It's hidden inside the stately, Victorian Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park like the surprise in a Fabergé egg. It's the hip and ultramodern Mandarin Bar, a hot spot in the London night scene and a haven for cigar aficionados.
The hotel -- down the road from Harrod's, across the street from the trendy Harvey Nichols department store and, of course, right beside Hyde Park -- is an 1889 fantasy in rust-red brick, festooned after dark with garlands of bright hanging lights. It was known for about 100 years simply as the Hyde Park but was taken over, renovated and preserved at the turn of the twenty-first century by the five-star Mandarin Oriental chain.
Enter the hotel through its quiet, elegant lobby of red-and-black speckled marble, with columns trimmed in gold, and take the second left. And there it is, a chic, shimmering-glass and leather homage to contemporary luxury, a sharp contrast, and yet a perfect complement, to the testament to Old World largesse within which it sits.
The Mandarin Bar was designed by the architect Adam Tihany, a cigar devotee known in New York for Jean-Georges, Le Cirque 2000 and Remi. The actual bar occupies three sides of a rectangle. The fourth side is a wall of translucent glass, behind which are visible the multicolored silhouettes of green, blue, gold and red bottles in many shapes and shadows.
Around the bar are easy chairs and sofas in black leather with brown trim, matching tables and typically 50 to 100 temporary residents of every luxe shade, including models, musicians, brokers and businessmen. The dress code is basically black, with themes and variations that include stunning women in evening dress or black tops, tight jeans and long legs.
Sprinkled throughout is the sweet smell of cigars. Right in the middle is the hotel's cigar divan, a wide and tall glass humidor with several dozen wooden boxes that hold a diverse selection of fine Havanas. You can, of course, bring your own, but if you forget, or you'd rather not, you can choose from among the best. The assortment includes virtually everything an aficionado could want, including Cohiba Esplendidos and Siglos I, II, IV and VI; Hoyo de Monterrey Double Coronas and Epicure No. 2s; Montecristo Limited Edition Robustos and Nos. 2, 3, 4 and 5; Partagas Lusitanias and Serie D No. 4s; H. Upmann Sir Winston Churchills and Magnum 46 Corona Gordas; Punch Double Coronas and Churchills; Romeo y Julietas, Trinidads…you get the idea.
I requested a Cohiba Robusto, my favorite, and was offered an entire box from which to choose. The one I picked had a gentle springiness that seemed just right. The cigar waiter cut it and handed it to me to light with one of the bar's special cigar matches. It was the best Cohiba Robusto I have ever smoked, with a moist, easy draw, a perfect ash, a cool but distinctively strong taste and a sweet finish, with traces of spice and chocolate. (My bar companion, my wife, Ruth, took a sample puff and smiled in agreement.)
For a patron's other hand, the Mandarin Bar features a large menu of Cognac and single-malt Scotch, including 18- and 25-year-old Macallan and 21-year-old Islay Bowmore, excellent wines by the glass and several signature Champagne cocktails, among them the Mandarin Oriental Classic, a bitters-soaked sugar cube with Hennessy Fine de Cognac and Champagne. Bar snacks include Peking duck spring rolls and a generous selection of dim sum, both steamed and fried.
But it's the cigars that set the bar apart. I sat back in my leather chair as a feeling of relaxation and contentment set in. I glanced at the half-dozen others puffing away and shared a moment of camaraderie. I looked at the crowd of happy, lively, animated faces. And for an hour or two at the Mandarin Bar, this visitor from across the ocean felt very much a part of today's London.
Mervyn Rothstein is an editor for The New York Times.
Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park
Phone: 44 20 7201 3724