Sitting on the renovated cigar terrace at the Wellesley Hotel in London is a bit like camping out—if the tent you’re in happened to cost about $4 million. There is a glorious view of the trees of Hyde Park in all their splendor, a cozy fire provides warmth, and an imaginative sculptural display that serves to block out the busy traffic while letting in light. It feels as if you’re sitting outside, but with some of the world’s finest vintage cigars and aged spirits at your fingertips.
Not bad for a renovation of a space that had become a bit dated. The Wellesley has bet heavily on the future of cigar smoking in London, devoting much of the front of the Knightsbridge hotel to the pleasures of Cuban tobacco. Instead of sprucing up what they had, which enjoyed a loyal clientele, the hotel has spared no expense in creating what seems to be a brand new place to enjoy a good smoke far (at least in terms of tranquility) from the hassle of city streets.
The terraces are surrounded by clear-glass columns and beams, cantilevered glass panels and vertical bronze fins. Only the finest materials were used, and there are no screws or nuts and bolts to spoil the clean lines. The breeze flows through naturally, providing some of the ventilation needed to comply with Britain’s rather strict regulations, which have utterly failed to tamp down the desire for luxury cigar lounges in London.
“We were looking for a solution that would give us another dimension, to give people the feeling they are smoking completely outside,” says food and beverage director Giuseppe Ruo. “To do that, a glass structure was coming. Of course it was an expensive idea, and quite difficult to realize, because every single piece has been custom made. Then the problem was, ‘OK we have the feeling of being outside, but we don’t want people outside seeing inside.’ We found an artist, Lee Simmons, famous for his artwork in metal, and he came up with a different idea. It took over 12 months. If you are inside, you are able to see outside. If you pass by outside, you will just see this artwork that gives you the impression that there is something intense inside, but you can’t see inside.”
By the time the new terraces were open in March, the price tag had come to nearly $4 million. The results are stunning: A quiet, peaceful haven with wonderful views, just steps from a well-stocked walk-in humidor. And the fact that so much money can be freely spent on a relatively small space is a perfect illustration of how important cigars have become to many of London’s more luxurious hotels.
The humidor selection reflects this reality: There is a wide selection of Cubans including many in the mid-priced range, such as a Cohiba Linea 1492 Siglo II for 29 pounds ($37) or a Cohiba Maduro 5 Genios for 58 pounds ($75), but also a prized collection of very pricy sticks like the Montecristo Humidor 2003 Salomones 2 for 450 pounds ($585). Top of the range is a sumptuous Cohiba Behike 40th anniversary priced at 5,500 pounds ($7,150).
Competition for these hard-to-find sticks is intense among cigar sommeliers at London’s finer establishments. Ruo believes curiosity about rarities is one thing that draws people to a particular lounge, which is why he’s gone out of his way to keep a selection of very old (and very expensive) cognac and Armagnac on hand as well.
“The market is growing and people are looking for quality,” he says. “Ten years ago no one would ever think to pay 5,000 pounds for a cigar. Now people ask for it. Now there is a demand. So that makes a place like this possible.”
The Wellesley Hotel Cigar Terrace
London SW1X 7LY
44 207 235 3535
Open Monday through Saturday: 8 a.m. to 2:30 a.m.
Sunday: 8 a.m. to 1 a.m.