Smoke, Eat, Drink: Meet Enrico Garzaroli, Bahamas Cigar Aficionado

Enrico Garzaroli is the man. Within minutes of meeting him, he slings his huge arm around my shoulders and steers me to a chair in his Graycliff cigar factory in Nassua, Bahamas. “Shet, girl, you never roll a cigar?”

His curse-words to real-words ratio is at least 10:1, decorating his thick Italian accent with “shets” and “fecks” between sound effects, large hand gestures and a full-body belly laugh.

“Well, roll a good cigar and I’ll give you a special Brazilian drink, it’s the best fecking shet.”

I nearly choke. But I roll a passable cigar, he nods and winks. And the Caipirinha is tasty.

Enrico is the wine and cigar aficionado of the Bahamas, and he looks exactly like a modern day hybrid of Goldfinger and an Italian Daddy Warbucks. He sports a massive gold watch, a thin chain looped around a treasure coin from a Spanish shipwreck, and a print button up tucked into pinstripe pants.

Enrico bought the Graycliff estate in 1972. The mansion was originally built in 1740 by Captain John Howard Graysmith, a famous Caribbean pirate who plundered treasure ships along the Spanish Main.

The basement, a pirate prison turned wine cellar, holds the world’s third largest private wine collection—250,000 bottles from 400 vintners in 15 countries. This collection includes one of the world’s oldest bottles of wine, a 1727 Rudesheimer Apostelwein worth $200,000. Ironically, Enrico also has one of the world’s most extensive menus of bottled water.

Graycliff Restaurant reputedly boasts some of the best gourmet food on the island. From what I tasted, I don’t doubt it. Throughout our zillion course dinner of lobster cappuccino, steak, garlic potatoes, conch fritters, stone crab and fish-bowl size glasses of wine, he made me taste every dish: “try it, try it [he motions in a big circle with his fist] you never try it? You’ll love this shet girl.”

When I struggle to rip open the crab claw, he laughs his big laugh at my red-faced effort. “You’re doing it wrong man, twist it like ‘schwhoop!’” [he locks his knuckles together and pulls them apart in a violent motion, then gestures to a friend next to me] “help her get that shet. No, no, she’s doing it wrong.” This 60-something man has me so captivated that I eat everything put in front of me—suddenly I’m a seafood hater turned lover. And he nods briskly after every course, “See, what I tell you, it’s good shet, you understand me?”

He doesn’t eat with us, but folds his upper body over the large dining room table. It shakes and vibrates every time he laughs, and the wine glasses jump when he pounds his fist after a good joke.

Before Enrico bought the estate, it was passed around the hands of British royalty. The hotel, now with 20 guest rooms and suites, maintains the rich wood and fabric decor of 18th-century British Colonialism. With the draw of the wine cellar, cigar factory and Enrico himself, it’s a destination spot for guys like Nicholas Cage, Donald Trump, Sean Connery, and George Clooney, (as well as the Beatles, at one point).

Enrico is effortlessly badass. He owns a block of wood from Christopher Columbus’s ship. Not kidding. He’d pass out pantyhose from his father’s seamless pantyhose factory to women in nightclubs (“to get the attention of the girls”) back when seamless pantyhose were a delicacy. Also not kidding. And he raced European cars along the Italian Riviera when he was young. (Did he ever get into an accident? “Ya but who gives a shet man, I’m alive aren’t I?”)

Enrico spends the better part of the weekend teaching me to light a cigar using one match and the Caribbean breeze. So I can’t open a crab claw and it takes me three days to finish my original cigar, but Enrico doesn’t care. He lights it for me every time I want to smoke. He is gracious, but real. Everything about him oozes Italian hospitality. I leave with a zip lock bag full of cigars. And as I rush out the Mahogany door for the last time, he smacks two huge kisses, Italian-style, on my left and right cheeks. “Ciao, ciao baby, visit soon. Keep working on that light.”

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