Smoker's London



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If you‘re a smoker, you‘ll want to carefully select the venue for that final fag. We invited Time Out‘s own blazing squad to champion the places they‘ll be heading to, and reveal what London will be like when the smoke clears.

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    Paul having a fag

    The smoky local

    You’ve seen us, the Social Smokers, out on a Thursday or Friday night clutching our badge of dishonour, the ten-pack, purchased in a moment of sober optimism on the way to the pub. In our more deluded moments, we’re bona fide non-smokers and, though we wouldn’t readily admit it, a bit snooty about the 24/7 puffers pacing the pavement in all weathers, pulling on their snout like a lifer in the exercise yard. As I’m a post-sundown smoker, pubs and bars are almost the only place I light up, so the ban should come as a crushing blow to me. But it doesn’t.

    Like others of my stripe, Giving Up is always an imagined option that plays somewhere in the distant future but which the ban might bring into focus: I’m addicted, yes, but it’s an addiction that’s a feckless pleasure, that follows the path of least resistance. Even after July 1, a summer of beer gardens and garrulous pavements will mean business as usual but as the weather turns I’m banking on the day when stepping from a cosy pub into the chilly night just to feed my habit will become too onerous a task.

    Only ‘cosy’ might not mean what it used to. The smoky local has been a feature of London life since pre-industrial times, a convivial, conspiratorial bolt-hole made all the more intimate by that ever-present blue fug. It’s been the stage for intriguers, real and imagined, from the Gunpowder Plotters to George Smiley, and the conjunction of ‘back room’ and ‘smoky pub’ is a staple in the biography of every rock dandy or comedy legend out to prove they’ve paid their dues. The best retain an air of disreputable allure you won’t find in your local gastropub or, God forbid, the kind of ‘exclusive’ bars frequented by fat-tied footballers and minor royals. At solidly local Irish boozer the Mother Redcap on Holloway Road a recent refit hasn’t lessened the smoky camaraderie Samuel Pepys enjoyed when he stopped by there 350 years ago, but the landlord is adamant it’s his regulars who bring the atmosphere, not their fags – he’s more concerned about ‘a few chancers effing at me in the first weeks’ of the ban.

    There’s optimism too at Time Out’s favourite Spanish colony, Bradley’s on Hanway Street, that the bar’s dog-eared charm can survive a fug-less future. Besides saying goodbye to red eyes at the end of an eight-hour shift, the bar staff are taking a longer view. In her native Norway, one tells me, the three-year-old smoking ban has already helped to shake off the image of smoking as a rite of passage: ‘When I was 14, I was already heavily into smoking. My cousin, who’s 14 now, knows maybe one person who smokes. It’s the next generation who’ll really benefit from this.’ She’s bang on of course, but we shouldn’t expect the smoky pub to join puffing doctors and 20-a-game footballers in the realm of incredulous hindsightery already crammed with smoking legends. Timothy Leary famously understood the importance of ‘set and setting’ and the pub is a place where ordinary caution is often suspended. Or as one anonymous barman, unimpressed with the ban, said to me, ‘If you’re so worried about your health, what are you doing in the fucking pub in the first place?’
    Paul Fairclough

    Where to go
    Mother Redcap, 665 Holloway Rd, N19 (020 7263 7082 ); Bradley’s Spanish Bar, 42-44 Hanway St, W1 (020 7636 0359).
    What to smoke For the social smokers, a cheap ’n’ cheerful pack of ten Mayfair Lights. For the hardcore pub puffers, 20 black Sovereigns.

    Gordon with cigar

    The cigar bar

    First things first: I don’t know much about cigars. I like them in the same way I like whisky, as an enthusiastic but rank amateur. Apart from some being thicker and shorter than others, I’ve no idea what the difference is between a Coronas Especiales 2002, say, and a 2004 Montecristo Edmundo, save for the indelible fact that I will be able to smoke neither in public after July 1. This is a shame, as there really is nothing finer and more properly grown-up about London life than pushing away the dinner plates after a good meal to enjoy a cigar with friends, even if it’s only a measly pack of Meharis you’re packing. Tugging on an aromatic stogie while chasing a peaty malt round the glass lifts the soul and transports the puffer, in my case at least, directly from Peckham to the tobacco fields of Cuba. And trust me, that’s a tricky journey to make in the mind. Boisdale of Belgravia, the bar and restaurant that’s become an unlikely London HQ for lovers of cigars and Scottish cuisine, is where you should go to puff your final public Partagas. It has 110 different types of Havana cigars and more than 1,100 members (though you don’t have to be one to go). However, only 30 will be able to squeeze on to the new roof terrace being built at a cost of £40,000. Though the popularity of the cosy wood-panelled rooms will no doubt endure for diners and drinkers, ensuring smokers can still come here to indulge is vital to owner Ranuld Macdonald’s livelihood. ‘I don’t think any of us wants the indignity of being forced out into the streets to smoke cigars. I think that ultimately some exemptions will be made and we stand to benefit from that. In the meantime, people will be holding a lot more dinner parties.’The omens for London’s 20 cigar bars aren’t particularly good. When the smoking ban hit Scotland in March 2006, Hunters & Frankau, the biggest importer of Havana cigars in the UK, lost 60 per cent of its orders from Scottish bars, hotels and restaurants. ‘It will change our business significantly,’ admits Macdonald. ‘Our existing customers will not linger quite as long as they would before. At the moment, if someone books a table for eight we know they will stay the whole evening. But, on the other hand, we will attract people who would not have come here in the past – we are at the extreme end of the smoking spectrum – to sample our food and jazz.’ Take my advice: spark up a fat one at Boisdale now – it could get squashed on that roof terrace. Gordon Thomson Where to go Boisdale of Belgravia, 15 Eccleston St, SW1 (020 7730 6922/www.boisdale.; Macanudo Fumoir, Claridges, Brook St, W1 (O20 7629 8860); The Library, Lanesborough Hotel, W1 (020 7259 5599); Aura (48-49 St James’s St, SW1 (020 7499 6655). What to smoke There are plenty to choose from, but go for the weighty Montecristo No 2.

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    Rebecca puffs away on a hookah on Edgware Road

    The shisha joint

    Weeeh! I’m floating! Mamounia Lounge, the café in Queensway where I’ve come to smoke a shisha pipe, is gently spinning around me. And, since this is for our photoshoot, it’s only 11.30 on a Tuesday morning. I’m inhaling the hard stuff – a mixture of tobacco and a revoltingly orange-coloured fruity paste, optimistically called Fruit Cocktail – through a water-filled glass pipe (also known as a hookah, nargileh or hubble-bubble). Although originally intended for smoking opium and hashish, they’re strictly herbal affairs these days, producing a mild light-headedness and slightly soporific effect.It’s not that I’m a hardcore shisha-seeker, but the chance to have a puff does seem to have cropped up with amazing regularity on my travels. And there’s something about the smoky bittersweet flavour (apple is my favourite), and the languorous, drawn out ritual of the activity that is almost addictive. My first experience was in a fuggy café in Amman, Jordan, where women were noticeably absent and men craned their necks to stare as I puffed away. And on the Corniche in Beirut, I smoked as the sun set behind the bullet-pocked buildings and Hezbollah flags waving cheerfully in the breeze. In London, shisha cafés have been around since the ’80s, serving up a plain molasses-tobacco mix (known as zaghloul or salloum). Fruit varieties soon appeared, offering everything from mint to pineapple flavour as a way of appealing to women and the youth market, and creating a kind of smokers’ version of alcopops. Youssef Benfadel, laidback owner of Mamounia, says that although many women smoke at the café, they are uncomfortable being seen outside. ‘We are very upset about the ban,’ says Leena Magdad, another student in the café. ‘If we can’t smoke shishas here, where will we go? We’ll end up in the pubs getting drunk on vodkas.’ There’s no exemption for shishas, and there are fears among London’s Middle Eastern communities that cafés on Edgware Road and Queensway, many of which rely on smoking for their income, will suffer a severe blow. ‘We are disappointed,’ says Benfadel, as he puffs away on his ‘breakfast’ pipe. He is part of a campaign led by café owners to get the pipes exempted. ‘The best we can hope for in the short term is that councils won’t crack down hard on enforcement,’ says Benfadel, but he thinks that’s unlikely. My tolerance for the pipe may not be what it used to be – I’m starting to feel queasy. The constant exhortation of our photographer to ‘create more smoke, create more smoke’, has me puffing away like a Middle Eastern Dot Cotton and I can feel myself turn green. Time to make a swift exit. ‘Excuse me, Youssef, I think I need to use your bathroom,’ I manage to mumble, before I charge through the café, and narrowly avoid a white-out in the upstairs loo. Save the shisha? On second thoughts, maybe I’ll have a vodka. Rebecca TaylorWhere to go Mamounia Lounge, 8 Queensway, W2 (020 7221 0202). What to smoke Stick to simple flavours like apple, cherry and mint, and skip the more exotic cappuccino, rum and raisin, and fruit cocktail.

    The pipe shop

    Michael Gratrick of the Pipe Club of London ( says: ‘We were founded in 1970. Our remit is to encourage pipe smoking and share our interest. Pipe smokers are very passionate. It’s different to tobacco smoking, which is just a habit. Pipe smoking is all about touch and feel and aroma, the type of pipe, the wood, the age, shape and size – the aesthetics of pipes. ‘We hold regular meetings and discuss anything related to pipes, and the ban will hit us. We used to visit some of the big pipe shops – Dunhill in Jermyn Street or Fox’s in St James’s Street – but you won’t be able to smoke in them . You can smoke outside, but smoking a pipe isn’t something you do in a five-minute break. ‘Personally, I hate the ban. I’ve no sympathy for non-smokers. I can tolerate them, just about, but they’re like animal rights activists. You should use air-conditioning rather than condition the public.’ Peter WattsWhere to go Dunhill, 48 Jermyn St, SW1 (020 7290 8602); JJ Fox & Robert Lewis, 19 St James’s St, SW1 (020 7930 3787).What to smoke A Bill Ashton Straight Grain with Pure Virginia tobacco.

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    Hamish 'Oscar Wilde' MacBain by the Astoria

    The gig

    It’s not just smokers in gig audiences who will suffer when the ban comes into force; even artists who abhor the habit will notice a difference. Take Arcade Fire, who at their recent Brixton gigs ‘politely requested that the audience refrain from smoking in the auditorium’, then were treated to the sight of fans walking out at regular intervals to spark up. This will soon be the norm. In fact, with larger venues’ no re-admittance policy, it’s going to be even worse. Consider the poor opening acts, already playing, in often stupidly early slots, to a vastly depleted crowd. Now smoking gig-goers – and that’s a large percentage – will enter a venue 30 seconds before the act they’ve come to see takes to the stage. Speaking as not a heavy smoker and someone who goes to gigs every night of the week, there’s no chance I’ll be going to see anyone on at 6.30. Two hours without a Marlboro is quite enough, thank you. Also, who’s going to tick off Keith Richards, Slash or Pete Doherty next time they spark up in an enclosed public space? Or fine anyone in their audience who follows suit? Sure, future generations, who already regard the whole fag-hanging-out-of-mouth/Jack Daniel’s business as naff won’t care, and don’t see the smoke-obscured room as a vital part of the gig experience. But for those of us who’ve grown up with such nonsense, rock ’n’ roll is going to look, sound and feel very different. Hamish MacBainWhere to go Brixton Academy, 211 Stockwell Rd, SW9 (0870 771 2000). What to smoke Marlboro Lights – the brand of choice for a generation of gig-goers.

    The nightclub

    Lawrence Malice saw the smoking ban coming. ‘It’s been inevitable for years,’ says the owner of EGG, the triple-level club on York Way. ‘That’s partly why we created the garden area as soon as we’d built the club, and why we have two outdoor terraces.’ EGG is one of the lucky venues that has access to an outside space which could limit the financial impact of the smoking ban. In New York, Rome, Dublin and Glasgow, venues reported a 10 to 25 per cent reduction in business during the first three months of new smoking laws. Also, it may be very difficult to let smokers in and out of venues that are in heavily congested areas or have limited pavement space. At the Astoria and Mean Fiddler, which have previously operated a no re-admissions policy, they have plans to be ‘flexible’, but there’s little room for manoeuvre on this hectic stretch of Charing Cross Road. Indie club Frog has been at the Mean Fiddler for three years, but it will croak for a final time on June 30 as host Jay Sensible can’t foresee that their crowd ‘will last all night without smoking. I spend 90 per cent of my life in pubs, clubs and venues getting drunk and smoking fags, so I think it’s the worst piece of legislation ever.’ Ali B will be presenting a Last Blast party at Cargo the night before the ban. He’s one of many DJs who have experienced non-smoking clubs all over the world. ‘I played in New York the weekend that the ban came in and suddenly half the dancefloor emptied. I thought: What have I done? But they’d all headed off to smoke.’ He also comments on just how ‘fresh’ the air may be without smoke: ‘Take away the smoke that masks other odours and you really notice the smell of sweat.’ Dave Swindells (non-smoker)
    Where to go
    Ten clubs with outdoor spaces: EGG (King’s Cross), Babalou (Brixton), The Cross (King’s Cross), Cargo (Shoreditch), The Big Chill House (King’s Cross), The Lock Tavern (Camden), The Telegraph (Brixton), The Dogstar (Brixton), Fabric (Clerkenwell), Herbal (Shoreditch). See Nightlife listings for details. What to smoke A crafty joint. Well, if you’re going to break the law by smoking anyway…

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