Where to Smoke - The Churchill Bar & Terrace, Portman Square, London
When on the move around London, shopping in the streets of Mayfair and Marylebone, the desire to relax with a Cuban Cigar can often strike. It is important, then, that we know of places we can go to rest our feet, grab a snack and refreshing drink, and enjoy a fine smoke. Portman Square is nestled behind Oxford Street and at the bottom of Baker Street – 2 famous hubs of the capital’s retail and restaurant scenes – and is home to The Churchill Bar & Terrace. This delightful little bar and terrace is attached to the Hyatt Regency hotel and perfectly located for either an afternoon lunch, drink and cigar or a post-meal digestif after a visit to Locanda Locatelli, found just next door.
If one were to stroll down Seymour Street towards Portman Square it would be forgivable to miss the terrace at first pass, so discreetly is it hidden behind attractive fencing and shrubbery. Stepping off the square and into the bar we are immediately greeted by the humidor; a stunning piece of furniture in sumptuous dark wood, created for the bar as a bespoke work by legendary Italian artisans DeART. The venue is immediately cosy – booths set against the wall and luxuriously upholstered in fine fabrics sit opposite a grand bar, giving a fabulous view of the mixologists at work. The terrace is smartly dressed and airy, those hedges and plants giving a surprising and impressive degree of protection from the noise of passing traffic and gaze of passing shoppers. In the summer it is full of light; in the winter, well-equipped with powerful heaters and gloriously soft blankets.
The terrace is tastefully decorated and sheltered from the bustle of the street
Like everywhere else, The Churchill Bar & Terrace has recently been subject to a prolonged period of closure. This time, however, was not wasted. As well as installing the safety features we have all become some familiar with in hospitality settings throughout Europe, such as automatic sanitiser dispensers and menus accessed by QR code, the team have redesigned the outdoor space, giving more room for guests to enjoy their cigars, snacks and cocktails in comfort. The result is an area that feels spacious and welcoming as the staff, each sporting a stylish facemask, work tirelessly to deliver service levels that mean we never need leave the comfort of our table.
Bar Manager Nelson Bernardes is the person who oversees this development and adaptation, having arrived to lead the team in December 2019, just a few months before the enforced shutdown. His time at The Churchill has therefore been punctuated by the stop-start attempts to return to the life we knew 18 months ago, but he has used the time creatively to craft a new version of the space that has been popular with hotel guests and locals alike for many years now. His gaze is trained on opportunities in the future, not the tumult of the time just passed.
Alongside the reconfiguration of the outside area, Nelson has introduced a new cocktail menu written in collaboration with the entire staff. This menu will run for a 6 month period, offering perfect summer refreshments that will pair perfectly with the extensive selection of cigars in their humidor. “We wanted to create something that represented the team as a whole, and was inspired by experiences we have all had across the world.” he explains. “After 18 months of confinement the people of London will no doubt wish to travel again, but the restrictions on movement from country-to-country may mean they have to wait a little longer. We wanted to help alleviate the frustration a little by transporting our guests around the world with their drinks while they may not be able to do so on flights.”
The terrace, bathed in sunlight, is the perfect place to enjoy a Cohiba cigar
The result is the World of Wanderlust menu, an interactive experience guests may access on their smartphones and use as a guide through the cocktails themselves and the travels that inspired them. From the Edinburgh-inspired Haunted City (scotch-based, naturally) to the rich, rum-based thousand Islands, there is a cocktail here to suit any palette, and pair with any cigar. Nelson’s own contribution? “The Air Safari. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to experience a sunrise hot air balloon trip across the Masai Mara. This takes me back there every time I drink it.”
While cocktails may be the perfect summer foil for a Cuban cigar, there is of course a whole range of other drinks to pair, should your tastes lie elsewhere. Nelson and his team are happy to recommend a whisky or brandy as an alternative to the house signatures, and there are wines and champagnes to delight the senses whatever the weather or time of day. The Churchill’s Cocktail Brunch is the perfect weekend afternoon treat, and the 1am weekend closing time allows plenty of time for an indulgent after-dinner smoke. For the many of us who choose to remain in London this summer, or the few who manage to organise a trip here from elsewhere, The Churchill Bar is a fine spot for the enjoyment of a fine cigar.