I’m not what you’d call a career villain. Never been arrested. Never had so much as a parking ticket. But at a secret location, I recently broke the law with gusto alongside two dozen other pillars of London’s business community. We enjoyed Champagne, French cuisine, wine, cheese, Cognac, each other’s company – and the finest Cuban cigars before, during and after. What’s more, we enjoyed them where we sat, indoors, around the table, at a restaurant.
It was a covertly organised Prohibition Dinner, in defiance of the UK’s smoking ban which makes it illegal to smoke indoors at any pub, club, bar, restaurant, hostelry, barn, beehive or badger’s den. Probably.
The gathered crowd – mostly male with a couple of delectable exceptions – was a genuinely sociable bunch which numbered Frenchmen, lawyers from Singapore and Hong Kong, Army officers, restaurateurs, luxury retailers and your dedicated correspondent among them. We were united by the love of food, drink and fine cigars and by golly, didn’t we prove it.
Despite the early disabling shock of discovering I was the only attendee wearing a dinner jacket and dickie bow, I threw myself into proceedings with gay abandon. No sooner was I through the door – a prominently positioned one in Mayfair – than a custom-rolled Canonazo sized cigar (5 7/8″ by 52mm ring gauge) was thrust into one hand and a glass of Champagne into the other.
A boisterous crowd gathered, several of us known to each other, and the night was alive. Bubbles flowed, as did tall tales, and before long the room was redolent with aromatic smoke. It says something for the art of conversation that no-one paused for breath for an hour or more before the entrees dared make an appearance. There was a sense of camaraderie in the air.
The food slowed the drinking, chatting and smoking not a jot. One just chose a nearby companion to sit down next to, and the evening moved smoothly on.
I’d forgotten what a pleasure it is to eat and smoke in comfort without having to deport to another, usually less sociable, location. This conversation coitus interruptus subtly changes the dynamics and interaction of an evening. Creativity, lucidity, freedom of expression and mutual appreciation are all a by-product of cigar-smoking. Their loss from the nation’s dinner tables is sorely felt.
We laughed and smoked hard and my youthful cigar was laid to rest after sterling service accompanying medallions of rare beef. Thanks to the generosity of one of the event organisers, further boxes of Cuban cigars were flourished – this time a choice between a Limited Edition 2009 Romeo & Julieta Duke just coming into its own and stonking great Ramon Allones Gigantes from separate box dates of either 2007 or 2008.
I couldn’t resist the mightiness of the Ramon double corona (7 5/8″ by 49mm ring gauge). It was a regal, reflective, luxury finish to the meal, extraordinary with the cheese board, a quiet accomplice to the Remy Martin XO.
There were a couple of impromptu speeches, one of them deeply moving, as the aforementioned soldier – due to return to Afghanistan in a matter of weeks – told us that we humbled him by our love for life and the finer things in it. We humbled him!
And on we smoked, chairs pushed back, at least one bowtie loosened and Cognac glasses clasped conspiratorially close to our chests. I took a moment to gaze up the table at animated faces, full glasses and unfurling banners of smoke. It was one of those priceless ‘nowhere I’d rather be’ moments.
We drifted away eventually in the early hours, calling out our goodbyes across the ever-present traffic and noise. But this was a significant act of civil disobedience, a dignified riposte to a silly and repressive law. As cigar smokers, poles apart from cigarette smokers, we demand the right to enjoy a handrolled, 100% natural, artisan, luxury product.
This night we enjoyed it like the free citizens we are purported to be.
Brilliantly evocative piece of writing – even if I’m glad that smoking has been pressed under ground!