of fine cigar shops in London, where many are considered the most vibrant and tradition-steeped of any that one can find throughout the world. The city's newest shop, however, is hands-down its sleekest and most contemporary in approach. Dunhill Tobacco's re-launch of the famed 1A St. James's, a world-class specialty tobacconist in London's Mayfair district, made its striking debut in January.
The 1A St. James's Street building was constructed in 1882 by Richard Norman, a renowned architect of the day, on the site of an early gentleman's club, The Cocoa Tree Club. The ground floor retail space went through various incarnations before being taken over by the prestigious tobacco and cigar merchant Rothmans of Pall Mall in 1902. The shop was the official home of the Rothmans and Pall Mall brands throughout the 20th century, successfully operating as a specialist tobacco shop with an emphasis on house brands throughout this time. It became an important part of the high-end shops of St. James's Street, and established itself as a main supplier to the many gentlemen's clubs in St. James's and Pall Mall. Passers-by would see the daily deliveries of cigarettes by coach and horses.
At nearly the same time that the tobacco shop began its long, prestigious history, Dunhill Tobacco of London Ltd was established nearby, in 1907. Today Rothmans, Pall Mall, and Dunhill of London are all brands of British American Tobacco, which has transformed 1A St. James's into the public face of Dunhill Tobacco of London.
Behind the red brick and stone arches at the corner of St. James's Street and Pall Mall, the new store offers a contemporary space to explore tobacco blends and fine cigars - what Dunhill calls the "re-invention of the tobacconist."
Intentionally moving away from the formality of old gentlemen clubs, 1A St. James's incorporates an ultra-contemporary atmosphere created to serve as both a highly service-oriented retail store as well as an inviting, comfortable social space. The shop's amenities include a cigar sampling lounge, a humidor room housing one of London's rarest selections of fine cigars, a wall of private humidors, a master blending room, and a range of quality tobacco accessories.
U.K. cigar expert Robert Emery - who has over 30 years experience in the fine cigar sector and has previously been awarded the honor of U.K. Cigar Retailer of the Year - is leading the shop's team.
"1A St. James's offers a refreshing change from the traditional tobacconist and cigar retail specialist," says Emery. "We know that many people who have recently discovered a love for cigars are looking for a different style of service. They want to be able to walk in, relax, and feel confident that they are getting the benefit of real expertise and established heritage, in a welcoming and informal environment combined with a modern yet refined setting."
Emery will be personally available to discuss taste preferences and suggest complementary alternatives to explore at the request of individual consumers.
The shop comprises three main areas, separated by glass screens that can be opened to configure one large space for the many special events that are planned, including cigar and cocktail pairings.
For the most demanding cigar connoisseurs, 1A St. James's state-of-the-art humidor room stocks an extensive collection of fine and rare cigars from around the word, long-sought-after cigar and newly discovered ones. Brands include not only Dunhill offerings, of course, but a full range of competitor products.
A wall of gleaming copper-door personal humidors are available (waiting list only) to the store's most frequent patrons for maintaining their own cigar collection at the shop under optimum conditions.
The cigar lounge provides a comfortable retreat for consumers to sample or enjoy cigars, relax with friends, or just unwind in refined surroundings.
The heart of the shop's customer experience, though, is the master blending room, where the shop's master blenders provide a hands-on tour of how tobacco products are blended: a giant engraved copper tobacco wheel is ceremoniously opened to reveal different tobacco types from around the world. Guests are encouraged to touch and smell the tobaccos, embracing their aromas as they learn about the art of blending.
Emery should know: throughout his career, he has visited numerous plantations and factories in his search for the finest tobacco, forming strong relationships with the growers and all those involved in the chain leading to the U.K. market. Passing on his knowledge and skills of the industry has always been an important part of his mission. At 1A St. James's, he'll be hosting regular cigar seminars and general training sessions, but will also be available to share his expertise one-on-one.
As far back as the 17th century, St. James's Street established itself as an area famous for gentlemen's clubs and high-end shops. Many of London's most traditional businesses still thrive on the street, including nine that were first established over 100 years ago.