Even if you’ve never visited London before, chances are you still would’ve heard of The Connaught Hotel on the famed Mount Street in Mayfair. Not only does it provide a quintessentially glamorous, almost filmic London experience, but it boasts The Best Bar in the World. Not bad going, if you ask us. Their latest offering which has opened this June is The Cigar Merchants, a beautiful space for guests and walk-ins alike to come and enjoy a cigar or two, specially curated by none other than Adam Lajca. We visited him at The Cigar Merchants, to talk about the new space and what led him to it.
The Connaught Cigar Merchants, on Mount Street, London
EGM: How did you first get into the cigar world?
Adam Lajca: My first encounter of a Cuban cigar was in 2005, 2006. I was 22 at that time, and was lucky to find a cigar shop near to the hotel I was staying in in Cuba, in the small island of Cayo Guillermo. I had a really great conversation with the gentleman who was at the shop at that time, he was before a roller at one of the Cuban factories for around twenty years. He guided me a bit as well with what selection to take, and definitely one of the most memorable cigars was my first one, the San Cristobal de la Habana La Punta. Pretty much from that time the journey of the cigars started evolving, and then really took off five or six years after the trip.
EGM: Did you visit Cuba with the intention of getting into the cigar world?
AL: Nope, it was just a holiday — I wanted to spend some time on a beach, and Cuba came to my mind, so I thought okay let’s go there and explore.
EGM: So you basically came out of the trip going into a brand new career?
AL: I still worked at the same place, it was at The Grove Hotel, but the interest [in cigars] definitely grew — I also had a small cigar selection and wanted to see how this could be introduced, and to do this on a daily basis professionally.
EGM: So you became a Master of Havana Cigars…
AL: Yes, that’s right. That was in 2015.
EGM: And you’ve been collecting personal cigars for quite some time.
AL: Pretty much straight after my trip! It was slow initially, but after time talking to interesting characters with lots of knowledge about cigars, going to Havana during the festivals, you want to explore as many different cigars as time is going to allow you.
EGM: Do you have a preference towards New or Old World, or is a good cigar just a good cigar?
AL: Totally, a good cigar is a good cigar. I smoke New World as well, so definitely nothing against them. We all have different tastes and preferences. There are really good New World cigars out there so I would definitely encourage people to actually explore rather than box themselves into a particular category or brand, because you never know. It’s like life: life is full of surprises, and cigars are full of surprises! If you’re not going to explore, you’re definitely not going to know — it might be your next favourite!
EGM: For sure! So, we are at The Connaught Cigar Merchants. Tell us more about it…
AL: The space only opened a few months ago, and was designed by Bryan O’Sullivan Studio, and the humidor was made by Massimo de Munari from DeArt in Italy. Also we have a sophisticated Swiss extraction system which takes the air from outside and is pumped through the floor, then extracted through the ceiling. You can say the air is almost washing your clothes, so you shouldn’t really smell much of smoke after finishing sampling our cigars. It’s great. We’ve had a lot of cigar smokers and they were impressed with the system and how efficient it is. Definitely another important bit is that you don’t want to have any draughts which could spoil the experience. It’s tweaked to perfection. We’re able to offer a great selection of cigars for any preference.
The ceiling has a subtle extraction system to enhance your smoking experience
EGM: On that note, you’ve curated all of the cigars available here. How does the actual process of curation work?
AL: The most important thing is to take into account what your guests expect and what they like to have. You cannot just lead with your personal preference. Guests of The Connaught for example will definitely have very, very high expectations and they will look for very rare cigars as well as ones that they wouldn’t be able to find elsewhere. One of the things we specialise in is rare vintage cigars like Reservas, Gran Reservas, all the Limitadas, but we also have a lot of regular production cigars. So regardless of your preference, we’re definitely going to have a cigar that you’re going to enjoy.
EGM: And your personal favourite cigars… what would they be?
AL: Well if you’re looking at the humidor in The Connaught, it would be tricky to pick, because there are a lot of, a lot of interesting cigars. It’s the middle of the day, we’re chatting about cigars, so for right now I would say definitely is the Partagas D4 Reserva. Around a 45-minute smoke, it’s on the full-strength side, packed with flavour. Another on the lighter side is the La Gloria Cubana — the Cuban Regional. Another great smoke for midday.
A selection of Adam's go-to afternoon cigars
AL: Also, if we’re talking UK Regionals. Por Larrañaga Magnificos, which is a UK Regional. It’s a bit of a lengthy smoke but it’s on the lighter side. Great with a coffee or tea, and a lengthy conversation about cigars!
EGM: Here’s one that I like to ask. If someone were to walk in, having never tried a cigar before, what would you recommend? Because this could be the thing that sets them on a path similar to yours!
AL: It’s very important to ask them what they’re expecting, I wouldn’t go straight away and say okay you have to have this cigar. We will guide our guests towards the brands, for example one of the perfect brands for a first time smoker is Hoyo de Monterrey. So now the question is how much time you have? I’d stick to smaller vitolas, however, again, if someone has one hour or more there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a cigar like Rio Seco or Epicure No. 2. Another important thing, take your time and don’t rush it. If you need any help we can always guide you in that direction.
Enjoy a wide selection of cigars, whatever your preference
EGM: What’s your favourite thing about London?
AL: First thing, London and cigars — we are very lucky to have a lot of cigar places to smoke. A lot of knowledgeable cigar aficionados, characters, and it’s great. If you want to explore the cigar lounges in London, a week is not enough! We are blessed that a lot of these places have been opened for decades and have great collections. London as London, you’re never going to get bored of it. Whatever you think about, London will have it. It brings people together.
A host of wonderful goods in The Connaught Cigar Merchants
A special thank you to Adam Lajca, Beatrice Reeve-Tucker and everyone at the Maybourne Hotel Group for their hospitality.