London may not be the cigar smoker’s paradise it once was, but the cutbacks caused by relatively new laws on smoking in public places have left enough wiggle room for imaginative new places like the cigar terrace at the exclusive Wellesley Hotel, a Knightsbridge haunt that lets smokers enjoy their favorites in the heart of central London. This is the place to enjoy something special from the elaborate, custom-made humidor while watching the evening sky darken through the open spaces of the lounge, which has special heating overhead and underfoot to ward off the elements even while remaining open enough to satisfy all legal requirements.
It’s no accident that the public space in front of the hotel has been turned into an elaborate haven for cigar lovers. Cigar smoking is not hidden away at this hotel, it’s front and center—and celebrated.
“This entire place was built for the cigar smoker,” says Giuseppe Ruo, lured from another luxury property to oversee the food, drink and almost unbelievable cigar selection at the Wellesley, where extremely rare vintage smokes like the original 40th Anniversary Cohiba Behike are priced at £3,000 even as other Cubans come in at quite competitive prices. “The armchairs, the ashtrays, the lighters, everything was done to make this a place the cigar smoker can enjoy.”
No expense was spared on the state-of-the-art walk-in humidor, where only the finest Spanish cedar actually touches the cigars. There are different grades of humidity for the fresh, new cigars recently arrived from Cuba and for the more fragile, vintage cigars that require extra care.
“We treat the vintage ones with a very, very high level of what we call courtesy,” says Ruo, proudly showing off box after rare box of special-edition Cohibas, Davidoff Dom Perignons and Partagás cigars, including some rolled by the legendary Norma Fernandez. He admits it pains him to sell some of the hardest to find smokes—despite the handsome price tags—because that means the collection is diminished by one stick.
It all makes this a perfect place for resting after a full day of shopping—some of the world’s finest menswear shops are just a few steps away—or relaxing after a night on the town. The terrace cigar rooms have an international feel, peopled not only by hotel guests, but by the citizens of the world who think of Knightsbridge as a second home, even if they only visit every few years. These are people who know the pleasure of a quiet hour or two spent with a good smoke, an aged Scotch or Cognac or just an espresso and a snack. It’s not just a men’s retreat, but a place where chic women feel comfortable as well.
Ruo is skilled at suggesting spirits choices that go best with specific cigars, and does not tailor his recommendations to the more expensive end of the drinks spectrum, which at the Wellesley includes Cognacs from 1770 and 1793. There are potent and imaginative cocktails, many offering slightly new twists to old favorites. But his first recommendation, before dark at least, is often a mojito—a concoction taken for granted in Cuba, but treasured in London as a welcome reminder of warmer, faraway climes.