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Part One: Big Smoke Las Vegas 2009 Evenings

There is something almost biblical about thousands of people coming from all over the country to convene in the middle of the desert for the same reason. At the same time, there is an energy and a comfort that comes with smoking collectively with people who have made the pilgrimage. They celebrate not only the art of cigar smoking, but the good life in general, and they come out every year to the Big Smoke Las Vegas by plane, by bus, by car and by train. The prospect of two nights of unbridled smoking with the top names in the industry at the Venetian Hotel and Casino cause men to walk away from their jobs, leave their families and abandon their lives—for a weekend anyway—to partake in the country's greatest cigar-centric good life celebration.

Bud Waller came from Nashville, Tennessee, to attend both nights of the Big Smoke Las Vegas evening sessions. Although he came to Vegas with his wife, he managed to sneak away and meet up with friends Gregg Quattrini from Saratoga Springs, New York and Mike Mehringer from Indianapolis, Indiana, both of whom attended each evening session.

Torching up a robusto on the Big Smoke show floor.

"I'm a big fan of timepieces and I love it that high-end watch companies are represented here. It would be great to see more," said Waller referring to the Carl F. Bucherer, Tutima and IWC Schaffhausen booths.

One would never have guessed that we are in the midst of a recession by looking at this weekend's turnout. They came by the thousands, demonstrated by the long lines preceding both evening shows. Under normal circumstances, a line of people five city blocks long would be a hassle, but the positive energy and anticipation that radiates from a group of cigar enthusiasts gives attendees no choice but to make friends. Cigars are instant bridge builders, instant friend makers and this phenomenon is clearly illustrated every year at the Big Smoke Las Vegas. And the attendees range from casual cigar smokers visiting for the first time to Big Smoke fanatics who have attended all 13 Vegas shows, who proudly wear the badges of Big Smokes past around their necks like decorated soldiers, and who will make a tailgate party out of the event by camping out hours before the doors open.

C.A.O.'s Tim Ozgener, standing in front of a custom chopper, pauses for a photo with two appreciative cigar smokers.

When the doors did open, the biggest problem each smoker had to face was choosing a direction to go in, which cigar to smoke first, which cigarmaker to talk to, which spirit to drink. It can be a sensory overload. Many head straight for the Fuente booth in order to shake hands with father and son Carlos Fuente Sr. and Carlos "Carlito" Fuente Jr. Some go right to see Rocky Patel, while others seek out Jorge Padrón of Padrón Cigars or Tim Ozgener of C.A.O. International. Of course, there were many more companies in attendance. Jaime and Janny Garcia of My Father Cigars were also there giving out the newest iteration of the Tabacos Baez brand. If thus far you have been unable to buy Cigar Aficionado's 2008 cigar of the year, S.A.G. Imports Inc. was happy to treat attendees to the Casa Magna Colorado Robusto. Alan Rubin of Alec Bradley Cigar Co. was handing out his new box-pressed Prensado brand and Litto Gomez was proud to offer La Flor Dominicana Double Ligero cigars.

General Cigar had several booths and passed out an array of cigars, including its new Upper Cut by Punch, Macanudo 1968 and a La Gloria Cubana. Robert, Meera and Sathya Levin were there with the Ashton team, handing out Ashton and La Aroma de Cuba cigars. Carlos and Charlie Toraño represented Toraño Cigars, Alejandro Turrent greeted the crowd with one of his latest creations, Te-Amo World Selection. Sam Leccia passed out Nubs, and the Oliva Cigar team handed out Oliva Series G cigars. Jose Blanco said hello to all from the Aurora booth, and the Newmans manned the J.C. Newman booth, giving away Diamond Crown cigars. Paul Palmer of Tabacalera Tropical greeted robust cigar lovers with the Casa Fernandez Arsenio. Everyone also received cigars from Cusano, Xikar, Mederos, and Havana Honeys.

Autumn Bates poses with James Vallecorsa.

The show was a fine time for accessory companies to show off their wares as well. Although they were not giving away cutters, lighters and humidors, it was the perfect time to acquaint Big Smoke guests with their products. Daniel Marshall showed off his line of desktop humidors, while Liebherr was exhibiting its sleek new XS 200 refrigerated cigar humidor. Colibri's Les Mann displayed his company's vast line of cigar lighters, and the makers of Humidipak bags showcased their products. Eligius Bronze displayed a unique array of foundry forged bronze ashtrays and tables in a variety of artful patinas. Even Texas boot company J.B. Hill had a boot stand appealing to the frontiersman in every smoker.

And to achieve the perfect pairing, a coterie of spirits makers were serving up libations neat or on the rocks. Present were The Glenlivet (which poured a 21-year-old Scotch) and the Classic Malt Collection; Corzo and Herradura Tequila, Tullamore Dew Irish whiskey; Appleton Estate, Ron Matusalem, Ron Zacapa, Don Q and Zaya rum; Jack Daniel's Single Barrel Tennessee whiskey; Grand Marnier; Courvosier Cognac, which poured its XO version, and Fosters beer.

Anyone in the mood for a drink? There was an abundance of fine spirits at both evening sessions.

At the Patrón tequila booth, a bartender served up various cocktails (including margaritas) while visitors posed for photos with spokesmodels from the company. The Bombay Sapphire booth featured Martinis and negronis poured with the London dry gin.

There was a wine bar created by Foster's Wine Estates, pouring Meridian Chardonnay and Cellar #8 Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Zinfandel.

But what is the good life without good food? Some of Las Vegas's top restaurants run by celebrity chefs were giving out samples the entire night. Big Smoke's restaurant row consisted of Aureole, Carnevino, David Burke, Emeril's Delmonico Steakhouse, Woo, Taqueria Cañonita and Andre's, which served chocolate truffles.

"The food is phenomenal," said Mehringer. "It's always good, but I didn't expect to see so many restaurants here." Quattrini and Waller agreed as they ate in front of the shadow dancer booths. Every year, part of the Big Smoke's signature entertainment includes four backlit booths with four shapely female silhouetted dancers moving to the music all night long.

From left to right, Kenneth Hulsey of Washington D.C, Rod Hohnson of Houston and Gregory Perrin of Austin, Texas.

Every booth brought some element of enjoyment or relaxation (even the ones with the long lines), but the show wasn't just designed to be a guy's weekend. Many husbands and wives could be seen strolling and smoking together. One couple was there celebrating their tenth wedding anniversary.

Nor is it uncommon to see fathers and sons, and even daughters, using the Big Smoke as an unforgettable bonding experience. Women attended in groups of two and three eager to partake in what has been a historically male ritual. And they were a very welcome addition to the event, as are all walks of life of all social echelons. Both evening sessions were precursors to the next morning's seminars, which were focused presentations from the industry and offered a whole new level of smoking awareness.

Photos by Sjodin Photography

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Cuban Cigars
Boutique Cigar Brands
Lunch with the Fuentes

Charlie Palmer Cooks Breakfast
Roll Your Own Cigar With Team La Gloria
Bourbon Rules!

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