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A $2.5 Million Night for Charity

Cigar Aficionado's Night to Remember Sets Record
Apr 13, 2005 | By David Savona
A $2.5 Million Night for Charity
What happens when Michael Jordan, Rush Limbaugh and a spirits industry billionaire all want the same priceless cigar humidor? A bidding war that ends with a record amount of money raised for prostate cancer research.

Cigar Aficionado's Night to Remember, held last week in New York City, raised more money than ever, a record $2.5 million. Of that total, $1.8 million came from the war for Marvin's Mystery Box, a precious humidor owned only by a select few that's filled with treasures. To date the dinner has raised more than $10 million in hopes of curing prostate cancer.

The evening was hosted by Cigar Aficionado editor and publisher Marvin R. Shanken, with New York City's beloved former mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani as special co-host. Philanthropist and financier Michael Milken, head of the prostate cancer research foundation, was also there.

A number of notable personalities were in attendance. In addition to Jordan and Limbaugh, University of Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino was there, as was CNN's Jeff Greenfield, former NFL great and current NBA commentator Ahmad Rashad, and John Salley of "The Best Damn Sports Show Period." Salley would later provide one of the night's most entertaining moments.

The business titans in the room included General Motors' Gary Cowger and Bob Lutz; Ed Rabin, president of Hyatt Hotels Corp.; Leonard Riggio, chairman of Barnes & Noble Inc.; Dee Lincoln of Del Frisco's Steak House; Richard P. Torykian Sr., director of Lazard Freres & Co.; Drew Nieporent, owner of the Myriad Restaurant Group; Ivan Menezes, president and CEO of Diageo North America, John Esposito, president of LVMH North America and Charles Palombini, president of Kobrand Corp. Fernando Ferrer, the leading candidate to become New York City's next mayor, was there, as was former New York City Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen.

The former mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani, pictured with his wife, Judy, co-hosted the Night to Remember.
The evening began with a cocktail hour featuring 1996 Dom Perignon Champagne and more than a thousand of the world's finest cigars, from Aroma de Cubas to Zino Platinums, from Fuente Fuente OpusXs to Trinidad Maduros. Some accommodations had to be made for New York's smoking ban, but guests puffed away happily in the luxurious Four Seasons Restaurant during cocktails and with dessert. As the lights dimmed, some 220 guests filed from the grill room to the pool room, which was decorated with blooming trees, and made their way past the spectacular auction lots before dinner.

Shanken welcomed the guests, many of whom are like family and attend the dinner each year. "Is there anybody in this room tonight that would like to have a cigar dinner every night of the week?" he asked with a smile. The room applauded heartily. "We've raised over $8 million for prostate cancer research," Shanken said, "and tonight, we're going to bump it up a notch." That prediction would prove more than accurate.

Shanken gave his thanks to everyone who had donated an auction lot, as well as those who had provided the wines, and then paid special homage to the cigarmakers who have supported the dinner through the years. He invited them to stand, and the crowd applauded them. The cigar industry elite in attendance included Jim Colucci, Janelle Rosenfeld and Gene Tipton from Altadis U.S.A. Inc.; Carlos Fuente Sr., Carlos Fuente Jr. and Wayne Suarez from Arturo Fuente Cigars; Robert Levin and Manny Ferrero from Ashton Cigars; Cano Ozenger from C.A.O. International Inc.; Peter Banninger from Davidoff of Geneva U.S.A. Inc.; Ernesto Perez-Carrillo from El Credito Cigars Inc.; Edgar Cullman Jr., Sherwin Seltzer, David Danziger and Cooper Gardiner from General Cigar Holdings Inc.; Rocky Patel from Indian Tabac Cigars; Eric M. Newman from J.C. Newman Cigar Co.; Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana; Manuel Quesada from Matasa; Nestor Miranda of Miami Cigar & Co.; Jose Orlando and Jorge Padrón of Padrón Cigars; Ruben Ysidron from Savinelli Inc. and Peter Arnell from Zino Platinum.

Marvin R. Shanken and Michael Jordan share a cigar with General Motors executives Bob Lutz, second from left, and Gary Cowger, far right.
The waiters poured the white, a 2002 Louis Jadot Chassagne-Montrachet Burgundy. It proved a wonderful partner for the first course, a rich risotto flecked with generous amounts of black truffles that lingered on the palate forever.

A Night to Remember tradition is the auction of mystery wines, rare gems plucked from the personal cellar of Shanken that are auctioned off at the start of the dinner. The wines are cloaked in brown bags, disguising their identity, and there's a catch -- to maintain the spirit of camaraderie, the winner's wine must be opened and enjoyed at his or her table, ensuring that bidders are heartily encouraged by their tablemates.

Limbaugh won the first wine with a $15,000 bid. It was unveiled as a double magnum of Harlan Estate 1997. Bidding intensified, and the audience gasped as each was revealed: a 1990 Château Margaux in magnum ($17,000), a 1959 Château d'Yquem ($11,000), a 1997 Bryant Family Vineyards magnum ($14,000) and a pair of 1945 first growths in magnum, Château Lafite-Rothschild ($17,000) and Château Margaux ($12,000). The auction was off to a good start.

Milken, a prostate cancer survivor, took to the podium to talk about the quest to eliminate prostate cancer as a cause of death within five years, and spoke of his personal hope that cancer itself would be reduced to a disease such as polio, once a scourge of the United States but now something relegated to history books.

A regular at the Night to Remember, Richard Toriykian, Sr. second from left, is joined by Andre Moutenot, left, Matt Buchanan and Will Torrey, far right.
As Shanken introduced the man who might be the next president of the United States, Salley walked up to the podium to guffaws from the audience, and deadpanned his acceptance speech. Giuliani then took to the podium to hearty applause.

"I appreciate this dinner very much. It means a lot to me," he said. Giuliani lost his father to prostate cancer, and fought his own battle with the disease, one in which he was assisted by Milken. "It was a very loving gesture," said Giuliani. The former mayor tipped his hat to Milken and Shanken for their continued support of fighting the disease. "they were involved with prostate cancer when other people were ignoring it."

"What you're raising money for is real," said Giuliani. "This dinner has already saved thousands of lives. It's going to save thousands more."

The auction began, and the 19 lots included some incredible treasures. The first lot, a collection of 420 Padrón 40th anniversary cigars in hand-carved, hand-painted chests (many of them custom sizes) went for $30,000 to Riggio. A collection of 2000 Vintage Bordeaux donated by Don and Christina Zacharia of Zachys sold for $20,000. A spot in the 2005 Montecristo Cup golf tournament, plus a private golf lesson with Champions Tour pros, donated by Colucci and Altadis U.S.A., sold for $7,000.

With the fourth lot, dinner for 70 guests at Del Frisco's Steak House, the spirit of generosity that permeated this dinner began to truly emerge. As bidding rose, Shanken asked restaurant founder Lincoln if she would offer two dinners for the right price. She rose to her feet and said yes, and Richard Santulli of NetJets and Colucci each won the dinner for $35,000 apiece, doubling the lot to $70,000.

Michael Jordan, six-time NBA champion, with Rick Pitino, center, and Ahmad Rashad, the TV sports announcer and former NFL star.
Lot No. 5, a stunning collection of cigars from La Aurora and a one-of-a-kind carved and painted humidor, went for $10,000. A vacation at the spectacular Los Cabos, Mexico, resort Las Ventanas (featuring an elegant penthouse residence and personal butler service) raised $30,000. A flight on a NetJets Gulfstream IV-SP, complete with a flight attendant, donated by Santulli, went for $35,000. A collection of rare Macanudo Vintage cigars from 1984, 1988 and 1993, presented in a gorgeous four-foot-tall humidor, went for $14,000.

Palombini of Kobrand Corp. donated a trip to New Zealand with first-class airfare and all the amenities. It went for $18,000. A serigraph by Michel Delacroix with Montecristo Platinum cigars, donated by Rosenfeld and Altadis U.S.A., raised $16,000. Pitino took the auction to new levels with a $75,000 bid on a fully loaded 2005 Cadillac XLR Roadster donated by Cowger.

The main course of rare beef was served with the featured red wine of the night, a Caymus Special Selection 1997. As the diners sipped the full-bodied red, the second half of the auction began. The bidding would grow to amazing heights.

General Cigar's Sherwin Seltzer (left) and Edgar M. Cullman Jr. at the Four Seasons.
A collection of 693 Fuente-made cigars, including every Fuente Fuente OpusX, several custom shapes, Arturo Fuente Hemingway Between the Lines and Don Carlos cigars rolled specially for the chairman of Fuente, plus a God of Fire humidor and two ashtrays and a dinner at the Grand Havana Room, went for $42,000 to Lee Einsidler of Sidney Frank Imports. A Vegas vacation at The Venetian hotel with VIP service, dinner at Bradley Ogden and Bouchon, golf at Southern Highlands Golf Club and more, donated by Larry Ruvo of Southern Wine and Spirits of Nevada, went for $15,000. A collection of more than 100 bottles of wine from Dan Leese of Beringer Blass Wine Estates, plus a huge wine chest to hold them, went for $12,000. A trip to the Dominican Republic resort Casa de Campo with first-class airfare and a chance to blend your own custom cigars, donated by Theo Folz of Altadis U.S.A., went for $12,000.

A Caribbean cruise for 10 on the Relentless, a spectacular 141-foot luxury yacht owned by Del Frisco's Jaime Coulter, went for $115,000. Several humidors filled with La Gloria Cubana Serie R cigars, donated by Perez-Carrillo, went for $12,000. A vacation at the extraordinary Cap Juluca on Anguilla, plus 361 Ashton cigars and an immense and gorgeous Ashton Humidor, donated by Ashton's Robert Levin and Eustace Guishard of Cap Juluca, went for $28,000.

A special item added to the auction, a genuine New York Firefighter's helmet signed by Giuliani and Von Essen, went for $70,000.

Soon, the waiters would pour Hennessy Paradis Cognac to go along with dessert, signaling the time to light up the dinner cigars, which were presented in a special Humidipak bag. There was a LG Diez Chisel Puro, a La Gloria Cubana Reserva Figurado Selectos de Lujo and a La Aurora 100 Años Belicoso, Cigar Aficionado's No. 2 cigar of the year.

Eustace Guishard, general manager of the Anguilla resort Cap Juluca, lights up at the cocktail hour.
Then it was time for Marvin's Mystery Box. The limited-edition Elie Bleu humidor, which is brimming with treasures and is decorated in genuine Cuban cigar bands (it's the only object that the Cuban government has allowed to be used on anything other than a cigar) nearly always brings in the biggest bid of the evening at the Night to Remember, often around $100,000. No one could have expected the outcome of this lot.

Shanken began the bidding for the box at $50,000. Lee Einsidler was in the room bidding for Sidney Frank, the owner of Sidney Frank Imports (Frank famously sold the Grey Goose brand to Bacardi for $2 billion).

The humidor soon reached the mid-100s, and then a superstar intervened. Michael Jordan came in, raising the bidding to $200,000, and the crowd grew excited. But the bidding was far from over. Jordan's tablemate, Rush Limbaugh, entered the fray, and a three-way bidding battle between Jordan, Limbaugh and Frank was enjoined.

Einsidler, on behalf of Frank, shouted out each progressive bid: Shanken kept the bidding going. "Michael Jordan says he never heard of Sidney Frank!" he joked.

The price for the precious box climbed to $270,000, heights never before seen at this auction. Shanken seized the moment, and made an offer to the trio: he would triple the lot, offering three mystery boxes, if each man agreed to go to $300,000. Milken stood up, and said he would match the total bid with his own money.

Einsidler was first, accepting on behalf of Frank, then Limbaugh. The offer went to Jordan. After a pause, he gave a thumbs-up.

The crowd roared, many rising to their feet -- one lot had become three, and had raised an incredible $1.8 million. The applause was hearty and sustained.

It was a record by far for the Night to Remember dinner, and the room was stunned. The men sat back in their chairs, lit up celebratory cigars, and let the spirit of the evening sink in.

It was one they wouldn't soon forget.

Photos by Lawrence Lucier/Getty Images