Clay Carlton is on a roll. The Denver native who opened his first barbershop in Winter Park 38 years ago today is a master cigar-roller and proprietor not just of Palma Cigars but of Bar Las Palmas Wine Bar, the most unique shop in the Ballpark neighborhood, offering cigars, wine, haircuts and lots of character to the area.
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"I started as a young barber," Carlton says of that first shop in Winter Park, "and because I wanted it to be a men's shop, I started to sell premium cigars in it," Carlton recalls. After more than twenty years of offering his customers what everyone else was selling, he thought it was time to start selling his own cigars. But first, he had to learn how to make them. "I took a leave of absence from my stores -- at that time I had six through the mountains -- and I went to study in a factory under a Cuban master roller for about over a year," Carlton says.
After he returned to Colorado, he opened Palma Cigars in 2006 in a corner of the space where it is today. The shop has expanded over the years and also changed its look; the colorful chandeliers hanging from the high ceilings as well as the barber chair and wine bar that now give the cigar store a nineteenth-century-chic atmosphere were not in Carlton's original plan. Today, the shop has the bygone feel of a spot where sophisticated, older men could enjoy a nice cigar or a glass of wine. "Life is a puzzle, and you accommodate the pieces as needed," Carlton says.
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The shop has a walk-in humidor filled with hard-to-find, reasonably priced cigars with tobacco from the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Nicaragua. There is also a wine bar -- offering wines only from Colorado, with a nice variety of red blends, white options and dessert wines. And there's now just one barber chair, which Carlton recently relocated to the back of the shop so that he could add a coffee lounge up front and make the place more appealing to female visitors. "With the barber chairs up front, the first thing they think is, 'That's a barbershop, not a wine bar. I'm not going in there for some wine,'" Carlton explains. Keep reading for more on Clay Carlton and Palma Cigars. Carlton says he's the only master cigar-roller in a five-state radius, and that has given him opportunities to explore things he never thought of. "Because I am the only cigar-maker in the state, I decided I would make some boutique products with marijuana, so I approached a few dispensaries that have several outlets and said, 'If you wanna try these cigars, I will. make some if you give me the product,'" he recalls. And that's how he made his debut in the Cannabis Cup -- the world's premier cannabis festival held each November in Amsterdam, which had its first American iteration last year, in Denver. "I have like sixty people around my table, just waiting on my pot-cigars," he says. When Carlton is not rolling cigars or giving a customer in the vintage chair a clean shave, he is working on new products to help fund his foundation, Cigars to the Troops, founded in 2005. "It started out with me sending a couple cigars to Iraq and now it took on its own life," Carlton says. And that's why visitors to Palma Cigars find not just cigars for sale, but also shaving products, hot sauces, coffee and lotion, shampoo and conditioner bars -- specially created for soldiers to throw in their sacks.
Only time will tell what Carlton will next offer at his unique shop. Stop in for a cigar, haircut, wine or all the above Tuesdays through Sundays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. For more information, visit palmacigars.com.Follow @CafeWestword