North of England Tour

London may boast Havana Hangouts left, right and centre, but the north certainly has more than its fair share of great smokers' dens, too . There are a variety of places from as far north as Durham to the relatively 'southerly' city of Sheffield; from Blackpool in the west, across to Hull in the east.

Sous Le Nez En Ville, Leeds

SOUS LE NEZ EN VILLE is a wonderfully atmospheric restaurant and wine bar in the centre of Leeds. Egon Ronay has given it his gastronomic seal of approval - and as the site of Yorkshire's first cigar dinner, this classy subterranean venue has its finger on the pulse of the cigar world, too.

The smaller species of smokes are available from the bar, or a larger humidor is brought to the table for post-dinner selections. There is a particularly admirable selection of fine wines and Cognacs to complement any cigar.

Sous le Nez offers French and English cuisine with a generous choice of fish dishes - everything from exotic Thai fish cakes to Whitby Cod served with olive mash and tomato sauce. (How many restaurants of this ilk aren't too proud to put the ubiquitous red condiment on the menu?!) (Quebec Street, Leeds LS11 HA Tel: +44(0)113 244 0108)

La Cachette, Elland

The gentleman to be congratulated on the success of Sous le Nez is also the force behind another wine bar and bistro restaurant about 20 miles away in Elland, Halifax. LA CACHETTE means "the hiding place" and it is certainly a little more 'out of the way' than its city-centre sister venue. For some 15 years, Bertie's Bistro occupied these premises, but fire destroyed it some years ago. Robert Chamberlain transformed the shell into Cachette, where busy informal is the order of the day, and many people pop in for an espresso and a Partagas

Come here for a bar meal or perhaps tapas, and be sure to indulge in the selection of wines, deservedly mentioned in The Good Food Guide. Many of the full-bodied reds will keep cigars great company, and there are also the traditional ports, brandies and armagnaes, not to mention Hine's fabulous Cigar Reserve. The cigar selection includes Partagas Series D and Lusitanias, José Piedra (Cuban Country Cigars) and Trinidad Fundadores. Mr Chamberlain reports that he was not at all anxious about introducing cigars to the restaurant: "We smoke them ourselves, so there was never any question of us not being able to move them!" he says. Like Sous le Nez, La Cachette hosts a number of corporate cigar tastings. (7-10 Town Hall Buildings, Elland HX5 OEU Tel: +44 (0)1422 378833)

Havey Nichols, Leeds

Back in central Leeds, THE FOURTH FLOOR CAFE at Harvey Nichols is a classy place in which to enjoy a cigar in the daytime, while relaxing on one of the plush red leather benches. You can smoke in the café or at the bar, where a small Romeo y Julieta is the most popular purchase. Harvey Nichols has "tolerated' cigar smoking ever since it opened, but introduced a more serious range about two years ago, in line with the increase in popularity.

Cigars now command their own page on the menu, alongside tasting notes and suggested drinks. The targeted audience is very much the impulsive one-off purchaser, and some heavier and more expensive smokes are brought in by individual customers.

A Montecristo Joyita combines brilliantly with a swift espresso - in tenns of both taste and the time it's necessary to set aside to enjoy it. Romeo y Julieta Petit Julieta are extremely popular with ladies, as well as with gents in search of a good early morning smoke. If celebration's in the air, you could try a Santa Damiana Petit Corona, another fairly light - cigar for the daytime which goes well with bubbly or a Chardonnay. The most expensive in the range of seven is the Cohiba Siglo IV, Havana's flagship cigar. Its mellow richness beautifully enhances the very best and oldest Cognacs and ports. (107111 Briggate, Leeds LSI 6AZ Tel: +44 (0)113 204 8000)

Greens of Leeds

GREENS OF LEEDS has been in the city for a decade now, seeing business increase so much that its original wardrobe-style humidor was removed in favour of the only walk-in humidor in Leeds - a room that grew out of the demand for single cigars Behind the counter is a comprehensive selection of continental products, but the back end of the shop is the real cigar smokers' haven.

Size may limit what the shop can carry, but Paul is adamant that he can "order absolutely anything for you" And he'll never introduce a new cigar without trying it himself first. This is definitely somewhere where cigars really are sold and not just stored. There are around 200 different sizes, and stock is changing all the time. Greens is now on the net, which is proving hugely popular as smokers requisites are getting harder to find.

Leeds has a bustling student scene, and Paul says he is often called upon to supply students with a smoke that , "doesn't leave them croaking in the morning"! (37 The Headrow, Leeds LS 1 6PU Tel: +44 (0)113 244 4895,

Nico Central, Manchester

In the centre of Manchester, NICO CENTRAL is located in the Midland Crown Plaza Hotel, but run by outsiders known as The Restaurant Partnership.

This brasserie boasts a d6cor of wonderfully striking Mediterranean colours, and walls covered in paintings add to the feeling of chic and sophistication. Walk in here on even the dullest of Manchester days, and you are transported to a vibrant restaurant in the south of France!

Manager Graham Wells and Head Chef Steven Dray offer diners imaginative contemporary cooking with flavours from around the world. An enormous wine rack contains a vast selection of fine wines, and it dominates the bar. Another attraction of this area of the restaurant is the music, especially popular with early evening revellers during the Happy Hour. The cocktail list features many different types of Martini cocktails.

As for the cigars, there is a great selection of Havanas, housed in a freestanding humidified unit. Regulars pull up their cars - and some even vans! - just to come in and buy them (Mount Street, Manchester M60 2DS Tel: +44 (0)161 236 6488)

Havana, Manchester

With its colourful mambo madness already a huge hit in London, HAVANA came to Manchester in 1998. Although this Latin bar and restaurant offers a modem twist on pre-revolution Havana, it is careful not to fall into the 'Cliché Pitfall', and deliberately avoids plastering the walls with the likes of Castro and Che. It's far more intellectal than this - you can even learn Spanish here on a Monday night!

The menu features tapas, salads wraps, charcoal grills and, of course, some Havana Specials - which has been known to include a rather wonderful traditional paella. moving swiftly on to cigars: Havana offers an extensive range of hand-rolled Cubans; you will always be offered a brandy or an amaretto with your choice, or perhaps you'd prefer to enjoy it with a Havana Macchia to coffee during the day.

So, relax on an animal-print chaise longue, and enjoy the atmosphere, through till 2am if stamina allows. Or, if it's a bit more action you're after, consider the salsa classes, billed as "hotter than a Latin lover!" (42 Blackfriars Street, Manchester M3 2NQ Tel: +44 (0)161 832 8900)

Reform Club, Manchester

Only a few minutes walk away - but a thousand miles away in terms of atmosphere - is REFORM, one of the big imposing facades at the top of the moneyed King Street area.

The building, which used to be a gentleman's club, suggests opulence through its tastefully decadent decor. Deep purple walls and scarlet curtains; large paintings in gold picture frames - the bar is at the top of an impressive sweep of staircase that leads you up from the front entrance. Behind a screen is the restaurant, from where contented diners emerge to en . oy a cigar in the dimly lit bar. (King Street, Spring Gardens, Manchester M2 4ST Tel: +44 (0)161 839 9966)

C. Aston Manchester

C. ASTON TOBACCONISTS has returned to the Manchester cigar scene after the bombing of June 1996. A complete refit has seen the walk-in humidor double in size to hold an even larger selection of handmade cigars. The traditional feel of the shop remains much the same, however, to the delight of regular customers.

The single cigar continues to sell well here, "but also boxes", as Chris Aston is quick to point out. "We really try to sell across the whole spectrum and accessories as well as the cigars themselves". The shop has a notably big range of lighters, as well as offering many other products, both large and small - from cutters and pouches through to beautifully crafted humidors.

The last word on this shop has to be that "there are no sweets!" - despite the refit, this remains a traditional tobacconists! (Unit G13 Royal Exchange Shopping Centre, Exchange Street, Manchester M2 7DB Tel: +44 (0161) 832 7895)

Arthur Morris Bolton

Bolton is home to Arthur Morris, a quality tobacconist since 1903, and now into its 4th generation of the family. This shop has a wonderfully old-fashioned feel to it; even the window display harks back to days gone by - various jars of tobacco are helpfully labelled; also on display is anything from Swan matches to penknives, zippos to pipes, tobacco tins to cigarette tubes. Inside, you are met with the satisfying gleam of dark, polished wood, and a feeling that this is a shop that preserves the 'ancient' (but obviously returning) values of quality rather than quantity.

Modernity is evident, too, however. Sancho Panza and Trinidads sit alongside old favourites like Punch, Bolivar and Montecristo. Trinidads and Millennium cigars are both recent introductions. Single sales are very strong here, and the range is impressive. Mr Morris believes that people are more governed by size than by the name of a cigar - as long as the size is right, they'll try marques that they've not come across before. And, if you're looking for something new to try and perhaps a little advice as well, here would be a very good place to begin. (71 Bradshawgate, Bolton BL1 IQD Tel: +44 (0)1204 521340)

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BIRCHALLS of Blackpool brings cigars to this famously exciting seafront and, like the rest of the town, the shop has a very relaxed and 'family' feel to it. Established in 1834, Birchall's has been in its current position for 3 years, moving from a mere stone's thrown away to capitalise on the busyness of Clifton Street, which leads you straight down to the North Pier and Amusement Arcades.

Singles are big at Birchall's - "but often several at a time!" The walk-in humidor is a relatively recent addition to the shop, and a cursory glance will tell you that the choice it offers is just one very good reason for coming here. (10 Clifton Street, Blackpool, FY1 IJP Tel: +44 01253 624218)

In the Millhouses area of Shefield, MILANO RESTAURANT was born to offer the city something different; the venue is certainly one of its kind in the area. Although Milano sounds Italian, it's not actually that precisely targeted; the modern cuisine takes its influences from all over the world.

Milano, Sheffield

The Cigar Room on the first floor displays wonderful attention to detail while promoting a happy but relaxed ambience. The colours and fabrics have obviously been thoughtfully chosen, and the room lends itself to corporate cigar events as well as to individual smoking solace! The cigar list begins with a reassuring Montecristo No. 4, leading you on to the likes of Romeo y Julieta Exhibition No. 4, Partagas Shorts, Punch Punch, Santa Damiana Torpedo and Macanudo Vintage '93. Top of the range - in terms of price and enjoyment - is the Cohiba Siglo V, or for a lighter smoke, you could try an Agio Meharis Mild and Sweet.

Cigars, coffees and digestives all offer up a varied choice, though, so once you've settled on a smoke, there's still a choice of beverages to accompany. If you've splashed out on a Cohiba, perhaps you'd like to couple it with some Remy Matin, maybe some Veuve Cliquot Champagne, or a particularly good Armagnac. During the day, some wonderful 'pick-me-up' coffees range from a swift espresso through to an Americano or Macchiato. (Archer Road, Millhouses, Sheffield S8 OLA Tel: +44 (0)114 235 3080)

Tobacco World Chester

TOBACCO WORLDof Chester (part of Aberystwyth's A.E. Lloyd) operates a world-wide mail order service, with next day delivery for the UK, delivering cigars, tobacco, pipes and accessories - as well as a philosophy that nothing is unobtainable. Another belief is that cigar smoking for the uninitiated is all about trial and error: "We are happy to offer recommendations, but like to take time to consult with a customer about their preferences, as everyone's tastebuds are different," they say. "We might ask about the kind of smoke they're after, when they like to smoke, how long for, what they like to drink, and so on."

With one of the largest ranges of Cuban cigars outside of London, the shop boasts its own walk-in humidor. Although not afraid to move with the times (the business has operated a website for nearly three years now) it is quite apparent that old fashioned service is still the prime reason for its continued success. (78 Northgate Street, Chester CHI 2HT Tel: +44(0)1244 348821)

James Barber, Otley

JAMES BARBER TOBACCONISTSenjoys the best of both worlds, located in the historic market town of Otley, but within easy reach of Harrogate, Bradford and Leeds. The walk-in humidor was built by James Barber himself, and now houses not only a wide array of cigars, but also lots of certificates on the walls and even an old photograph of his great grandfather on the tobacco fields in Kentucky.

Now in its fourth generation, the shop has always been on this street, and stock is rapidly outgrowing it - though Mr Barber thought these premises would last him forever! 3 years ago, this was the first retail tobacconist in the UK to go on the web - and, at first, it could hardly keep pace with demand. Trade is predominantly Cuban, and mainly in boxes. Trinidads, a relatively new brand to the UK, are doing particularly well. Also popular are the rarer sizes, like Robustos and Torpedos. There is a blossoming mail order business which, like the shop, sells only what the proprietor would be happy to smoke himself. Staff are always being asked for recommendations, and honesty is big business here. (33 Kirkgate, Otley, LS21 6PU Tel: +44(0)1943 462603)

Durham Pipe & Tobacco

Run by Lynne and Jim Humberstone, DURHAM PIPE AND TOBACCO serves a wide cross-section of customers with widely varying tastes and levels of knowledge. As a result, they not only boast an extremely well stocked shop, but also the services of their very knowledgeable staff who are more than happy to offer advice. "Our staff are all mature,"says Jim, "except for me. I'm still young at heart!"

The range of around 100 different brands includes Cohibas, Fundadores, Punch and Romeo y Julietas - and that's just in the walk-in humidor, which has taken pride of place in the shop since about a year and a half ago. The shop is the only walk-in humidor in the North-East. It was introduced as a result of both demand and "to do the job properly," as Jim puts it.

Owned by the Humberstones for over 4 years now, this is a distinctively old-fashioned shop, and one that does a roaring trade in singles. "We are old fashioned," they say, "but there's nothing specially designed about it, it's just the way we are". They have a long history in the trade, having sold smokers requisites for about 12 years. They run a separate wholesale business, too, as well as offering a mail order service. The Humberstones have a good selection of humidors and accessories, particularly cutters and lighters. (2-3 Indoor Market, Durham DHI 3NJ Tel: +44(0)191 384 4116)