Pleasure / September 2015

Fire Starters: The Sampling Room at the Bulgari Hotel

The Cigar Shop and Sampling Room in the Bulgari Hotel Knightsbridge is a space for all smoking connoisseurs, amateur and veteran alike.

North American Indians had it right when it came to their cultural attitudes towards tobacco. There was none of the dismissiveness found in modern-day views, when the mention of smoking or tobacco is, more often than not, met with a cold reception to a 'filthy habit'. No, they were more respectful in their treatment of the dried-out leaf. Far from the 'Can-you-smoke-that-outside' philistines of today, they believed in the entheogenic capabilities of tobacco - some believed that tobacco was a gift from the Creator, the smoke lifting their prayers to the heavens. Algonquian people in Canada still frown upon addiction to tobacco, as they believe that if you abuse this sacred plant, it will abuse you. The practice of smoking it, as they did, in a spiritual room where serenity can be found - and where you might even find God - is all but lost, save for a solitary space in the Bulgari Hotel of Knightsbridge, London: the Edward Sahakian Cigar Shop and Sampling Room.

The unexpectedly rapid rise of the COSA (Cosy Outdoor Smoking Area) has become a fascinating subject for specialist cigar and luxury magazines. Removed from the stringent expectation of door fees, sparkler-bearing vodka bottles, and minimum-spend-per-table bars and clubs you'll find in most MEDC metropolises, these are havens in which to sit in solitude or in fine company, contemplating the stick of tightly bound (though not too tightly bound) leaves in front of you, a tonic for the woes of the earth. The problem is that, for legal reasons, many of these are fifty-one percent outdoors - a slave to the elements. In some cases, take The Ritz in London, for example, to get there feels akin to asking to see the pornography stash, situated as they are along back corridors and up-and- down staircases.

The Edward Sahakian shop and sampling lounge at the Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge, which opened in May 2012, affords you meditative surroundings with all the trappings of a 1950s' jet- set after-dinner salon: easy to find, well upholstered, and with warm and comfortable chestnut-coloured décor, pictures of the most glamorous smokers of all time, Geoffrey Parker backgammon sets designed to match the room, cumbersome but sturdy ashtrays, and smartly chosen music at the perfect volume so conversation is never stifled.

Then, of course, come its two main attractions. Firstly, the sommeliers, Mike Choi and Attila Szabo. Mike is considered one of the finest sommeliers in the world - the second- finest, in fact, having finished runner-up at the Cuban 2014 World Habanosommelier Championship (he was also the UK habanosommelier champion of 2013). Attila is hot on his heels, and both hold the Hunters & Frankau epithet 'Master of Havana Cigars'.

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Contributor

Tom Chamberlin

Editor of The Rake Magazine