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The Cigar Dinner Boom

Gordon Mott
From the Print Edition:
Winston Churchill, Autumn 93

(continued from page 3)

The men and women--about 50 women attended--sampled cigars, ogled the multi million-dollar jewelry displays of Harry Winston; the upscale leather, silver, and wood pieces of Osprey and Louis Vuitton; the watches of Cartier, Kriëger, and Breitling; and the pens of Montblanc, and ordered expensive custom-made humidors from D. Marshall. Al Cooper, a pharmacist who flew in from Grenada, Mississippi, kept wandering around saying, "I can't believe it. I can't believe it." And Karen Weiss, apparently alone at the edge of the commotion, responded with a sly grin when asked why she'd come to the Big Smoke: "I came to see what kind of men smoke cigars." Above all, that's what the guests did--smoke cigars.

Three hours later one Big Smoke reveler encountered three other guys puffing away on cigars on the corner of Broadway and 45th Street. Like long-lost fraternity brothers, they exchanged greetings, and as the partygoer recounts, one of the men said it all: "This was one of the greatest nights of my life."

Maybe one of the greatest parties for 1,500 people anywhere, anytime. The partygoers smoked or took home 45,000 cigars. They drank 360 bottles of Moët & Chandon Champagne, 72 bottles of Stolichnaya, 36 bottles of Absolut, 42 bottles of Martell, and 36 bottles of Hine Cognac. Pouring every bottle they had, Cuvaison winery, the only wine served, ran out before the party was over--this has never happened before, according to a Cuvaison official. This was not a crowd that favors moderation.

Why did people come? John Clements, a marketing executive, said he was attracted by the possibility of finding a new cigar to smoke. But his story quickly came out. "I wanted to be with a bunch of guys from work without our wives tagging along." Peter Clifford, a New York businessman, sat smoking contentedly. "I believe in cigars. I believe in America. I believe in my civil rights to smoke. That's why I'm here." Ken Vose, a writer living in New York City, said simply, "I wouldn't miss it. This is a chance to smoke without my wife hounding me."

Like all first-time events, there were some minor glitches. For a time it was so crowded that moving through the aisles felt like a preholiday weekend at a suburban supermarket. Some manufacturers ran out of cigars a half hour before closing time. And there were only two espresso machines for the gathering. But no one complained about the smoke.

For the event's creator, CIGAR AFICIONADO editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken, the Big Smoke was an overwhelming success. It started out as a way of testing whether CIGAR AFICIONADO subscribers were interested in getting together to smoke cigars and have fun. The event quickly swelled because of the deluge of ticket requests. Shanken had to approach Marriott Marquis officials to ask for a bigger room. "Once we saw the demand for tickets, we had to go to the hotel to get all the side rooms in addition to the Grand Ballroom, and it still wasn't big enough. Nearly a month before the event, we sent a postcard to subscribers asking them not to send in their checks, and saying that there would be no ticket sales at the door. It was totally sold out." The Big Smoke was so successful that Shanken is planning a series of events around the country in the next 12 months. The schedule so far includes New York again, on Monday, November 29 (a cigar seminar will be held the same day), and next year in Miami on Thursday, January 27, and Friday, May 20 at the Four Seasons in Chicago. Other events are planned for several other cities, including Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco and again in New York. But dates haven't been set yet.

While the event catered to cigar smokers, the cigar makers were bowled over, too. Long stigmatized by the antismoking fervor in the United States, and in many aspects, hunkered down in their corporate bunkers for the past 20 years, the men of cigars couldn't stop pinching themselves. Edgar Cullman Jr., the president of Culbro Corporation, which owns General Cigar, the makers of Macanudo and Partagas, stayed behind his booth until he ran out of cigars--Cullman and his employees handed out more than 5,000. Dick DiMeola, the executive vice-president of Consolidated Cigar, the maker of H. Upmann, Dunhill, and Te-Amo cigars, said in all his years in the cigar industry he'd never seen anything like it.

The enthusiasm was highlighted by Ernesto Carrillo of Miami's La Gloria Cubana. He brought along one of his senior rollers, Armando Moray, who set up shop in the booth and rolled the night away. At 9:30 P.M., when event coordinator Lynn Rittenband announced that the evening was over, there was a line of guys waiting for their own hand-rolled cigar. If the doors hadn't closed, they might still be there, waiting for their chance to take home a freshly made La Gloria Cubana.

These men clearly shared the thoughts of one of the guests, Howard Lewis: "It was like being a kid in a candy store."

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