Take a look inside the world’s oldest cigar merchant – and one of the last remaining public places in the United Kingdom where people can still smoke inside
[This article was written for Barcroft Media and published in The Telegraph, Fodor’s Travel, Evening Standard, MSN, The Guardian, and The Telegraph]
Cigar merchants James J. Fox, based in London’s upmarket Mayfair, first opened its doors in 1881 in Dublin, before moving to London in 1947.
The tobacconist has received eight Royal Warrants over time, with the last being issued by the Queen Mother in 1997 and they still continue to supply cigars to the royal household.
Their cigars range in price from around £20 to hundreds of pounds for ultra-rare pre-Castro cigars.
Phillip Shervington, the store’s Cigar Consultant came out of retirement after being asked to join James J. Fox and he believes the history behind the store is what sets them apart from their rivals.
It’s also the reason why so many come from around the world to purchase their favourite smokes.
Phillip, 71, said: “We have quite a lot of history attached to the place with Winston Churchill being one of our early customers.
“He was a customer of ours for some 64 years. – he was quite a demanding customer.”
Equally famous historical figures such as Napoleon III, George IV and Oscar Wilde all visited the merchants to stock up on their favourite cigars.
Philip added: “Originally Churchill used to smoke a brand called Bock, which is no longer around. Because of his visits to the Romeo factory, they eventually decided to name the size of the cigar the Churchill, and it’s still used today on lots of different brands.”
Every November, the cigar merchants still hold a celebration in memory of Winston Churchill’s birthday – and fans don their finest clothing and puff on exotic cigars in the mahogany-clad surroundings.
Phillip said: “We do a special evening where we also have a mystery cigar that is given to the guests that come in and they have to guess the actual brand of the cigar.
“It makes a nice evening, we have some people from the importers and the embassies and one of my colleagues usually does a speech about Churchill.”
“It’s overly subscribed every year and we tend to get around 70-80 people coming for the evening and it gets quite smokey.”
Cigar lovers can also take a stroll around the store’s very own museum, filled with historical memorabilia such as historical ledgers and cigars from the 1851 Great Exhibition and even one of Churchill’s many famous hats and the chair he would sit in whilst choosing his cigars in store.
One telegram sent by Churchill proudly hangs on the store’s wall and thanks James J. Fox for managing to get him some of his favourite smokes during the Cuban Missile Crisis when exports from the island were stopped as tensions between the US and Russia came to a head in October 1962.
The messages, dated January 1963, said: “Gentleman, Sir Winston Churchill bid me express to you his warm thanks for the manner in which you are reserving cigars for him during the present difficulties of supply. He is indeed obliged to you.”
Inside the cigar emporium customers are welcomed by friendly staff members and they can choose which cigars they would like to purchase inside the sampling room – also known to be London’s largest cigar sampling room.
James J. Fox also features a smoking lounge, where guests can order a coffee and enjoy a cigar in a relaxed and comfortable environment.
The conditions a cigar needs to maintain its quality over time are particular and James J. Fox also hold stock for clients in their vaults, where the temperature and humidity are perfect.
One of the store’s regular customers, Francis Spagnoletti, an attorney from Texas, flies to London several times a year to pick up his favourite cigars, stored inside James J. Fox’s vaults.
Francis said: “I knew about the cigar shop when I was younger, but I couldn’t afford to buy cigars. But when I was older I came into the shop one day and saw that they had a registry for people who wanted to store cigars, many of which were noblemen or movie stars.
“I was pleased to say that I should join that club, so I bought myself some cigars and I have been storing here ever since.
“They have hundreds of years of history of being able to take care of your cigars and I trust them. If you’re not going to use them right away, you want to store them and make sure they’re kept up to proper quality and I know that Fox’s will do that.”
For James J. Fox, customer service and engagement is a the centre of the cigar establishment and what keeps customers coming from around the world.
Cigar Consultant Phillip said: “I don’t think there are any other cigar merchants that rival us in size or variety. We have quite an extensive range, plus the fact that we have the history attached to us.
“We have a lot of younger people coming into the industry and hopefully they will carry on, they certainly will be here for the next 50 years.
“I should be long pushing up daisies by then but younger people coming into the industry is a good thing to see.”
A regular customer, Francis added: “James J Fox holds a special place in my heart, because of the demeanour of the shop, the folks who work here are wonderful and they know about cigars, you have a pleasant experience.”
“It’s not only the cigars, but it’s also the experience.”
To watch the documentary and view the full set of images, visit: http://www.barcroft.tv/inside-the-worlds-oldest-cigar-merchant-james-j-fox-london-mayfair-winston-churchill