand- rolled cigars, local coffees, hard to find wine, and craft beer.  Anthony told me of when he was 13 years old, he worked at the location they had in Girard OH.  The basement of that location, Anthony explained, acted as a natural humidor as it flooded constantly with a foot of water and he would have to stand in the water while putting price tags on each and every cigar with one of those old fashioned price guns where one has to change the dial to change the price

When I asked Anthony about his favorite cigars he explained that he really didn’t get into the cigar smoking thing until his early 20’s ,

Don Carlos #3

wine being his first love. The wine that got him interested was a Norton Malbec.  He got into craft beer after having Left Hand’s Milk Stout, his favorite style of beer, brown ale.  Finally, he came around to talking cigars while smoking an Arturo Fuente Don Carlos No. 3.  All of this shines through in the Havana House.  From the art on the wall to the representatives of cigar companies who come in and educate; you feel the passion for what Anthony wants his place to represent.

Not wanting a bar atmosphere for Havana House, having been a smoke shop for more than 30 years, the location in Warren which opened in 2005 was uniquely grand-fathered in with a tasting license, meaning he can sell beer, wine and spirits across the counter, then one can drink it there while enjoying a favorite cigar.  One can also bring their own bottle.  This allowed for a lot of latitude in creating a place for people to come in and relax.

Plans are afoot to convert some of the space in the back of the shop to start a craft brewery.  Loving ‘70’s band Steely Dan, Anthony looks to name the beers after many of their songs.

To illustrate the comfort level achieved at Havana house, there was a fellow who for quite a time would come in at open, start up his laptop and not leave until tapped on the shoulder at closing time. This went on and… and then he was gone.  Then one day, the gentleman came in, asked for Anthony and presented him with a novel called Area 187 – Almost Hell; 614 pages of Zombies, necrotic viruses etc.  The author, Eric R. Lowther, was the man who spent his days and nights at the Havana House with his laptop, having written the novel entirely at this unique ”smokeshop,” signing a copy that sits on the coffee table for anyone to read.

It’s clear to me that Anthony Bellatto loves what he does.  I’ve been back many times. Check out the Havana House whenever you’re in the Youngstown-Warren area and enjoy a comfortable day of smoking a cigar, enjoy a bottle of craft beer or wine and relax at this interesting establishment, so very much more than what Google lists as a “beer store”

I guarantee the relaxing part.

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