Cigars by the fire - Al-fresco smoking in the winter months
Regulations, and changing social conventions, in most nations have made Cuban cigar smoking in the 21st century a mainly outdoor pursuit. While this may be fairly easy to manage in the tropical heat of Havana, for those of us in countries which endure a long, cold winter it can be difficult to find a comfortable spot to smoke for the six or so months of icy weather. The idea of simply abstaining from cigars until the sun returns in spring is not one that many of us would like to entertain, so we must take steps to ensure we can continue to embrace our passion without catching our death.
Mitigation of the cold begins with our clothing, but once we have our knitwear and hats, where next to turn? Thankfully, many venues have invested in creating outside spaces which are comfortable and welcoming. City-dwellers usually need not look far to find a heated terrace or covered garden to shield them, and their cigars, from the elements. The idea to cater to lovers of the outdoors is not, however, reserved to the hospitality trade – the availability of tools and furnishings to equip your own home for year-round outdoor smoking has improved in leaps and bounds. Here are some of the essentials to create a space in your garden for those celebratory winter Cohibas.
The most important consideration is, of course, heat. As wrapped up as we may be in coats and scarves and gloves, there is no real substitute for fire. This handsome concrete fire pit will provide heat, light and a focal point for a group to gather round or to entertain the eyes of a solo smoker. It is fuelled by bioethanol, making it a greener alternative to burning wood or coal, and will keep you warm well into the dark night as you enjoy those festive cigars. The dancing flame of an open fire is one of the most mesmerising sights a person can behold, and will be a welcome addition to any home.
Once the fire to warm the body has been ignited, the next focus is the fire to light our cigars. The outdoor setting will doubtless lead to us combatting the wind, so a powerful jet, with the strength to withstand the stiffest of breezes, is required. The Xikar Volta has a total of 4 flames, coming together at a point to toast the end of your stick. It will function admirably in the face of significant seasonal turbulence, and is a solid, handsome piece of furniture for your garden.
Winter wind is not only a threat to our lighter. Using a flimsy ashtray can lead to ash and cigar butts being strewn about the garden if the breeze picks up too much. The Colibri Quasar Ashtray is a solid piece of kit, equipped with a non-slip base to prevent unwanted movement and weighty enough to stay in place when buffeted by a strong gust. It will comfortably rest up to 8 cigars, making it ideal for entertaining groups, and the spacious interior will keep the remnants of your sticks from spilling over and ruining the ambience.
Johnstons of Elgin have produced the finest cashmere cloth in the world for over 200 years. Their modern focus is on doing so sustainably, without sacrificing any of the quality for which the brand has become famous. No matter how many layers we wear, there is something about wrapping oneself in a cashmere throw while staring into the flames of our fire that brings an extra level of warmth to the heart. This one is big enough to comfortably drape around 2 people, bringing an extra layer of intimacy to an evening in the garden. Pour a couple of whiskies, light a couple of cigars, and enjoy a romantic evening in front of the fire.
Of course, not everyone – especially in the city – has the luxury of an outside area to their property. Some others may just enjoy the luxury of having well-trained hospitality staff attend to their every need, without the need to clean up after themselves. Just in case, here are 2 of the cosiest venues to enjoy a smoke in the next few months.
Just opposite Kings Cross station in London stands The Standard Hotel, a recent reimaging of a brutalist concrete pile from the 1970s. The interior, thankfully, is nowhere near as harsh as the façade, and has in fact been transferred into one of the coolest young venues in the capital. The roof terrace closes over the winter – it’s just too blowy up there for comfort – but the outdoor section of the Isla restaurant, with its retractable roof, is the perfect space for long, lazy weekend sessions. Graze from the kitchen between cigars, choose from the seasonal cocktail list and wile away an evening in style.
Just behind the Royal Mile in Edinburgh’s world-famous Old Town, the Hotel du Vin is a bit of a hidden gem. Not as famous as some of the grand old hotels along Princes Street, but just as impressive in terms of service, the jewel in their crown is their Cigar Bothy, built in their courtyard specifically to entertain aficionados. A bothy is a traditional Scottish dwelling, usually found in the remote areas of the Highlands and designed as refuge from the elements for travellers who find themselves exposed to particularly harsh weather. This version is far more comfortable than those to be found in the wilderness to the north: kitted out with armchairs and sofas, well-heated and secure from the rain. If all that isn’t enough, the whisky list here will surely help keep protect against the worst of the wind whipping up from hill from Leith.