With La Galana, Annette Meisl not only created a cigar brand but also a place in the center of Cologne that functions like a salon. It is inspired by the themes of cigars, lust for life, culture, and sensuality. This year, the company is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Annette Meisl loves exciting stories. But even more, she likes the combination of exciting stories and good cigars. Her job as an event and artist manager introduced the busy professional, who has adopted Cologne as her home, to cigars.
Initially, during her major events, torcedoras rolled cigars in the foyer to accompany the Cuba theme. But because Meisl always wants to know exactly how things work, she did her own training as a roller, and changed her event concept.
“On January 1, 2009, I woke up with a very clear vision. I wanted to revamp my office into a salon and shop,” she explains. “I had already started, intuitively, to collect tobacco-related things, and the brand was already registered.”
Since then, in the front of the shop she has been selling La Galana cigars (in total, six vitolas, manufactured in Honduras), mainly cigars from Cuba, a few from Honduras and Nicaragua, as well as selected accessories and different types of rum.
The salon at the back is for tastings, smoking, and courses. Annette Meisl and her women-power team offer rum sampling and cigar seminars. The operation functions as a tasting, and not as a bar; the special tasting cigar (EUR 12,00 to 19,00) comes with a complementary drink.
One can say without a doubt that, on the mere 50-square-meter [approx. 540-square-feet] premises of the all-round artist, true salon culture in the best sense is flourishing again: there are discussions, there’s room for everyone, women play a strong role, and, alongside cigars, literature, music, and art are indispensable.
Cigar Journal: Annette, your location really stands out visually compared to most other cigar lounges that I know. There’s more of a living-room feeling than a cool bar atmosphere here. What’s your concept?
Annette Meisl: In the front, the shop, I mainly sell my own brand, La Galana, then primarily cigars from Cuba and several other New World brands to which I have a special relationship. Otherwise, I choose what I like – accessories, books, and rum. I certainly don’t want to represent an entire spectrum, but to show what I personally like or what has got my attention.
CJ: How were you able to create this cozy living room atmosphere?
A.M.: A friend of mine, a theater decorator, helped me to design everything. The old floor was here; the brick walls, too. Everything was just waiting for me and simply had to be uncovered. In the rooms there’s a story behind every piece of furniture and every object about why they are here.
CJ: How did you discover tobacco and cigars?
A.M.: I was in Cuba at the turn of the millennium in 1999 to meet a group of artists that I was touring. I heard son cubano, was fascinated by the sound and got totally submerged in it. The club smelled of tobacco; rum was being drunk, and I fell in love with the country. On the first day of the millennium I was with Gregorio Fuentes, the captain or Ernest Hemingway’s boat. I smoked my first cigar with him and he told me countless stories. I wanted to take this feeling of life with me. These hours were unforgettable and sparked my love for the cigar. Besides that, I toured many Cuban bands and I began having cigars rolled in the lobbies of these concerts. Through the rollers I got more immersed in the topic of cigars and wanted to learn this fantastic craft myself. From this came the idea of starting my own brand of cigar.
CJ: Why was having your own brand so important to you?
A.M.: For me, it’s about keeping the art of cigar rolling alive (a small part of the La Galana cigars is actually manufactured here in Cologne), and to build on a great tradition in Germany. That’s why my team is made up of a good combination of Germans and Cubans. This handicraft must absolutely be lifted out of the cellar of oblivion.
CJ: What fascinates you so much about tobacco?
A.M.: Tobacco fascinates me in its comprehensive meaning. On the one hand as a ritual plant and as a medicinal plant; I find that exciting. When I work with tobacco it has a strong effect on me. Apart from that, tobacco connects people and opens the door to a spiritual world. Tobacco barns are like cathedrals.
CJ: Where does the name “La Galana” come from?
A.M.: There’s a Spanish word “el galan” – the cavalier, the gentleman, also the lover. “La galena” has a broader meaning for me: it’s everything from a noblewoman a bonne vivante. All this is inherent in a woman and in the best case is also lived. I have my very own idea of what being a woman means: being emancipated but at the same time maintaining one’s femininity. The way the Latinas do it; they don’t have any problems being sexy. They’re sexy for themselves, not necessarily for men. And enjoying life and showing strength.
CJ: How do your events and seminars work?
A.M.: The seminars are about a great transfer of knowledge about tobacco and cigars. In addition, I’m a writer and I’m constantly educating myself and learning about the subject of tobacco. I’m writing a book, a novel, and tobacco plays an important role in it. At the events I want to give people the whole package. They’re supposed to relax, listen to good music or good literature; practice tolerance and, of course, also get to know the taste of a good cigar, and live in the moment. All these various facets are important.
CJ: You’re currently very intensively involved with music. What does that have to do with your passion for cigars?
A.M.: A short while ago I started composing songs; they work their way out of my heart, as if they were little clouds of aromatic cigar smoke. I’ve even written a few songs about La Galana and cigar smoking, and, of course, a lot about love. I find deep fulfilment in singing and song writing and I like to share this with my passionados. That’s why in September every Thursday there’s live music in my salon. October 1 is the premier of my new music cabaret show Carmen 5.0, and this autumn my first CD is coming out. For that, we should approve a La Galana!
CJ: You have many projects running at the same time: you’re writing a book, organizing the events, you hold seminars, are preparing shows, composing songs, and you’re a salon woman. Where do you get all the energy from?
A.M.: When you’re in the flow, the power is just there. And because of my team I’m quite free; besides that, we have a huge amount of understanding for one another. In the meantime, there are five of us, including me, and I don’t work in the shop; I can come and go when I want and am free to plan things in the background. And if you’re enthusiastic about something, you draw strength from it.
CJ: You have now ten successful years of La Galana behind you. What do you wish for the future?
A.M.: I wish for a salesman on a white horse. I’m not joking. Up to now, I haven’t managed to get passionados broader access to my brand, La Galana. I would really like that.
Venloer Straße 213 D-50823 Köln
Mon – Sat 12pm to 8pm
www.lagalana.deand on request.