Replacing the Cigar Divan

In Victorian days any gentleman who couldn't face the tedium of an afternoon's journey from his office in the City to his club in St. James's would stroll down to the Strand to a Cigar Divan. This was not a piece of furniture, but a mixture of tobacconist and lounge, where the chaps would congregate to select and smoke a cigar. They would while away a pleasant hour or so before returning home to their wives and family in the comfort of Kensington or the splendour of Sloane Street

Among the earliest and most famous of these divans was Simpson's in the Strand, established in 1828 to serve coffee and cigars. Today it is one of the last truly English restaurants where its origins are not forgotten and the smoking of good cigars is still encouraged.

Nowadays the Cigar Bar is replacing the Cigar Divan. These excellent places of leisure and repose are happily springing up all over the country, keeping pace with the popularity of a contemplative Havana.


Opened in 1991, Boisdale's in London's Belgravia lays claim to be the country's first cigar bar. It boasts a restaurant too with a reputation for fine food but the serious smoking takes place in the back bar where an exceptionally well-stocked humidor cabinet contains almost every brand of Cuban cigar you've ever heard of, and a great many more that you haven't. All in the peak of condition.

Another claim of Boisdale's proprietor Ranald Macdonald is that his bar has the largest selection of malt whiskies in London. But the main attraction is the cosy atmosphere which customers soak up, particularly during the early evening 'Happy Hour', while unwinding with their favourite cigar. The best sellers at this Havana haven are Partagas Series D No. 4, Ramon Allones Specially Selected, most Montecristos and the indomitable Hoyo Epicure No.2.

The back bar at Boisdale's may be small, but the selection in the cabinet is immense. It is just the sort of irresistible combination that draws customers from all over the metropolis and beyond. All Ranald needs to add is a chaise longue and London will once again have a cigar divan.

Ranald Macdonald (right) of Boisdale's in discussion with his bank manager!


Front Room Cigar Bar

Take a large, victorian pub, strip out all the memorabilia, paint a few of the walls in bright colours and install clear plate-glass windows and what was drab, suddenly becomes alive.

The Front Rooms - one in Fulham Road, another in Kings Road and a third in Lillie Road - are large, vibrant and definitely of-the-moment. Gone is the undrinkable wine, to be replaced by a selection more New World than old. Beers include foreign bottled lagers and should you want more to eat than a packet of crisps there is a short but comprehensive bar menu which takes in bangers and mash, rib-eye steak, paella and sandwiches like hot chicken, club and croque monsieur.

inside front room

Along with all the change, is a short selection of cigars, the most popular being the Cohiba Siglo and the Romeo y Julieta churchill. "Sales peak during sporting events, markedly so when England is doing well, less so if the score is against us," according to manager Nick Levens, who has seen a fair few Montecristo 'A's fly across the bar, "generally a sign of bonus levels as much as anything else," he says. The only odd aspect being that the humidor is not brought to the customer, rather they have to choose from the supplied list, their particular cigar being chosen for them, cut and handed over.

Take away sales are offered at the Fulham Road branch, the result, according to Nick Levens, of the company's strategic pricing policy: "we see this very much as an add-on service, it is not an enormous revenue-generating exercise for us." Should anyone be in search of a cheaper smoke, Cuban country cigars are offered at the football half-time mark and sell particularly well. "Overall the cigars have been a great success, and where better to smoke them? With our high ceilings and good ventilation, I haven't had a single complaint yet," says Mr Levens.


Voodoo Lounge

The lift shaft, with its hanging chains, looks curiously apt as you enter Voodoo Lounge. A few flights of stairs and the ultra violet light casts its eerie spell as you select from the mirror or flame bar. In both the windows are covered with billowing white drapes of muslin consistency. If the spirits weren't with me, they were certainly close at hand.

Cigars in each bar are kept in well stocked box humidors, but the main stash is up in the Cigar Lounge, on the same floor as the member's bar. Here, either side of the fireplace are chest-high humidors. If you want a cigar, then this is where to come. The same level of service prevails whether you obtain your cigar at the bar or in this room, but there is a far greater sense of occasion up here.

Voodoo Lounge is one of the growing band of non-traditional smoking bars. The bar is big on cocktails and the cigars are equally serious. "American customers tend to go for the bigger sizes," according to the manager, Freddie, "but to be honest we get all sorts. Our customers are all over 25, young professionals some of them are regular smokers, some have never smoked a cigar before in their life. The new converts often head for the Cuaba, there is something of the Graucho Marks in all of us 1 suppose. The City boys head for the Cohibas and the more discerning probably are more inclined towards the Montecristos and Romeo y Julieta."

"The great thing about cigar smoking these days," according to Freddie who speaks as a fellow lover of the weed, "is that most regular smokers swap about. After all, what is the point of having a choice like this if you don't make use of it."


You cannot go wrong at Che. For light, space and sunshine there is the front bar, for cozy, relaxed intimacy there is the cigar lounge. Downstairs with its magnificent floor-to -ceiling humidor running down one entire wall. Owned by cigar aficionado Hani Farsi, the collection is reputed to run to 14,000 cigars, a choice of over 70 brands and sizes.

With books, magazines and all the papers, the lounge is designed to be peaceful, comfortable and insulating. The outside world is definitely far away. A photograph of Che hangs towards the rear of the room, the only art to figure lest attention is drawn from the cigars. They make a wonderful backdrop, as comforting as leather-bound books in a library.

Che is the brain-child of Hani Farsi, a self styled American entrepreneur who's love of cigars dates back to his 18th birthday. "Smoking too many cigarettes I simply gave them up and moved over to cigars," he says. "A Davidoff No 2 was the first and since then there is almost nothing I have not tried at one time or another." His father led the way and he embarked on a glorious campaign, smoking alongside him at first and latterly with 1 friends and colleagues. "Smoking with my father was fantastic, it opened my eyes to the role a cigar can play in conversation. " They establish a special bond, and our discussions ranged from sport to politics, from family to history. Sadly he can no longer smoke them, so I smoke for both of us and we talk.

His collection has been built up up, sometimes buying at auction, always in boxes as he lived for a time in the US. He is always on the lookout for something new, different, a comparison. "In part that is an element of the spirit behind Che, to encourage customers to something new, something different."

To this end he is ably supported by Neil Millington, previously at Havana Club in Sloane Street. With years of experience, Neil is in charge of the cigar cellar and nothing gives him more pleasure than to introduce Smokers to the delights of something untried, or perhaps not smoked for some time. "It is very easy," he says. "to become attracted to one cigar to the detriment of others. For different times, occasions, moods there are different cigars and part of the joy of smoking here is to be able to pick and choose."

Che is located in the ground floor of the Economist building, the first Sixties building to be listed. The bar is extremely bright, with huge windows and extensive use of marble . - cool on a summer's evening, spacious when the weather is less clement. Upstairs there is a dining room with more enormous windows on all four sides. You gain access up a narrow escalator.

The food at Che is broadly European, with the odd flurry to the Far East by chef Julian Marshall (previously at the Lanesborough)

Claridges Bar

Elegant and restrained, modern yet chic, Claridge's Bar combines the best of old and new tucked away, as it is, under the stairs. Like discovering a secret hideaway, part of the enjoyment lies in feeling cosseted and hidden. The noise of Brook Street outside slips away as you light up, a larger ashtray replacing the standard one, a drink to match your chosen cigar but a few moments away.

Claridge's Bar is just over a year old, designed by David Collins, the brief was to slip quietly into the next Millennium while keeping a firm hold on this one. Introducing a bar into a hotel as steeped in tradition as Claridge's was quite a brave move, but as food and beverage manager Robert Kenworthy enthusiastically outlines, one that has paid off well. "It has been a huge success and no small part of that is due to our decision early on tofeature cigars." In the corner, some 10 feet high, stands a specially commissioned humidor replete with Cohibas, Montecristos and a few select gems from other ranges. "We try as much as we can to have all the range all the time," shrugs bar manager Paulo Loureiro, "but like everyone else we are at the mercy of the Cubans."

The Cubans, it seems, shine benevolently on Claridges, the humidor being well stocked with the likes of Hoyo de Monterey Epicure No. 2s, Partagas Series D No. 4s as well as Cohiba Robustos. "We are clean out of Monte twos," laments Paulo Loureiro, "but I have some other gems." The gems come in the form of Cohiba Lanceros, Siglo IVs and Esplendidos, Bolivar Royal Coronas and Romeo y Julieta Churchills.

Bond Street is but a few steps away. If you are tempted by company, slip in on a Saturday, in between trips to some of London's best shops, one of the bar's busiest times. Bar snacks are on offer, from caviar and lobster to daikon spring rolls and cashew nut cream and crispy duck pancake rolls, chilli and spring onion.

Customers vary hugely, the hotel is unusual in having a 50/50 corporate and private split and the bar is also used a lot by local business people. "We tend to be busy at lunch time and in the early evening and have become known as somewhere to go for a well poured cocktail," says Paulo Loureiro, "as well as cigar kept in perfect condition." A better secret hideaway you couldn't hope to find.


Bar Cuba in Macclesfield

Bar Cuba in Macclesfield is typical of the new generation of Havana hostelry. Describing itself as a Cuban/Spanish/African bar, Bar Cuba's cigar connection has been attracting visitors from all over the north of England and beyond. Young Havana aficionados are captivated by its Cuban charm and relax with a Cohiba absorbing the Latino atmosphere.

Most of the customers who want a cigar, will ask for a Cohiba - and they have most sizes available in their humidor. Bar Cuba's cigars are drawing in people ranging from adventurous 'first timers' in their early twenties to experienced 'old timers' in their late seventies - they all appreciate a fine cigar

Bar Cuba - nicknames Bar Cohiba by many of its regulars - may have made Macclesfield the cigar capital of the northwest, but London is still the most powerful magnet for devoted Havana enthusiasts from all over the world

It wasn't all that long ago that lighting a cigar in a London restaurant caused head waiters to pucker their nostrils with indignation. Today they are much more likely to crease with pleasure at the aroma of a fragrant Havana. Indeed, the growing number of cigar friendly venues are growing at such a pace that restaurant guides will soon have to consider an icon to show diners where they can be served a selection of fine cigars to follow the fine wine that accompanied their dinner.

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Edmund Farrow downstairs at Scott's

High on such a list would be Scotts in Mount Street. One of the Capital's best known oyster and fish restaurants, it has recently been completely remodelled by its new owners. Among the innovations they have introduced is a bar in the basement which is ideal for smoking an after-dinner cigar.

Edmund Farrow, Scott's resident director, is the man with his finger on the pulse of London's restaurant scene. He understands only too well that many of his more enlightened customers treat their postprandial cigar as the essential conclusion to a fine meal.

As a result the restaurant offers its clientele a full range of cigars from mild Upmanns, to medium powered Romeo Y Julietas, up to a full-strength Bolivars or Cohibas, as well as wide selection of the ever popular Montecristos. One of Scott's sommeliers is particularly well-versed in cigar-lore and can discuss the qualities and service of fine cigars with interested guests.

Although the downstairs bar would appear to have been specially designed for the enjoyment of cigars, Edmund Farrow is quick to point out that it is quite fortuitous. Although there are no smoking restrictions at all at Scott's, the bar is especially comfortable and has individual areas to provide some degree of privacy that might be required by gentleman putting a business-deal together over their cigars.

There is an Havana Happy Hour in the bar from 10 till 11 in the evening. During this time all cognacs accompanied by cigars are at half price, while the cigars have 30% off.

David Frentzel at Drones

Among the most popular and best publicised of all London's Havana haunts is Dronesat No.1 Pont Street.

Here the humidor is always well-stocked, despite the regular demand for its wares. Manager David Frentzel is a great Havana enthusiast and has taken on the mantle of 'cigar sommelier' in the bar and restaurant. Although the staff are all aware of how to cut, light and serve a fine cigar, David is invariably on-hand to give advice to what's smoking well at Drones. There is always a strong demand for both Cohiba and Punch Punch, although currently Montecristo Especiales are proving to be extremely popular.