Giuseppe Ruo oversees The Wellesley’s extravagant cigar selection, which is valued around two million pounds.
Overlooking London’s Hyde Park sits a boutique hotel called The Wellesley, just a short jaunt from Buckingham Palace. In addition to housing The Oval Restaurant and Crystal Bar—which stocks a £4000-a-shot, French revolution-era Cognac—the hotel has a posh cigar lounge, where Giuseppe Ruo works as a cigar sommelier.
Holding over two million dollars-worth of cigars, the lounge offers the largest collection of cigars sold on a stick-by-stick basis in the world. Ruo, an award-winning cigar sommelier, helps match clients with their dream cigars. As you might have guessed, the type of people who frequent cigar lounges are often looking for the rarest, priciest cigars they can get their mouths on. The most expensive cigar at The Wellesley costs £11,000, though this is the only one not for sale (“we keep it for prestige.”) Of course, patrons can still ball out, perhaps on cigars in the more modest £5,000 range.
“It’s all about rarity, because tobacco is still tobacco,” he says. “You cannot make tobacco leaves in gold or diamond. The £5,000 cigar has a story, and that’s what gives it value. It was made by Fidel Castro’s personal roller.”
Ruo, who also manages the hotel’s food and beverage program, smoked his first cigar in 2001 while working at a bar exhibition. In that moment, he fell in love; he knew he would smoke cigars for the rest of his life.
“The woman gave me one long cigar, and at the end of my shift I cut it in two—which is the worst thing to do with a cigar—and I smoked half of it,” Ruo says. “I was completely stoned. A fresh cigar is really rich in nicotine. It has the same effect of marijuana. I was so enamored by the experience that the day after I went to the mall and bought a small humidor, which I filled up with cigars.” Now, his personal collection clocks in around 12,000 cigars.
Not everybody likes cigars, and Ruo gets that. He takes his role as a cigar guru—for both experts and people who’ve never smoked before—incredibly seriously. If first-timers have a bad experience with him, they may never smoke one again, he says, while if they have a great experience, they’ll probably smoke forever. For beginners, Ruo typically starts with a light and aromatic cigar, avoiding anything full-bodied.
“My recommendation is fundamental for people—especially for new smokers,” he says. “I never push for something that they can’t smoke. Because really, we don’t want to sell one cigar and that’s it. We want clients who will come all the time.”
This doesn’t always work out. A recent patron, who identified as a non-smoker, asked Ruo for a good cigar recommendation. Ruo, who refers to his selection process as a “ritual,” chose him a very old cigar, as older cigars tend to have little left in them but some light aroma and flavor. The man hated it.
“At the same time, a lot of people, when they first smoke a cigar, they can’t stop,” he says. “Like me.”