Where To Stick It
Hardy’s Brasserie, Marylebone: The scene of many a Standpoint lunch or dinner (photo courtesy of Hardy's)
Queuing for a museum exhibition in the States, I thought I’d go wild and have a fag in the outdoor line. As soon as I clicked my lighter, the man in front of me turned round, glared balefully, and informed me that “You’re killing my kid.” The girl in question resembled Queen Victoria in the most ample stage of her bulimic mourning, and was munching a corn dog (a southern American delicacy consisting of deep-fried abbattoir sweepings on a stick). I considered pointing out that the father appeared to be a doing a fine job of seeing his daughter to an early grave without my assistance, but the museum was in Texas and I thought he might shoot me, so I stubbed out the cancer stick apologetically. I have to go to New York this week, and am naturally preoccupied with where I might be allowed to smoke. Queens, perhaps? In the brief, halcyon period of Manhattan life between the introduction of smoking legislation and Mayor Bloomberg’s drive to ban all manner of fun, anywhere, as being economically unproductive, resourceful New Yorkers invented something called “smirting” — combining smoking and flirting. Asking someone for a light was no longer the world’s lamest chat-up line, but an invitation to a secret club, a huddle of rebels crowded in the cellar areas of downtown dive bars or the swanky rooftop terraces of the Meatpacking District. Smirting was more romantically reliable than Tinder — at least you knew you had one thing in common.
There are few moments in life that a fag doesn’t improve. The glow at the end of the little white tube transforms moments of misery into melancholic poetry and bad one-night stands into Alain Delon. Arguably, cigarettes also provide a health break, since one is obliged to go outside and suck up some vitamin D along with the nicotine. It is the smoking ban, along with real estate prices, which has transformed New York from the creative centre of the universe into a safe city for safe people, draining the life from it far more effectively than a few alfresco gaspers. So for those who believe that death can’t be postponed indefinitely, and that the obsession with living longer is in itself a denial of life, here are some of my favourite places in London where one can still light up. Members of Ash can turn the page.
A martini without a fag is a crime, so it’s a pity that Duke’s Hotel, which makes the second-best silver bullets in Europe (the best ones are made by a man called Colin in the Hemingway Bar at the Paris Ritz), is reluctant to wheel the drinks trolley outside to the tiny but charming terrace area at the end of St James’s Place. But you can order any of their other cocktails outside, and possibly even walk home afterwards, so it’s a great place to start. The American Bar at the nearby Stafford Hotel is also a fantastic find — spacious, sheltered, with cosy heaters and beautifully-made drinks.