The discreet pong of cigar smoke is once again being scented in some of London's affluent corners. The ban on smoking in public places, introduced three years ago, drove cigarette smokers onto the pavements. That's not an option for cigar smokers, where the stubbiest robusto can take most of the evening to get through. Fear of hypothermia conquered the desire to savour Cuba's finest.
Now, there are now several enclaves in St James and Mayfair where cigar smokers can enjoy their passion (and it is a passion, not a habit, still less an addiction) unmolested and without invading others' airspace. The latest is the small garden tucked away behind Dukes Hotel (campbellgrayhotels.com/dukes-london.html), itself London's most tucked-away small luxury hotel. It's as much an arbour as a garden in the lush and private spaces between St James and Green Park, with lanterns, decking and a bar sponsored by Martell. (Though brandy and cigars don't do it for everyone. For me — it has to be a champagne or an Islay malt). Jemma Freeman, managing director of Hunters and Frankau (cigars.co.uk), the cigar importers, is a big fan of the Dukes sommelier, Alessandro: 'people love someone to talk to about cigars, wine, life and things,' she says.
When the weather is fine, you might glimpse the benign godfather of cigar connoisseurs, Edward Sahakian, enjoying an after-lunch Trinidad outside Franco's restaurant (francoslondon.com) on Jermyn Street and opposite his HQ, Davidoff (davidoff.com). If you ever wonder what happened to the jet set, Davidoff is a good place to find them. Plutocrats and rock stars rub shoulders in the climate-controlled territory where Sahakian keeps his latest (and they are always the latest) vintages.
When the chill sets in, you'll find the diehard cigaristas on the warm terrace of the Boisdale restaurant in Victoria. This is not a joint where fusion cuisine and innovative soft furnishings find favour. It's for people — well, men, mainly — who like red meat, red wine, full-flavoured cigars and a spot of boisterous jazz in an evening. There's a clannish air about the Boisdale regulars — suitably, as the owner, Ranald Macdonald, is the eldest son of the 24th chief and captain of the Clanranald Macdonald clan.
Boisdale isn't a club, though it feels like one. The RAC (royalautomobileclub.co.uk/guestarea/home.asp) is a club, but its cigar terrace feels like it belongs to a very swish and rather formal five star hotel. If your taste is deciding the fate of small economies over a limited edition Partagas, then this is the place.
Jemma Freeman says the past 18 months has seen more and more COSAs opening in London. The COSA — Cosy Outdoor Smoking Area — was pioneered by The Lanesborough Hotel (lanesborough.com) — which remains Jemma's favourite spot to sample one of the latest fatties from Cohiba or Romeo and Julietta (there is a growing obesity issue with cigars — they are getting fuller and fatter, as a new generation wants more flavour in less time). Ten Manchester Street (tenmanchesterstreethotel.com) is, she says, 'a very close second'.
Hunter and Frankau's website, cigars.co.uk, has an exhaustive list for COSA seekers.