Puff Daddies. 1A St James’s – for the Foliumphilic Gentleman About Town
It’s not your daughters you need to lock up. It’s your coronas. Luckily, Dunhill of London are offering full bed and board.
If there’s anything that makes one long for the less health conscious days of yore, it’s the sight of people (read: mainly chaps) smoking quality cigars outdoors, in the public arena. Whether it’s on a balcony, a heated patio or atop the turret of a Main Battle Tank approaching Donetsk, is irrelevant. Attempting to enjoy a stogie with extraneous N2 and O2 is an abomination. Fags are ok anywhere. A cheeky al fresco ciggie can be a reviving thing of pleasure – ‘Just enough stimulant to complete a paragraph,’ as a certain heavy smoking English man of letters noted. That’s because you’re after the hit. A cigar, however, is physical pleasure of deep immersion and high fiscal impact. It’s an experience that marries taste, touch, smell and…time. Having paid anywhere from £15 to £100 for a single-stick of tropical leaves, you’d want to at least savour and experience the delicious aroma that lighting them up ensures. A plume of olfactorial pleasure rising to the heavens is an insult to the gods of suaveness.
There aren’t many places in London that the foliumphilic gentleman about town can go to enjoy the bounty of his humidor, save a private residence. So three puffs to 1A St. James, a new concept in tobacco indulgence. Built in 1882 by Richard Norman, on the original site of the early gentleman’s club, ‘The Cocoa Tree Club’, it has remained a tobacco and cigar merchant since the start of the 20th century. However, instead of merely being just another shop, competing with the likes of nearby Fox’s and Davidoff, British American Tobacco have created a cigar salon – half emporium, half club (unisex, of course).
UK cigar expert Robert Emery leads the team. He tells me, “1A St James’s offers a refreshing change from the traditional tobacconist and cigar retail specialist: we know that many people who have recently discovered a love for cigars are looking for a different style of service. They want to be able to walk in, relax and feel confident that they are getting the benefit of real expertise and established heritage, in a welcoming and informal environment combined with a modern yet refined setting”.
And it is ever so refined. A delightful afternoon was spent in the lounge-like sampling room and state-of-the-art Humidor, stocked with an extensive collection of the finest and rarest cigars from around the world. Some vintages date back to the 1960s and are considered classics. For the genuine enthusiast, there’s also a Master Blending Room where the finest tobaccos can be seen, handled and smelled up close to discover the aromas and learn about the art of blending and rolling. Robert is keen to draw my attention to the “Dunhill Aged” cigars produced in the Dominican Republic. He lights a Condado for me (a Toro-sized, light-skinned honey), and it smokes beautifully and is, as he promises, a perfect ‘day’ cigar. Sitting in the fug is a real delight. The very best non-Cuban Dunhill is the Signed Range, made in Nicaragua and rolled by a select team who individually number each cigar and sign each box. BAT has licensed the Dunhill name from Alfred Dunhill Ltd., which no longer makes tobacco products, preferring to focus on men’s fashion and accessories.
The centrepiece(s) of the place are the personal humidors. These burnished copper lockers, like a wall of safe deposit boxes from a Bond movie, will house patrons’ personal ‘keeps’. Come to London and your personal smokable folio is ready to be smoked on site or spirited away whenever your aficionado heart wishes. At £1,200 for annual upkeep and restocking, there won’t be many available for long. Mr. Emery sparks me up a wee H.Upmann Half Corona (a 44 ring gauge with only a modest 90 mm length). He describes it as a ‘perfect small taste of pure Cuba, an afternoon treat’. Quick, but deep. Nice. Wafting through the plume, myself and two fellow smokers engage in one of those big, long chats about military history and American political reach after WW2. As you do. I swear it’s the cigars that fuel the convivially stimulating atmosphere.
Soon, 1A St. James will offer regular events pairing cigars with cocktails and whisky. I’ll be back for those too. But I better brush up on my A.J.P Taylor, first.
The new 1A St James’s store offers a contemporary space to explore tobacco blends and fine cigars. Contact resident expert Robert Emery on +44(0)20 78396795 or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org. www.1astjames.com.