Cigar Aficionado

A Night to Remember

Marvin R. Shanken took the podium on April 1, and looked over the crowd in the Four Seasons Restaurant. "Tonight is extra special," he said. "Because yesterday, they changed the law and banned smoking in New York. But they didn't get us!"

A cheer rose from the business leaders, television and radio personalities, sports and music stars, hotel and restaurant owners, media magnates and icons of the cigar industry who had gathered this chilly spring night to celebrate. It was the 11th Anniversary Cigar Aficionado Another Night to Remember dinner, and the record crowd of nearly 300 cigar lovers, the largest attendance ever at the event, had gathered to celebrate and, most important, to raise money for a good cause -- CaP CURE, the research organization seeking a cure for prostate cancer, which strikes half of all men.

Shanken was right -- it was a truly special night. By the time the last drop of Port was drained, the last inch of the final cigar turned to ash, more than $500,000 had been raised.

Rudolph Giuliani said the war in Iraq began on 9/11.
It was a night of the titans. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani spoke stirringly. The guests included business moguls such as Robert A. Lutz, vice chairman of General Motors Corp.; Gary L. Cowger, president of General Motors North America; Steve Florio, president and chief executive officer of Condé Nast Publications Inc.; Leonard Riggio, founder and chairman of Barnes & Noble; Richard Santulli, chairman of NetJets; Jamie B. Coulter, CEO of Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon Inc.; Herman Merinoff, chairman of Charmer Industries Inc.; Jack Kliger, president of Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S. Inc.; Richard Torykian, director, Lazard Freres and Co.; and Ed Rabin, president of Hyatt Hotels Corp. Basketball coach Rick Pitino was there, as was radio personality Rush Limbaugh and CNN's Jeff Greenfield.

The night began at 6 p.m. in the Four Seasons' Grill Room. The guests were welcomed with flutes of vintage 1995 Dom Perignon Champagne, then given a choice of nearly 1,200 cigars. While sipping Champagne, the guests whet their appetites on a raw bar and hors d'oeuvres. At 7, the lights in the Grill Room dimmed, and the guests moved to the Pool Room for dinner, passing by an array of fine humidors, wine and other treats that would soon be up for auction.

Shanken began dinner by asking the audience to rise for a toast to the coalition soldiers fighting in Iraq, then moved on to a Night to Remember tradition, Shanken's auction of mystery wines. The wine's identity would not be revealed until after it was won, and the winner had to open the bottle and share it with his lucky tablemates. The six magnums that were auctioned raised a total of $50,000, and included such treasures as Château Cheval Blanc, a pair of Château Latours, one from 1990 and one from 1982, a Château Margaux and a well-aged Sterling Cabernet Sauvignon. Michael Pitino, son of University of Louisville basketball coach Pitino, won the Sterling, but fell victim to an April Fool's joke by Shanken, who revealed his "Mystery Wine" as a bottle of 2003 Vintage San Pellegrino water. It was quickly replaced with the Sterling.

The first dinner course, lobster tortellini, was paired with a 1999 Meursault-Charmes Louis Jadot Premier Cru, and when the plates were cleared it was time for the first dinner cigar: a Trinidad Mini Belicoso made by Altadis U.S.A. It was a strong, rich smoke from the Dominican Republic, a harbinger of the type of cigars that would be enjoyed this evening.

Several speakers followed Shanken. Greenfield recalled famous cigar quotes, among them one from Joan Collins: "Only fine cigars are worth smoking, and only men who smoke fine cigars are worth kissing." Rick Pitino joked, "I asked my team to intentionally lose, so I could be here this evening."

Throughout dinner, Shanken took to the podium to auction off the 16 lots. They were astounding. They included seven days in plush accommodations on Little Dix Bay in the Caribbean, with first-class airfare and nine boxes of Ashton Virgin Sun Grown cigars, all donated by Robert Levin and Ashton Distributors. Ira Walker won it with a bid of $11,000. A night for up to 70 guests in the Del Frisco's wine cellar in New York City, donated by Coulter went for an $18,000 bid from Santulli. Don and Christina Zacharia of Zachys donated a pair of classic wines, two 9-liter bottles of Bordeaux, a 1995 Château Haut-Brion and a 1996 Margaux. They were won for $14,000 by Limbaugh.

New York physician Jude Barbera displayed a sharp eye for cigars, buying two auction lots. The first was a unique Zino Platinum Crown Series humidor stocked with cigars, donated by Zino Platinum, which he bought for $3,000. He also won the Fuente package, which included many Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars that have never been sold commercially, plus dinner with the Fuente family at New York City's Grand Havana Room. Barbera took that lot with a $12,000 bid. Tim Ozgener of C.A.O. will visit the ultra-exclusive Shadow Creek Golf Course in Las Vegas to participate in a golf tournament. The lot, which was donated by Milken sold for $27,000. Another cigar industry executive, Ashton's Robert Levin, showed his taste for golf by winning the Montecristo Cup Golf Lover's package (donated by Altadis's Jim Colucci) with a $17,000 bid.

Cigarmakers Litto Gomez (left) and Jorge Padrón share a laugh at the cocktail hour.

Theo Folz of Altadis donated a Caribbean cigar and golf vacation at Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, which went for $12,000 to Tony Bergamo. Folz then purchased A Flight to Remember, a lot donated by Santulli of NetJets, which included five hours on a Gulfstream IV. The winning bid was $30,000. Altadis's Janelle Rosenfeld donated a signed and numbered Michel Delacroix serigraph of Montecristo's La Habana image, which was won with a bid of $7,000 by Philadelphia attorney Len Barrack. A posh weekend at the Borgata, a $1 billion Atlantic City resort opening this summer, sold for $5,000.

Edgar M. Cullman of General Cigar dipped into his humidor and donated two boxes of pre-Castro Montecristos, plus three boxes of Partagas 150 Signature Series cigars. They were won by Kliger for $8,000. New York attorney Doug Wood won General's Evening with a Cigar Legend, featuring rare cigars presented by Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, with a bid of $5,000. General's largest lot, which was donated by General, Castello Banfi and Salvatore Ferragamo, raised $16,000 with a bid from Merinoff. The massive lot will take the winner to the Dominican Republic and Italy, and features Macanudo Vintage cigars and Castello Banfi wine, among many other amenities.

The Padrón family donated three of their personal Millennium Humidor chests, each filled with 100 cigars. The lot sold for $15,000 to Riggio.

The second cigar of the evening followed the second course, spring filet of lamb with morel and porcini mushrooms and vegetables. The rich meat was paired with the massive, Joseph Phelps Insignia 1997, an opulent California red wine with a finish that seemed to never end. It was soon joined by an equally rich cigar, a Davidoff Millennium Blend Series Robusto.

Cigars are a bridge, said Rush Limbaugh, a regular attendee at the dinner.

Limbaugh, who took to the stage, expressed his enthusiasm for the dinner, which he regularly attends. "This is one of the most exciting evenings of the year for me," he said. He called cigars "an amazing bridge," which allows him to speak with people he might otherwise had never have met.

Reflecting on freedom and sacrifice, Limbaugh noted the irony of the war in Iraq, how the United States has sent troops to liberate a country whose people seek freedom while citizens of New York City -- once legendary for being able to do anything, anytime, anywhere -- "now have to get an exemption to smoke a cigar. It doesn't make any sense."

No lot at the auction is as enticing as the final lot, Marvin's Mystery Box. The box itself is a specially crafted Elie Bleu made with genuine Cuban cigar bands, conceived by and made exclusively for Shanken. The 300-cigar capacity humidor, however, is only the tip of the iceberg of the lot.

After bidding was quickly driven up to $20,000, Shanken opened the box and pulled out a thick stack of envelopes, each describing a prize contained inside. They included a first-class trip to Cap Jaluca on the island of Anguila, a $5,000 Concord watch, custom-made suits by Zegna and Dunhill, a guaranteed $100 winning ticket for the next Super Bowl, $10,000 in cash, a new Cadillac Escalade SUV, and a 1995 box of Hoyo de Monterrey Double Coronas.

The bidding rose higher and higher until Shanken said he wanted $100,000. "I tell you what I'll do," he said. "The first person to say done, gets it for $100,000." It was sold to Lone Star's Coulter, capping a wonderful auction.

After waiters poured glasses of sublime Dow's Vintage 1977 Port, they passed around the final cigar of the evening, rare Ashton Estate Reserves. Only sold as part of a special humidor, these cigars feature unique wrappers that are grown on the same Dominican farm as Fuente Fuente OpusX wrappers. As the audience puffed on the rich, rare smokes, Rudolph Giuliani -- the last speaker of the evening -- ascended to the podium.

Philip Geier, former chairman of Interpublic (left), and Steve Florio of Condé Nast (right).

The former New York City mayor was hailed by the crowd, which rose from their seats. He spoke of the war in Iraq.

"I remember that it began here, when they attacked us for insane reasons, because we believe in the rights of people, and the rights of women -- and they don't believe in these things. And they hate us," he said. "This was not a fight that we asked for -- it was thrust upon us."

Giuliani's words were sobering and inspiring, especially as he concluded. "The thing that got me through 9/11 was remembering that we live in freedom, and we have much more strength than people who live in oppression."

"I thank you very much for this, I thank you for having this event in New York -- and next year, I hope we don't get raided for smoking cigars."

Photos by Jack Bettridge