Bertie Wooster, Beau Brummel and Oscar Wilde are alive and well and living right here in the Big Smoke. My brother-in-law Daniel, who is a Major in a cavalry regiment in the British Army, took me on a Man about Town weekend together with some other Beaus and Berties who work for her Majesty’s pleasure. From chucking cheese soufflés as an after-dinner pastime, to buying cigars from Winston’s favourite smoke den, here is how you do it when you’re a decadently spiffing London Dandy.
The Barber Shop
Daniel’s port of call for a hot shave is Truefitt and Hill, the oldest barber shop in the world, royally appointed and beautifully preserved. The shop was once famous for making wigs for clients of distinction. It now sells all sorts of shaving paraphernalia as well as very grown-up fragrances such as “Clubman” and “West Indian Limes”.
Illustrious clients of London past include William Gladstone, the Duke of Wellington, Winston Churchill, Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, Lord Byron, Oscar Wilde, Beau Brummell, Alfred Hitchcock, Laurence Olivier, Frank Sinatra, and Cary Grant. Today, Truefitt’s barbers visit Buckingham Palace to service the needs of a certain family.
Walking into Truefitt is walking back in time to meet a Sherlock Holmes or one of the many celebrity clients who once sat in their beautiful leather barber chairs. The shop smells divine, a mix of citrus and cedar, both zingy and woody. Within minutes, Daniel was lying back with a hot towel wrap, floating into blissful relaxation. This gentleman opted for a traditional hot towel wet shave, but Truefitt also offer a shoe shine, a moustache trim, head shave, manicure, haircut and massages.
Other notable places for grooming and shaving stuffs include GEO Trumper, Alfred Dunhill’s and Penhaligon’s.
The Cigar Shop (and snuff)
We paid a visit to James J Fox, London’s oldest cigar merchant. The shop was Winston Churchill’s go-to for cigars and Oscar Wilde’s for cigarettes. The shop also sells cigars and other smoking bits and pieces. The museum downstairs is one of the few places in London where you can smoke – but you will first need to purchase a cigar from the shop upstairs. You can also sample a cigar in the glass smoking room on the ground floor.
The museum includes the world’s largest cigar and a box of Winston Churchill’s cigars, cigar accessories and ledger. There’s also a High Court letter showing Oscar Wilde’s outstanding debt with the shop.
Snuff, the seventeeth century nicotine pick-me-up, seems to be making a fashionable comeback. You can purchase snuff from James J Fox or from the Segar and Snuff Parlour in Covent Garden. I have not tried the peppery concoction, but Daniel tells me that that “Mature Crumbled” and “Particular” from Segar and Snuff are worth a try. If it’s a big hit you’re after, apparently Red Bull gives the best kick.
Jermyn Street may be the street of choice for grooming and accessories, but when it comes to tailoring, all gentlemen’s walking sticks lead to Savile Row. You can buy off-the-peg, bespoke or made to measure. Off the peg requires minimal or no alteration whereas made to measure customizes a generic size to your shape. If it’s bespoke you’re after, this is 100 % tailored to you and normally takes 6-12 weeks.
Savile Row tailor Huntsman has a client list which includes heads of state, royalty, and film and pop stars. You may recognise the shop front and three-way mirror fitting room from the British spy film ‘Kingsman.’
By appointment to HRH the Prince of Wales, Turnbull and Asser make beautifully crisp, bespoke shirts,. You can choose from a mere 1000 fabrics, 25 collar and cuff options, and 20 monogram styles. They also make bespoke pyjamas from 100 shirting fabrics.
Located at No 1 Savile Row, Gieves and Hawkes (The “G” is hard) has royal warrants from HRM The Queen, HRH The Prince of Wales, and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. A bespoke suit will cost you circa £4,500.00. Established in 1865, Dege & Skinner (below) has an in-store shirt-cutting service, and is famous for its sport and military uniforms.
Gifts for Men
Church’s first London boutique opened in 1921, but its shoemaking roots date back to 1675. It takes up to eight weeks and 250 manual steps to construct a pair of these exquisite shoes. Or, you could purchase your own James Bond attaché case from Swaine Adeney Brigg for the princely sum of £1,995. The shop made the original case for Sean Connery’s Bond in ‘From Russia with Love’.
Lock and Co would be hat mecca for the Mad Hatter. From top hats, to tweeds, panamas and fedoras, they also sell aviator hats and aviator goggles for all you Thomas Crowns out there.
You’ll need to go slightly further afield to New Oxford Street for London’s most famous brolly shop: James Smith and Sons. It’s so well known that cab drivers and locals refer to it simply as “The Umbrella Shop”.
And no dandy day would be complete without a martini at Ian Fleming’s go-to bar: Dukes Bar. I’ve been here a few times, and I confess that one of my friends ended up on the floor after two of their decadent martinis. These are prepared with flourish by bartending legend, Alessandro Palazzi. The gin is kept frozen, and he only uses the peel from organic lemons. Try the signature Fleming 89, a gin Martini fragranced with 007’s Floris cologne. If you’re longing to smoke a cigar, Dukes has a cognac and cigar garden, but beware gentlemen, you can’t bring your own stash.
Gordon’s is London’s oldest wine bar and one of my favourites. The terrace outside is perfect for hanging out after work into the wee hours. Kipling House, in which the bar is located, was home to Samuel Pepys in the 1680s and later to Rudyard Kipling. If you’re looking for a bar with model aircraft hanging from the ceiling, The American Bar at the Stafford Hotel is the watering hole of choice. Try the Spitfire cocktail, a heady mix of marmalade vodka, passion fruit, elderflower and bubbly.
Restaurants for the Gentleman
Founded in 1798, Rules is London’s oldest restaurant and serves, you guessed it, traditional British cuisine. Rules has made several appearances in ‘Downton Abbey’ and was also featured in the latest James Bond film ‘Spectre’.
Originally opened in 1828 as a chess club and coffee house, the iconic Simpsons on the Strand is also now perfect for a quick drinky-poo before heading off to dinner at the club. Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were regulars here.
The Gentlemen’s Club
To be a proper dandy, one must belong to a club. And not just any club: a gentlemen’s club, where preferably the ladies are in small attendance. When I first arrived in London, a friend invited me to luncheon at the East India Club. I was told with strict instructions to come dressed in a skirt or dress, and that I would only be allowed in the restaurant. Having just arrived from “off with their heads” republican Paris, I thought it odd to go somewhere which “provides a refuge and meeting place for busy young men and their more seasoned seniors” and where women are not seen and certainly not heard.
Last December, I was invited by Daniel to the “Cav and Guards” on Piccadilly, a favourite haunt of Edward VIII when he was still king. Daniel and his other gentlemen friends like to throw cheese soufflés here after dinner – very Bertie-esque if you ask me. I went looking for a glass of déclassé Pinot Grigio in the club’s bar, and was asked to leave with an outcry of “Good God, we haven’t seen a woman in here in 100 years! Please leave!”
And my favourite literary Dandies:
- The love of my fictional life, Jay Gatsby is the swellest dandy of them all. No TV or film interpretation of Gatsby comes close to the original one penned by the great F.Scott.
- I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone introduce themselves to me as Rhett Butler (for those of you don’t know, my name is Scarlett). What woman doesn’t swoon at Clark Gable’s Rhett though? Sigh…
- “The neatness of his attire was almost incredible; I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound “- Arthur Hastings on meeting Hercule Poirot in ‘The Mysterious Affair at Styles’.
- Oscar Wilde’s exemplary gentleman, Lord Goring, was perfectly portrayed by Rupert Everett in the film ‘An Ideal Husband’. “Fashion is what one wears oneself. What is unfashionable is what other people wear. Other people are quite dreadful. The only possible society is oneself.”
- They may not be as famous as Christopher Brown and Pooh Bear, but Sebastian Flyte and Aloysius (pronounced Allo-icious ) make a capital pair in ‘Brideshead Revisited’.
- And Bertie Wooster of course!