A cheer went up over the crowd Friday evening, when the doors to the Mirage Hotel & Casino Event Center opened promptly at 6:30 p.m., allowing thousands of eager cigar fans to pour in and kick off 2014 Big Smoke Las Vegas the only way they knew how—with a torrent of wild energy and a mad dash to their favorite exhibitors.
"The thing to do is arrive three hours early," said Joe Salas, a grinning cigar enthusiast from California. "Get at the front of the line, start early, make your rounds. Then spend the rest of your time enjoying the food, the people, the cigars. That's the key."
Salas isn't the only one with this kind of passion. Exhibiting a zeal typically reserved for pro football fanatics, there's no end to Big Smoke attendees who are willing to talk strategies, plays and group formations for maximizing Big Smoke enjoyment.
Take David Heinzel and Mira Han from California, for example. Quickly becoming old pros on the Big Smoke circuit, this is David's third year attending and Mira's fifth. "You've got to have a strategy," said Han. "Always arrive early...know the floor plan."
Scattered throughout the massive events center, it's not uncommon to see larger groups huddled together discussing their total coverage strategy—splitting coupons, sending teammates to far corners of the space to wait in popular lines, gathering signatures and other memorabilia from celebrity cigarmakers, claiming rare cigars and dividing the bounty amongst team members afterwards.
"It's a lot of fun, and worth the wait. We usually come both nights," says Han. "We get doubles [of cigars], share the wealth with our friends."
And what a wealth of smokes to share. This year's list of cigar exhibitors consisted of Aging Room, A.J. Fernandez, Alec Bradley, Arturo Fuente, H. Upmann, C.A.O., Casa Fernandez, Casino Gold, Drew Estate, Kismet, Cohiba, Cubanacan, Diamond Crown, Dunhill, Eiroa, E.P. Carrillo, Foundry, Gurkha, Joya de Nicaragua, Kristoff, La Aroma de Cuba, La Flor Dominicana, La Gloria Cubana, Macanudo, My Father Cigars, Nat Sherman, Nestor Miranda Collection, Oliva, Padrón, Partagás, Quesada, Rocky Patel, Romeo y Julieta, NUb, Sublimes, Ventura and Villiger.
For many other attendees, though, the evening was less about the dragon's horde of cigars and more about the emotional experience.
Harry Martin from Kayenta, Arizona, drove to the Big Smoke to meet his son from Alaska. "This is the second time for both of us. It's more about the time we get to spend together. A bonding thing. My brother-in-law from Riverside, California, is also here."
Asked about his favorite part of the event, Martin replied, "It's interesting to watch all the different kinds of people. They come from all over the world. Young people, old people, men, women, weird people, crazy people. It's pretty cool."
Martin is on to something here. This year's Big Smoke attendees came from as far as Australia, South Africa, even the Himalayas. All for the love of cigars. It was truly the gathering of a dedicated tribe—to eat, drink, smoke and be merry.
"There's better food this year," Martin added. "The roast beef is excellent."
Provided by the Mirage Hotel kitchens, the enormously popular Baron of Beef was served alongside tables offering huge cuts of glistening turkey breast, pastas, BBQ pork sliders as well as Asian options such as dumplings and vegetable spring rolls. For those still hungry, there was also dessert: coffee stations and maple bacon miniature cupcakes.
As attendees walked the floor smoking and laughing and eating, they invariably worked up a mighty thirst—and thankfully there were many alcohol exhibitors offering high-end beverages to the gracious and boisterous crowd.
Exhibitors in this essential category were Bulleit Bourbon, Crown Royal Canadian whisky, George Dickel Tennessee whisky, Glenfiddich single-malt Scotch, Guinness beer, Jose Cuervo tequila, Ron Diplomatico and Ron Zacapa rums, Sledgehammer and Gabbiano wines, as well as Stolichnaya vodka and Carpano Antica Formula vermouth.
Cigar fans also leapt at the chance to chat with exhibitors offering luxury gear, gadgets and getaways, including S.T. Dupont, Daniel Marshall Humidors, Rabbit Air, Craviotto Drums, Boveda, Upper Deck, destination resorts such as Casa de Campo, Casa Vieja Resort and Nizuc Resort and Spa, as well as gorgeous timepieces from BALL Watches, Carl F. Bucherer, Graham, Maurice Lacroix and Oris Watches.
"It's like being a little kid in a lollipop shop," said George Skiadas from Melbourne, Australia. This is his sixth Big Smoke Las Vegas weekend. "I'm just one of these guys who like cigars," he said. "This year I took the whole family—and I took the whole family to Havana as well."
Skiadas bemoans the strict smoking regulations in his country. He says he can't smoke anywhere in Australia. For just this reason, many impassioned smokers were seen alongside the Cigar Rights of America booth—brushing up on cigar politics, impending legislation, and the importance of getting out to vote.
Another densely populated area of the event showcased new muscle cars for 2015. The set-ups featured the Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, the 50th Anniversary Ford Mustang and the Nissan GT-R, each complete with promotional models and photo opportunities. The souped-up rides naturally saw plenty of action from the crowd.
But Dodge hit a home run with its virtual "Dodge Challenger Challenge" racing simulator. The booth encouraged fans to hop in the driver's seat of an actual Dodge Challenger, modified with a reactive seat and movement platform, which gave the effect of working the car's muscle and allowed users to burn off at top speed on three panoramic high-definition screens mounted in front of the vehicle. A fitting end to a wild, smoke-filled night.
The Big Smoke evening was repeated the following night, on Saturday. Some intrepid cigar lovers attended both shows.
At 9:30 p.m. on both nights, as the event came to a close and attendees reluctantly dispersed off the floor, the resounding sentiment was one of wild-eyed joy and anticipation for the next Big Smoke Las Vegas. As one departing cigar fan put it, "Are next year's tickets on sale yet?"