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2013 Big Smoke Las Vegas Evenings

Nov 12, 2013 | By G. Clay Whittaker

By 1:15 on Friday afternoon a queue had already begun to form outside the doors to the convention center at the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, home to this year's Big Smoke Las Vegas Evenings. It's a new record, in fact. The 18-year-old, weekend-long smokers' festival put on by Cigar Aficionado has always drawn long lines for its famous evenings, when patrons have the chance to meet dozens of cigar stars, consume food and top-shelf beverages as they collect a bevy of incredible cigars. But this year participants lined up more than five hours early to be the head of the line, which eventually stretched through much of the hallway leading to the convention center.

At 6:30 p.m. the doors swung open and, with a well-mannered horde mentality, thousands from across the United States and around the world (guests came from as far as Australia) flooded the grand space, darting in different directions to light up handrolled, premium cigars and be first to meet the folks behind the brands.

After nearly two decades, patrons of Big Smoke Las Vegas aren't just showing earlier, they're also working smarter. A significant number of guests in groups strategized on how to maximize their efficiency, and many split their tickets in order to gather their smokes more efficiently.

"We just gotta share our tickets," said Calvin Hudson, who came in from Houston with several friends. "We've got a little table where we're gonna meet back and split them up."

Another growing tradition at Big Smoke is the group uniform. Oja, California, natives George Conrad, Mark Happach, Gene Berban and Chris Williams dressed alike in black shirts printed with the name of their hometown.

Tatuaje brand owner Pete Johnson has a long history in Vegas—all 18 years to be exact. "I used to come to the Big Smokes early on and pass out cigars for the Fuentes, the Ashton group, but officially my own cigar? I think this is my third year," said Johnson, who stepped away momentarily to autograph a canvas bag for an admirer.

Johnson says the best part about the Big Smoke is actually talking to the smokers. "Having people who come by and say ‘This is my favorite booth' or ‘I love your product'—that's the best. And aside from that it's really just coming to hang out with the other manufacturers, because it's one big family, and we all have a good time seeing each other."

Patrons broke between cigar-collecting rounds to find sliders and snacks provided by the Mirage—pasta stations, trays filled with iced bottles of water, and a pastry bar that included bacon maple cupcakes kept stomachs full as everyone wound their way through lines that, in some cases, stretched back 50 heads or more.

One of those lines formed in front of the Alec Bradley booth, where vice president of marketing Sam Phillips once again broke out his forehead-mounted GoPro and worked the enthusiastic crowd with giveaways.

Short breaks allowed everyone to marvel at timepieces from watchmakers Carl F. Bucherer, Hublot, Bremont, Oris and Arizona Fine Time. Humidor maker Daniel Marshall was on hand with a selection of his handmade products, as were the folks from Boveda humidification and Rabbit Air air purification.

The cigar aficionados in the ballroom washed down their food and cleaned their palates with cocktails and product ranges from whiskey makers Ardbeg, Bulleit Bourbon, rye and 10-year, Crown Royal, three blends of George Dickel, Glenfiddich, five blends of Glenmorangie, a wide range of Johnnie Walker Scotch, including the new Platinum, Michter's Bourbon, rye and sour mash. There were vodkas from Belvedere Vodka, elit by Stolichnaya and Crystal Head, which was served from an artful bar carved from ice, and rums from Zacapa and Zaya, plus Carpano Antica vermouth, a range of Guinness beers, Maestro Dobel tequila, Sandeman Port and Sledgehammer wine.

Rocky and Nish Patel, along with cousin Nimish Desai, drew long lines as patrons clamored for photo ops and a chance to meet the men behind the famous brand. Carlos "Carlito" Fuente Jr. of Tabacalera A. Fuente signed autographs for the crowd, and Cigar of the Year family members Jaime, Janny and Pepin Garcia from My Father Cigars also signed autographs as they handed out cigars.

The American Club's Whistling Straits and Blackwolf Run golf courses sponsored a video golf-swing clinic, imaging the swings of anyone brave enough to step up to the tee and let pros analyze their style.

Glynn Loope and the crew from Cigar Rights of America also had a booth where patrons could sign up for the organization's membership, donate to the cause, and get information about protecting their rights to smoke in their home states and across the country.

Jorge Padrón said for him, the Big Smoke Las Vegas is a chance to shake hands with the fans of his product in person. "Coming here to the Big Smoke is really important for us," he said as he passed out Padrón 2000 cigars and shook the hands of excited smokers. "We get to meet all the customers—you know, there's a lot of consumers out here—and you get to talk them, get feedback on the cigars. Just meeting people—it's a very important thing for us."

At the Ashton booth, Robert Levin and daughter Meera handed out tubed Marquis cigars from their La Aroma de Cuba line, shredding handfuls of sheets from those now-famous ticket books each patron is given as they enter the showroom.

Those tickets littered the floor behind the booth of cigar star Jonathan Drew of Drew Estate cigars who worked the crowd along with Willy Herrera of Herrera Esteli, passing out Acid and Undercrown sticks to the waiting hordes. Herrera cracked a joke about making snow angels in the growing pile of hundreds of redeemed tickets.

The cigar lovers who went to the Big Smokes on Friday and Saturday night left with Cigar Aficionado bags brimming with cigars. The full list consisted of Acid, Aging Room, Alec Bradley, Arturo Fuente, Asylum, Aurora, C.A.O., Cain, Casa Fernandez, Casino Gold, Diamond Crown, Don Pepin Garcia, Dunhill, Foundry, H. Upmann, Joya de Nicaragua, Kismet, La Aroma de Cuba, La Flor Dominicana, La Gloria Cubana, La Palina, Macanudo, Montecristo, Nat Sherman, Oliva Serie O, PDR, Padrón, Partagas, Psyko Seven, Quesada, Rocky Patel, San Lotano, Sublimes, Tatuaje, Toraño, Undercrown and Villiger.

It was a smoker's paradise. Across the sold-out event, which spread over two nights, more than 4,500 cigar lovers crossed the threshold and joined the fun. But don't worry if you missed out on this one: Big Smoke New York is right around the corner.

Big Smoke Evenings

2013 Big Smoke Las Vegas Evenings

Big Smoke Saturday Seminars

Top Three (Legal) Cigars of 2012
Second Acts/Comebacks
Dominican Tobacco
Cuba Update
Lunch with Altadis

Big Smoke Sunday Seminars

Cigar Lover's Breakfast
Roll Your Own Cigar
Dickel and Davidoff

Big Smoke
"This was the first event that 4 of my friends and I attended. We had a really great time and made some new friends. We look forward to attending another Big Smoke event. It was great to receive all of the sample cigars that were presented. This gave us all a chance to try different brand. Happy Smokes!" —November 21, 2013 02:49 AM
"This was my first time at a Big Smoke event. Had a fantastic time! I talked to a lot of people who had attended many of these and one of the comments made by most veterans was lamenting the absence of the local restaurants. Was looking forward to sampling fare from the great chefs in Las Vegas. Maybe next year. The highlight for me was to meet and hang out and chat with other cigar aficionados who love their cigars as much or more than me. The other great part of this event is this forced me out of my "comfort zone". I have smoked the same two or three cigars for over a decade and the Big Smoke made me try other cigars I would not have had otherwise. Will attend another Big Smoke for sure. " —November 19, 2013 11:34 AM
"This was my first experience at a Big Smoke event and I had the great pleasure of working with a vendor. This event was amazing and overwhelming at the same time. I think many people fail to realize that this event was about having a good time and educating yourself about the cigars being offered. Many lines were formed because customers were asking us about the cigars we were offering and we were answering their questions. Having a crowd of 2000+ each night was going to create a line regardless of how booths were set up or how "fast" we handed out cigars. I made many new friends at this event and I look forward to seeing these friends again for the years to come. I hope I will see all of you there next year! Time to go enjoy a cigar and drink!" —November 13, 2013 20:12 PM
"I have been coming to the Big Smoke for several years. It seems that it has been going down hill EVERY year. Dont get me wrong, I enjoyed the event and will still come to vegas for it, but with that said I must say that the event needs to be looked at more closely. I agree that the local vendors need to come back and to make it easier to move around. Still had a GREAT Time. " —November 13, 2013 19:52 PM
"Another great event. A group of us have been coming for over 10 years now. 2 suggestions: 1. The food was mediocre. It is the first time I can recall being hungry after the event. Bring back the local restaurants like Delmonicos and Del Friscos... They added class and good food. 2. There is no reason for the ridiculous lines at a few of the booths. Don't hold us all hostage to get a cigar. Hand them out and have a separate line for other stuff like merchandise, autographs, etc." —November 13, 2013 19:34 PM
"This was my first experience and I was blown away. I came away with some great smokes and met a few very cool people along the way. While waiting in the queue to get in I met a few fellows who suggested that my buddy Lionel Hilliard and I split our books expedite the process of collecting our smokes. It was a sight to see the two of us in the lobby area on the floor separating our loot after the event closed. Indeed we were like two kids dividing candy at Halloween! Two of the coolest cats we met were two Pastors from Idaho, Keith and Luke! I especially loved the two leather cladded babes with the whips! Yes, I got my spanking." —November 13, 2013 17:43 PM
"This was the 10th Big Smoke in Las Vegas for my wife and I. Each year we see more new cigar products, this year Tatauje, Sublimes, Casino Gold, and John Drew's Acid respresented well. The standards of Rocky Patel, The Fuente Family, and Alec Bradley created the most attention for the crowd. This was where most who attended fell into the misfortune of standing in lines for 45 minutes just to shake hands, get an autograph or meet one of the cigar family members. Alec Bradley fans had the most funs trying to snag free "hats",that were tossed out in a frenzy. The good part of the event is meeting new faces, relaxing with others who have traveled from all over North America for the event. It was entertaining to say the least. We seen our old acquaintances, tosted another year of fine smokes, and talked of "seeing you next year!" Yes, this year we had 37 cigars all of which were of high quality and hand rolled. You can't get any better than that. Best Event and turnout ever! " —November 13, 2013 16:00 PM
"Frank and John both make points that I agree with, but I want to add something about the lines- agreed that they were poorly formed, but it seemed the largest lines were where a popular maker was available to sign and or have photographs taken; how about a separate line or lines for the folks who just want to pick up a cigar and aren't into autographs? the return of local restaurants would also be nice. All that said, still a quality event which I enjoyed very much. I thought the seating was pretty good, certainly better than the last one I attended a few years ago. Another point on the lines- they often blocked access to non-cigar booths; i thought the beverage and incidental item booths were great, and I'd hate to see a reduction because they didn't get the exposure they wanted because of the line issue." —November 13, 2013 09:41 AM
"I have been attending Big Smoke for years since the Bally's days and moved with the different venues,this year I found it disorganized and what's up with all the lines?Why not put the product numbers up on the backdrop screens instead of writing them on the table tops?You had to wait till you got to the table to see what the actual number was to pull your ticket.The food stations are cool but the local vendors would be better.I think next year I'll go to Big Smoke in NYC just for a change of venue,I wet to one a few years back at the Marriot on Broadway and it was fun too.I know its a great event and venue at the Mirage but it does not seem to have a ventelation system to handle the smoke,I kind of felt sorry for the wait staff as I observed so many with burning eyes etc and the hotel actually had to keep its exterior doors open.With the weather so nice a outside venue would be a great change like a poolside venue at the Mandaley etc. " —November 13, 2013 09:21 AM
"I have been attending the Big Smoke evenings for over 12 years. My major disappointment was the lack of local restaurants as in years past. In fact, I went specifically to Delmonico due to their presence in other Big Smokes. The amount of cigars and tables exceeded the other Big Smokes that I have attended in the past. I can understand those going for the first time not knowing what to expect and won't disagree that it could be better. My recommendation would be to go with a small group and split the tickets to minimize the amount of lines you have to wait to get your cigars. I will continue to go to the Big Smoke but really hope to have the local restaurants back!" —November 13, 2013 01:54 AM
"While I truly enjoyed the Big Smoke, I have to agree with John Long in the fact that the event is poorly organized. It should be held in a larger room so there can be more seating. The vendors should be set up differently so there are not 30 minute waits to obtain product. Also, there needs to be more diversity in the food offered. Again, I had a blast, but I think the set up needs a major change for next year. Thank you to Cigar Aficionado however for a great time. I walked with about 45 cigars, top shelf scotch and sliders in my belly, and a huge smile on my face." —November 13, 2013 01:00 AM
"Big Smoke was a Big Joke :( I have been trying to attend a Big smoke event but never can seem to coordinate my off time to do so. This year I was excited to be able to attend. Wish I had gone to Cigar Aficionado's website instead of following the link in the email, I would have learned about the coupon books and the hotel room discounts. I can live with the long lines to get in, but after crossing the entry my ticket was scanned and I was given the Cigar Aficionado's Tote, I then lined up for my first cigar only to find out I needed a coupon book to get one, I checked inside my tote no coupon book - yikes! I went back to the entry and after a short fight with the door scanners finally was given a coupon book, by then the lines had double and tripled in size, my son just barely made the cut as he entered the doors were shut leaving what I can only guess as 100's still waiting in line. No Place to sit down, there were tables and chairs but I quickly learned theses were reserved for the various Cigar Distributors. The Ball Room was large and there was ample room for chairs and even more tables but none could be found, not to enjoyable to stand for hours trying to juggle a drink much less trying to eat anything. I won't bother attending in the future - hopefully they can sort it out, Standing in line for over an hour to get in and then having no place to sit doesn't work guys." —November 13, 2013 00:32 AM
"The problem with the crazy lines is the booths are not set up for everyone to roll by and get the cigar from the first person handing them out while the three other reps watch. As it was up until about three years ago, each booth should have a line in front of each rep handing out a cigar. Patrons can actually enjoy moving from place to place instead of being herded around by the fools who create this mess on their own. The last year at the Venetian was the worst where the line extended around the entire ballroom through the restaurant, drink and cigars booths. Staff from the hotel should assure that the lines are setup this way to avoid a two-hour tour. The coming together of cigar lovers of all walks of life is wonderful, the lack of organization takes away from the overall experience." —November 12, 2013 23:53 PM

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