Last week I visited The Loch & The Tyne, a pub-restaurant by Adam Handling over in Old Windsor. The meal was fantastic and whilst I strongly recommend you visit to experience the menu, I was very much taken by the page of cigars at the back of the wine list. A tight selection appealing to all tastes - from H. Upmann’s Half Corona—a quickie smoke for someone looking to escape the dirge of post-dinner chatter—to the beautifully balanced Romeo Y Julieta No. 3. This led me to peer outside and discover one of the finest smoking areas I’d ever seen attached to a pub. The musical soundtrack from inside is gently piped out to speakers hidden amongst the shrubbery, and the wrap-around terrace serves the feeling of being sat on the uniquely American-covered porch. All of this is a world away from the world before the smoking ban, when people puffed away indoors.
I remember the first of July 2007, when the ban on smoking hit pubs in the UK. I was in my second year of university, where arriving home from nights out absolutely reeking of cigarettes was the norm, even if you didn’t smoke. The second of July however, was the truly shocking day, as we were quick to learn that without the clouds of smoke permeating the walls, carpet and furnishings…the pub stank, man!
Fortunately these pubs quickly caught onto the fact that by providing a comfortable space for the nicotine addicted. These people would merely move their drinking and socialising habits outside. What started off as glorified bus shelters eventually turned into custom-built terraces with patio heaters and even outdoor bars. The good ol’ British pub went al fresco, and smokers rejoiced.
Sitting outside to smoke a cigar is truly one of life’s small pleasures. I would argue it’s a finer experience than being sat in a dank, stained room that’s only for members—the world outside is the great unifier of us all. This isn’t a hurried cigarette break, all hunched and anxious, with no enjoyment at all. No, the cigar is contemplative, relaxing. Someone smoking a cigar is in no hurry. The cigar takes time, and this is the key. You’re open to more thoughts, and lighting a cigar is akin to lighting the fuse on a conversation. People can see that across your face, too; “What are they talking about? They look like they’ve got it all figured out”. And you do have it all figured out, because you’ll be smoking at one of the establishments below.
A great outdoor spot in Mayfair is the rooftop of The Windmill, hidden away just off Savile Row. It’s a tiny rooftop, so be a good egg and check if the people around you are cool with the smoke. If you’re lucky, the bar staff will take orders for you – otherwise you’re traversing three flights of ancient stairs and almost certainly slopping some beer on your shoes. If the sun is shining, get yourself a crisp Pilsner to enjoy alongside a light-to-medium bodied cigar such as the H. Upmann Magnum 46 or the Romeo y Julieta Linea de Oro Hidalgos (or both, in our case). The effervescence of the beer refreshing the palate for an excellent smoking experience. Whilst I’ll forever mourn the loss of Boisdale Mayfair, with its patch of artificial grass providing a makeshift garden for open-air drinking, the Belgravia and Canary Wharf outposts remain open. Both of which have excellent cigar terraces—heated and tartan-clad.
It’s Saturday afternoon and you’ve just completed the pilgrimage to Ginger Pig at Borough Market. That’s dinner sorted, but the sun is shining, you’ve got a couple of sticks in your top pocket and time to kill. Head for Bermondsey Street and you’ll find The Woolpack. The dark green button-back banquettes are perennial pub chic, and don’t forget to gawp at the striking painted ceiling, but continue through to the back and you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic outdoor space. Partially covered in both pergola and ivy, and heated of course, this is the space to enjoy the symbiotic relationship between rum and a Hoyo de Monterrey.
If you’re on the other side of town, you’re going to want to head to The Faltering Fullback. Quickly, I should add, as there’s no bookings here. A distinctly quirky pub tucked behind Finsbury Park, the garden is a haven for smokers. It’s a multi-levelled treehouse style affair, and the sort of spot you could spend the full afternoon with friends. Bizarrely the pub serves only Thai food, so something good from Juan López is going to give you the complexity to break through all that spice.
Sticking within North London, The Lighterman is the least pubby looking pub in this list, looming like a Frank Lloyd Wright structure slapped amongst the Victorian architecture of King’s Cross. It juts out of Granary Square and overlooks the canal at the Coal Drops, and boasts a fantastic balcony with smoking allowed on the upper terrace. I’d say this one is strictly for good weather only, as the terrace isn’t heated and the covered section is a bit too close to the doors for guilt-free smoking. But if the sun is shining, grab yourself a table at the canalside bar, because those south-facing tables are going to get more than their fair share of vitamin D.
Finally, with an aim to complete the London cartographic compass, and what is probably the most iconic pub in East London, it’s the Lord Napier Star in Hackney Wick. Decked to the hilt in graffiti and reopened after 25 years in limbo, it comes complete with a new roof terrace which is perfect for eating, drinking and tobacco-adjacent activities. What could be better than enjoying conversations over a Cohiba, a craft beer and Krapow? Not much, you could say. You’re the one smoking a cigar after all, and you have it all figured out.