My birthday is November 5th, Guy Fawkes or Bonfire day in England. Spending my birthday in London has been on my bucket list of things to do for years and this year Rosemary gifted me that for my birthday. Best Birthday Ever!
We arrived in London on October 31 – Halloween morning. We checked into the Amba Charing Cross, next to the train station and tube stop. We then decided to walk around the neighborhood a little and get a pint at a local pub and a bite to eat. After a long walk we ended up at The Harp. This was an excellent pub that carries many local brews. We had a Powerhouse Porter from Sambrooks Brewery and found it to be excellent. Checking out the Bourbon selection they had Knob Creek, Maker’s Mark, Woodford and Bulliet Bourbons. It seems these are the standard brands for the pubs that we visited, but it should be noted that we visited only a small random selections of the Pubs in London. We had a late lunch or early dinner at Dishoom, an Indian Restaurant in the neighborhood and called it an early night. It gets dark in London at 4:30 PM and we had been up for many hours having flown all night to get to London.
The second day, November 1st, was a relaxing day of taking a bus tour around the city, A quick dinner in a Chinese restaurant and then to see The Ferryman at the Gielgud. The following day we decided would be the day we would get serious about getting around to places we wanted to see. A trip to the National Portrait Gallery was first on the agenda the next morning followed by the British Museum. A bite to eat at the Museum Tavern between the stops and then dinner at Portrait Restaurant and Bar where I had a Bulliet neat and Rosemary had a Negroni. Bulliet was the only Bourbon on the menu. After dinner we went to see The Lady from the Sea at the Donmar Warehouse.
Friday was a shopping day. After making several stops on Rosemary’s list we stopped at James J. Fox, Cigar Merchants. This is a pipe and cigar smoker’s dream shop with a wide selection of pipes and tobacco and a humidor with a huge range of cigars. We were helped by George Frakes, a very knowledgeable young man who helped me pick out a pipe tobacco and then a couple of cigars to enjoy in the upstairs smoking lounge. The lounge was equipped with comfortable chairs, coffee and water free to those who purchased a cigar to smoke in the lounge. Unfortunately there is no drinking of spirits allowed in the lounge otherwise it would be the perfect place to take a bottle and relax with a cigar. We enjoyed our cigars so well that we decided to get some to take home with us. While George was preparing our cigars for travel he advised us to check out their small museum in the basement. This was a nice little museum that included Churchill’s personal chair when he patronized the store and many other artifacts from the Prime Minister and other celebrity patrons. And then there was all of the old cigar artifacts including some cigars that were well over 100 years old.
After Shopping we had dinner at the Sherlock Holmes Pub around the corner from the hotel and met up with Ed Taylor of the British Bourbon Society at Milroys of Soho. This establishment was a bar and liquor store combination that specializes in American Whiskey. They also have a cocktail bar downstairs with the entrance hidden in a bookcase. Ed introduced me to many other Bourbon fans and poured Rosemary and me a glass of Private Selection of Blanton’s he had picked up in France. It was a barrel proof bottle that was very nice neat but even better with a few drops of water. We also tried the private selection of Few Bourbon made by the British Bourbon Society. A very nice selection. It was young but very flavorful. Downstairs we had Manhattans made with Rittenhouse Rye. After leaving Milroys, Ed had arranged for us to visit the Soho Whisky Club where we had a drink and I had a cigar out on their smoking deck. A Cuban Churchill and a Four Roses Yellow Label neat for me while Rosemary had a Michter’s Sour Mash neat. I finished the cigar with a Talisker 10yo neat because I do love anything from Talisker.
The next day was the day the British Bourbon Society had a bring your own bottle gathering at The Lexington, an American Whiskey Bar. The British Bourbon Society are a great bunch of people and when they heard I was coming to London they arranged this gathering to help me celebrate my birthday. I brought four whiskeys that they had not tried as a group. They were Heaven Hill 6yo bonded, Early Times bonded, Peerless rye and Maker’s 46, Party Mart selected barrel. I had a discussion of Bourbon history and why I picked each of these whiskeys to bring. I was amazed at how polite and quiet they were while I was speaking being that we all had a few drinks before I started and then drank four more. Usually after three drinks people get loud and quit giving full attention to a speaker. The group had many interesting whiskeys and the Bar at the Lexington is well stocked. It could easily be on the Urban Bourbon Trail if it was located in Louisville. I admit that I did not get to try all of the offerings but there was a Weller Special reserve with the grey paper label from about 2001 that was very nice. Emma made some macarons that were out of this world good, especially the old fashioned cocktail macaron. She also made some other baked goods as did other people. It was a great party that started at about 1:30 and ended at 4:30 officially, but lingered after that time. After the party Rosemary and I returned to Milroys of Soho where she purchased a Blantons Gold and a Michter’s 10yo Bourbon.
Sunday was my birthday and we started it by going to Hedonism, a liquor store with a wide selection of American whiskeys. Rosemary purchased another Blantons Gold as well as a Blantons Barrel Proof and a Michter’s Barrel Proof rye. The store is well stocked and included a few older bottles dating back as far as prohibition. After the purchase they even prepared our bottles for the flight home by packing them in inflatable sleeves. For dinner that night we went to J.W. Steakhouse at the Grosvenor Hotel. The bar there is called simply The Bourbon Bar. It is well stocked and includes some vintage Bourbons including a couple of pre-prohibition offerings. However be prepared to pay a hefty price. The menu is a bit out of date. They had listed Michter’s Toasted Oak Bourbon and Old Fitzgerald 1849 8yo listed on the menu but were out of both.
What I learned about London’s Bourbon and Cigar scene is that they are both very good. The selection is actually better than what I found in Boston and in places better than many places in the U.S. They get a decent selection from the distributors but more importantly they can purchase bottles in the European markets and sell them in the bars and liquor stores. The prices are higher than the United States but that is to be expected. Scotch prices are definitely cheaper than the United States as they should be. As far as cigars are concerned, there are places where you can purchase cigars from companies that have been doing business for over a century and enjoy the smoke in the establishment. A full range of cigars are to be found, including Cuban made cigars. London is a great place for the Bourbon and Cigar enthusiast.
Photos Courtesy of Michael Veach And Rosemary Miller