Smoke signals: smoking report

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Rib Room cigar terraceThis month sees the opening of a new “cigar room” at the May Fair Hotel in London, serving up cognacs, armagnacs, whiskies, vintage champagne and Martinis alongside the finest cigars. It is part of a growing trend for bars to make the most of the smoking ban which has now been in place for six years in Scotland and five years in England and Wales. Many operators have now created a “cosy outdoor smoking area”, or a COSA, to attract smokers and their friends. While the likes of the Lanesborough Hotel in London led this trend with its Garden Room, it has spread to bars across the rest of the UK. Last summer, a “cigar room” opened next to the Blue Bar at the Gleneagles Hotel while a “cigar bothy” at Hotel Du Vin in Edinburgh and Glasgow has been a great success.

At the May Fair, they talk about their COSA being a “cigar experience”, with chain mail-clad walls, hanging gardens and real fireplaces for when it is colder. There will be a cigar concierge to invite smokers to trial new brands and the latest releases, with a menu of cigars from leading supplier Hunters & Frankau including the Habanos that it exclusively imports. The hotel’s general manager, Anthony Lee, says they will be “banishing the gentleman’s club atmosphere” by create a more “feminine” experience to attract the increasing numbers of women who smoke cigars. Another important part of the experience will be the ability to enjoy the same drinks as in the May Fair Bar and its 150 magnum champagne bar. “With the Cigar Room, we are creating somewhere our guests can feel relaxed and at ease while indulging their passion for fine cigars,” Anthony adds.

A new COSA has also opened at The Rib Room Bar & Restaurant at the Jumeirah Carlton Tower in Knightsbridge, London, as part of the elegant and stylish redesign by Martin Brudnizki Design Studio. The new heated terrace offers an extensive cigar list and a walk-in humidor. Customers can choose from a range of rare and fine varieties of cigars from central and South America including many from Cuba such as Hoyo de Monterrey, Punch, Trinidad, Montecristo, Cohiba, Bolivar and Romeo Y Julieta. They are encouraged to enjoy the cigars with whiskies, cognacs and brandies or they can pick from the bar’s cocktail list.

Pairing ideas have been developed at Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill in London’s West End, run by chef Richard Corrigan. It hosts monthly “cigar tastings” run with Hunkers & Frankau on the heated terrace where people can sample a different cigar alongside drinks to match. Over the past few months this has ranged from Dalmore 12-year-old and Dalmore Alexander whiskies, matched with a Montecristo Grand Edmundo, to last month’s pairing of fine sweet Royal Tokaji wine with Vagas Robaina Unicos cigars.

Cigar and drinks pairings are on the menu on the cigar terrace at boutique hotel Ten Manchester Street in Marylebone, London, which have been developed by Joel Lawrence, head mixologist in the hotel’s Ten Lounge Bar. He has created a signature cocktail especially for cigar smokers called Tobacco Road, which consists of Havana Club Añejo Especial rum, Rubis Chocolate Wine, the bar’s sour mix and Perique tobacco liqueur which is made by Jade Liqueurs from the rare and high-quality Louisiana Perique tobacco. “The idea is every time you draw on the cigar and then sip the drink, it enhances the tobacco flavour notes,” Joel explains. He adds that cocktails based on chocolate, orange, cherry or vanilla can complement the flavours and smells found in most cigars.

The all-weather cigar terrace at Ten Manchester Street, which opened in early 2010, features a walk-in Hunters & Frankau humidor with a comprehensive range of hand-rolled Havana cigars and many other famous Cuban brands. Boasting a team of cigar sommeliers, it runs monthly tutored tastings hosted by Hunters & Frankau cigar specialists where guests enjoy a matching cocktail. “The terrace is very successful and full the majority of the time after 5pm, especially when the weather is wet or cold,” Joel says. Over the past year, he has seen a more constant flow of women coming through the doors to indulge in cigar smoking. “A few days ago I saw, for the first time, the terrace full of only women, not one gent.” He believes the increase in women visitors is in large part due to the bar’s Ladies Cigar Tutorials which are held every three months, hosted by Hunters and Frankau cigar specialists. “Ladies can enjoy a hand-rolled Havana specifically developed with the female cigar connoisseur in mind, paired with a delicious cocktail.”

“Cigar terraces” are part of a trend for consumers to seek an escape from recessionary gloom in luxurious experiences, according to Duncan Chapman, managing director of Inn-Fresco, a specialist in outdoor solutions for the hospitality sector. Cosy outdoor smoking areas may feature not only luxuriously comfortable seating and outdoor heating and lighting but also a substantial retractable roof systems and side screens such as Inn-Fresco’s Med by Inn. “We have seen a real increase in the demand for our premium retractable roof systems,” Duncan says. “They are significantly more substantial than an awning or a parasol and can provide a real all-season solution. We can provide a fabric internal roof liner in any colour to enhance the decadent feel of the inside and, by installing heating, lighting and stylish rattan furniture and cushions, the outside area can be transformed into a really cosy and luxurious place for smokers to sit.”

He points out that other products are coming to the market to suit the luxury end of the market. Innovations include Markilux’s Concertronic which allows music to be transmitted through an awning without the need for speakers or equipment. “Smokers no longer have to sit huddled outside in the cold but can relax and enjoy a cigarette or cigar in impressive and comfortable surroundings. Increasingly we are seeing whole parties sit outside enjoying the ambience even when there are only a couple of smokers in the group.’’

Despite a substantial fall in the number of people smoking in the UK, more than 20 per cent of the population still smokes. The Government continues to consider ideas for further reducing these numbers, including calls by organisations such as the Royal College of Physicians for no-smoking zones to be extended to other public areas including outside areas in pubs and bars. Cigarette vending machines were banned in England in October last year, followed by Wales in February and Northern Ireland in March, while Scotland is set to follow suit in October after the failure of a legal challenge by the tobacco industry last month.

Staff can still sell cigarettes from behind the bar although no advertising or branding can be visible. This challenge has been met by Sound Leisure which has introduced the Cig Safe which can hold up to 48 packets of cigarettes securely and out of sight, using the minimum amount of space. If required, the unit can be bolted to the bar top with security brackets. Entry to the safe is by staff key fobs, with the price of each pack set with the manager’s key fob and shown on an LED display. “Just because a cigarette vending machine is banned, it won’t stop the demand from smokers in a pub or club,” says Sound Leisure’s managing director Chris Black. “Venues will be keen to keep these customers on site by supplying branded cigarettes rather than forcing them to leave and buy them from a local shop.”

The 'Cig'nature CocktailHoly smoke

A cosy outside area at late-night bar Barts in Chelsea, London, opened last year as Barts Cuban Garden, offering a humidor for enjoying cigars alongside a refreshing Havana Club Mojito. But for people who want the taste of tobacco without venturing outside, the bar has created an entire menu of cocktails using Perique Liqueur which is produced by Jade Liqueurs using Louisiana Perique, a rare and high-quality tobacco.

Under the banner of Barts Goes Up In Smoke, the list features cocktails such as the Holy Smoke, made with Perique, Hennessy VS, Havana Club 7 Year Old and vanilla syrup. The Cig’nature Cocktail (pictured) is a mix of Perique, Lindisfarne Mead, lemon juice and Perrier-Jouët champagne, while the In Vogue combines Perique with Sauza Hornitos tequila, raspberry puree, gomme syrup and crème de framboise.

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