“No toxins,” my Lithuanian masseuse warned sternly as I slid, glazed, from her suite at The Four Seasons Hotel in Canary Wharf. “Drink water. Avoid alcohol. Yes?” I dreamily agreed. And yet within the hour I was knee-deep in the debauchery of a full-on cigar and whisky tasting.
Sorry Rasa; I didn’t mean to disobey your orders after such a great way to spend a Monday afternoon (an hour’s full-body massage overlooking the Thames, including aromatherapy oils and plinky-plonky, drowse-inducing Yoga music, anyone?) but I couldn’t very well miss the main reason for my visit; a Vintage Cigar Auction at Boisdales, courtesy of London cigar merchant, C.Gars Ltd.
Cigar auctions are a curious affair. There is a frisson of excitement in the air, a whiff of expectation of things to come. Attendees cast envious glances at some of the eye-wateringly expensive lots and glad-hand with other cognoscenti before settling down on the Cigar Terrace for the main event.
Tonight there is a clear pattern in the distribution of global wealth. A diminutive Japanese bidder here; a large, loud American couple there; throw in some Chinese collectors who seem keen to buy up everything in the auction, a pair of well turned-out Germans and a host of interested Brits – only a handful of whom are actually bidding – and you’ve got a useful indicator of where money seems to lie in the current world economic order.
These guys have travelled from around the globe to spend their hard-earned on vintage Cuban cigars. Only Cuban cigars, mind you; cigars from elsewhere in the world just don’t have the same vintage cache.
Like wine, cigars are an entirely natural product, reliant on the elements for their quality. And like wine, cigar production has vintage years when everything comes together to create the very best in flavour and aroma.
Add to this that cigars, again like wine, age beautifully if stored correctly and you have the basis of why people look upon ‘laid down’ cigars as a significant pleasure – and investment.
With new regional edition smokes and humidors (the humidified cabinets cigars are stored in) being produced in limited quantities, there is considerable competition among cigar collectors for a relatively small pool of collectable, handrolled cigars.
When the auction proper gets underway, early tentative bidding soon hots up and when we reach some of the Cuban Davidoff boxes (the brand no longer makes Cuban cigars), the prices climb steadily. £4,000 for a box of 25 handrolled Cuban cigars from 1990? Not a problem sir, down comes the gavel. Puffs of aromatic blue smoke chuff more frequently into the summer evening as the lots whizz past.
Going, going, gone – £11,000 for a 15-year-old Partagas Humidor containing 50 specially-made smokes. Even the big rollers baulk, however, at a dining room dresser-sized humidor containing an incredible 2,000 cigars; it fails to meet its reserve of £140,000 and is destined to remain with its Mexican cigar aficionado for a little while longer.
The action continues for two hours or more in the sunshine, with a few bidders repeatedly snapping up the choicer vintage lots. Interestingly, one or two of these multiple bidders own smoking lounges and terraces elsewhere in town. No doubt after a discreet period, these same vintage smokes will be available for sale from their own humidors – at suitably marked-up prices, of course.
Finally, after a group-spend of more than £280,000, the gavel comes down for the last time and most of the bidders drift away with the smoke.
I’m one of the lucky ones, able to hang around for a gala dinner and live band, more select cigars and spirits on the terrace. It’s gone midnight by the time I’m staggering out of the Boisdale doors, but I’m smug, and for good reason; I’m heading back to the stupendously appointed Four Seasons Canary Wharf, where I was suitably pampered by Rasa earlier in the day.
This is my official Canary Wharf pied a terre from now on, I decide, as I lurch along the path to ‘my’ hotel, accompanied by a light and creamy Flor de Cano Short Robusto.
The Thames trots blackly alongside me like a friendly dog. The angles and luminance of the Four Seasons greets me from the gloom and I finish my smoke beside the water, watching late night drunks and early morning cleaners avoiding eye contact.
Then it’s back to my luxury suite, a bottle of ice-cold beer in front of the glowing skyline and the sleep of the righteous until reality bites back with dawn.
The Four Seasons Hotel at Canary Wharf is the only luxury hotel in the area and features a stunning infinity swimming pool overlooking the Thames, a Spa treatment suite, state-of-the-art gym, restaurant, floodlit tennis court, business centre and more. For details on rates, availability and facilities, check their website or call +44 (0) 207 510 1999. For more information about the area, visit the Travel East London microsite.
C.Gars Ltd is the UK’s premier cigar merchant, offering a vast array of cigars and accessories through its website and range of whisky and cigar shops around the country.
Boisdale Canary Wharf is Canary Wharf’s latest must-visit destination. Live jazz and blues, Oyster Bar, Whisky Bar and of course a Cigar Library and Terrace make it a one-stop shop for lovers of life and lovers of the leaf.