Where to Smoke - The American Bar at The Stafford Hotel, London
The proper enjoyment of a Cuban Cigar can be as much about the venue as it can the cigar itself. Uncomfortable surroundings, perhaps affected by inclement weather or poor furnishings, can spoil the memory of what could otherwise have been our new favourite smoke. It is important, therefore, that we maintain a knowledge of the best establishments available to us in our local area – places which can offer comfort and shelter from the elements, excellent drink pairings for our chosen smoke and a level of service which befits the luxury we afford ourselves with our chosen smoke.
Luckily for aficionados across Europe, and indeed the world, some of the most luxurious hotels around have areas which not only permit, but welcome cigar smoking. From Florence’s Villa Cora to Havana’s own Kempinski Rooftop, high-end hotels have embraced the occasion of lighting a fine cigar and provide fantastic settings to settle down and enjoy a smoke, whether at the end of a business trip or as part of a well-earned holiday. One such hotel is The Stafford, in London’s St James’s, and the fabulous terrace of its American Bar.
In previous lives the three grand townhouses of St James’s Place which now form The Stafford Hotel have served as exclusive clubs and, in the case of Number 16, the private residence of Lady Lyttleton, a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria. Originally opened as the St James’s Place Hotel in 1902, the name it bears today was chosen some 10 years later when ownership changed hands. Since then it has found itself at the heart of luxury hospitality in an area famed across the world for the cigar merchants who have called it home for over 200 years. Little surprise, then, that the courtyard formed in the mews area behind the main properties has become home to one of the finest cigar-friendly spaces London has to offer.
The Courtyard at The Stafford Hotel offers covered seating or tables to bask in the sunshine.
The American Bar was named over 70 years ago, during a period when attracting the first wave of American tourists was key to the success of London’s luxury hotels. It quickly built a reputation for serving the finest cocktails, a reputation it keeps to this day. During the War the hotel became home to many American and Canadian officers as they sought out a little taste of their homelands while stationed overseas and the influence of these guests can be felt even now. Today’s signature cocktail, The White Mouse, is named in honour of Nancy Wake, a New Zealand-born war heroine who spent many years in residence at the hotel. This was a woman of extraordinary courage, a woman whose incredible efforts to aid the resistance in her adopted homeland of France led to her being the most-wanted person of the Gestapo, and a woman who became a much-loved fixture of the hotel when she took residence there in 2001. Known for her prompt arrival at 11am each day to enjoy a “bloody good drink” mixed for her by then General Manager Louis Burdet, Nancy was held in great esteem by all in The American Bar. When she passed in 2011, current Director of the bar Benoit Provost created a drink in her honour, named for the codename given to her by her Nazi pursuers.
The signature cocktail of The American Bar, The White Mouse, as created by Director Benoit Provost.
Of course, it’s not just the cocktails and history that make this bar so appealing for the cigar smoker. The wine cellar in the hotel is impressively stocked with vintage wines and champagnes, and the whisky collection in the bar is equally vast. Whatever the occasion, or intended cigar pairing, there will surely be something here to complement beautifully. Throughout the summer the courtyard offers a barbeque menu to sate the appetite and fill the stomach prior to smoking, with pop-ups announced from some of London’s most celebrated restaurants. The hotel’s Game Bird restaurant, overseen alongside the bar menu by Culinary Director Ben Tish, offers a dining experience that will serve as the ideal build-up to a cigar.
A special venue calls for a special cigar - these Limited Editions are the perfect companions for the range of vintage champagnes available from The Stafford Hotel's cellar.
The real star of the offering for lovers of the leaf, however, is the courtyard. To the rear of the hotel, accessible either through the main property or directly from St James’s Street, this terrace is surrounded by the suites and rooms of the hotel and hidden from the gaze of passers-by. The service from Benoit and his team, as they effortlessly glide through the space to ensure every guest’s request is met, is subtle yet attentive, allowing us to breathe, unwind and savour the respite of our cigar and its excellent companion from the bar. Powerful heaters and complementary throws mean the terrace is comfortable and practical in winter, but it is in the sunnier months that it really shines: choose from basking in the warming rays or resting in the cool shade of the parasols and awnings set up to protect us from the full glare of the light. Whichever is your preference, be sure to choose a large cigar that will be with you for a good length of time – once you’ve settled, you won’t want to leave.