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A Night to Remember

By David Savona | From Tom Berenger, July/Aug 2007
A Night to Remember

Springtime in New York City, and the Grill Room of the Four Seasons Restaurant was shoulder-to-shoulder with men in tuxedos smoking cigars. They had gathered together in an effort to bring an end to prostate cancer at Cigar Aficionado's 15th annual Night to Remember dinner, which has raised more than $15 million over the years for the Prostate Cancer Foundation. This year's auction raised $1.2 million, including $600,000 in matching funds from Michael Milken, the charity's founder and chairman.

Marvin R. Shanken, the editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado magazine and the creator of the event, walked through the room greeting the guests, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican presidential hopeful and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, radio personality Rush Limbaugh and Milken, the evening's co-host.

Frank Arcella, Lee Einsidler, William Terlato and Tom Steffanci.

The room was filled with captains of industry and celebrities: Gen. Tommy Franks, a former Cigar Aficionado cover subject; Joel Surnow, creator of the hit TV show "24"; Richard Torykian Sr., director of Lazard Freres & Co.; Leonard Riggio, chairman of Barnes & Noble; Jaime Coulter, former CEO of Lonestar Steakhouse & Saloon Inc.; Chuck Wagner, owner and winemaker of Caymus Vineyards; Jeff Greenfield, formerly of CNN and now with CBS; Ed Rabin, former president of Hyatt Hotels Corp.; restaurateur Drew Nieporent; Larry Schwartz, president of U.S. spirits, for Diageo; Martin Sosnoff, chairman of the board of Atalanta Sosnoff Capital Corp.; Ken Aretsky, proprietor of Patroon restaurant; Joe Gannascoli, who played the late Vito Spatafore on "The Sopranos"; and Michael Goldstein, owner of Park Avenue Liquors.

Hazel Shanken, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Milken in the Four Seasons Pool Room.

"Cigars and tobacco are under constant assault," Limbaugh would say later during dinner. "I love cigars, and I thank the producers for helping me enjoy them." Limbaugh, who started smoking cigars in the 1990s, said his enjoyment of cigars has brought him close to people he would otherwise never meet.

The elite of the cigar industry were in attendance, including Cooper Gardiner, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, Sherwin Seltzer, Mike Giannini, Bill Chilian, Victoria McKee, Jermaine Gurvin and Keith Sparacio of General Cigar Co.; Carlos Fuente Jr. and Wayne Suarez of Tabacalera A. Fuente; José Orlando and Jorge Padrón, makers of Padrón cigars; Robert Levin, owner of the Ashton brand, who was there with his wife, Suzanne, and son Sathya; Litto Gomez, maker of La Flor Dominicana;

Litto Gomez, José Orlando Padrón, Sathya Levin and Jorge Padrón at the cocktail hour.

Tim Ozgener, Gary Hyams and Frank de Kok of C.A.O. Cigars and ST Cigar Group; Eric and Bobby Newman of J.C. Newman Cigar Co.; Christian Eiroa and Sal Fontana of Camacho; Rocky Patel, owner of Rocky Patel Premium Cigars; Carlos Diez of Puros Indios and Cuba Aliados Cigars; Peter Banninger, president of Davidoff of Geneva (CT) Inc.; Jose Oliva of Oliva Cigar Co.; Mike Chiusano of Cusano Cigars; Ernesto Padilla of Padilla Cigars; Ruben Ysidron of Savinelli Cigars; Les Mann of luxury cigar accessory company S.T. Dupont; Stan Shuster, the owner of the Grand Havana Room; and Frank and Matt Arcella, owners of five cigar stores in Las Vegas.

General Cigar executives, from left to right: Sherwin Seltzer, Jermaine Gurvin, Bill Chilian, Victoria McKee and Keith Sparacio.

After an hour of smoking cigars and sipping Dom Pérignon 1999, the guests moved into the restaurant's glorious pool room moving past tables displaying the items that would be auctioned during dinner.

Shanken took to the dais and welcomed the sold-out crowd of some 230 guests, many of whom had attended the dinner for more than 10 years. "The first thing we do," said Shanken with a smile, "is we auction off some modest bottles of wine." His joke became clear as he lifted a massive bottle of wine, cloaked in a brown paper bag. It was the first mystery wine, and by Night to Remember tradition, the bottle's contents would remain anonymous until bidding had ceased, and the winner would share it immediately with his lucky tablemates. Bottle No. 1 went for $18,000, won by Limbaugh, who typically buys the first bottle. It was revealed as a 2000 Mouton-Rothschild -- and it had been donated by Limbaugh.

Sal Fontana, Carlos Fuente Jr. and Christian Eiroa share a smoke before dinner.

The other mystery wines were equally impressive, including 1949 Château Talbot, 1961 Château Latour, 1970 Mouton and 2000 Harlan Estates. Each went for $14,000 to $20,000.

The tables were set with towers of hors d'oeuvres, and the waiters soon filled glasses with M. Chapoutier Hermitage White Chante-Alouette 2003 to pair with the appetizer course of stone crab claws with mandarin yuzu, followed by a pasta course of gnocchi with chanterelles, morels and tiny spring peas. That was followed by sirloin steak in a black truffle sauce, paired with zucchini blossoms stuffed with bleu cheese, which went with the red wine of the evening, Caymus Special Selection 2004. Dessert was paired with a 37-year-old Vintage Port, Taylor Fladgate 1970.

Suzanne and Robert Levin from Ashton enjoy Dom Pérignon with José Orlando Padrón.

Shanken raised his gavel to begin the auction proper, which consisted of 16 lots, including selections of fine wines, remarkable cigars, vacations to some of the world's most beautiful places and tastes of luxury of all types. A selection of 2003 Bordeaux, donated by Don and Christina Zacharia of Zachys, went for $12,000 to John Levy. Shanken's wife, Hazel, won a made-to-measure Ermenegildo Zegna wardrobe. A selection of 240 Partagas cigars, including the rare Partagas 160 and still rarer Partagas 150, sold for $11,000 to Coulter. Coulter also donated a lot, a five-day cruise on his 141-foot luxury yacht. It went for $85,000 to Laurence Paul.

Drew Nieporent, Wayne Suarez, Rush Limbaugh, Joel Surnow and Stan Shuster.

A vacation in paradise, first-class travel to the Four Seasons Punta Mita, donated by the resort and by Hazel and Marvin R. Shanken, went for $18,000 to Milken. A collection of 434 Fuente Fuente OpusX cigars (a box of each size, plus a second box of the 2005 Cigar of the Year Double Corona), paired with a limited-edition set of cigar accessories by S.T. Dupont, sold for $26,000 to Matt Arcella. They had been donated by Fuente and S.T. Dupont. His-and-her Cartier watches donated by Frederic DeNarp, president and CEO of Cartier North America, sold for $32,000 to Lee Einsidler of Sidney Frank Imports. A credit of $25,000 for use at a Sotheby's wine auction, donated by Bill Ruprecht, president and CEO of Sotheby's, went for $20,000 to Sergio Zyman, chairman and founder of Zyman Group.

Brothers Bobby (left) and Eric Newman pose with Rocky Patel.

The show "24" is a favorite of many, including Limbaugh, and creator Surnow donated a gift basket brimming with all types of mementos from the series, many that can't be bought in the United States. He sweetened the pot with a walk-on role. "If you think that's not a big deal," said Surnow, "that's what Kiefer Sutherland said seven years ago." The lot was won with a $35,000 bid by Milken.

Riggio took two of the night's cigar lots, claiming an assortment of La Gloria Cubana cigars, which were enclosed in several rare humidors, for $22,000. The lot was donated by General Cigar. Riggio also won the final lot of the evening, a collection of 340 Padrón cigars, including a sold-out Padrón Millennium humidor plus 240 customized Padrón 80th Anniversary cigars, which are not yet on the market. The lot, donated by the Padrón family, sold for $24,000.

William Terlato of Terlato Wines International (left) with Barnes & Noble chairman Leonard Riggio.

A dinner for 60 at any Del Frisco's restaurant, courtesy of Del Frisco's, sold for $30,000 to Steve Eiseman, a NetJets vice president. Five hours on a NetJets Gulfstream 450, donated by NetJets chairman Richard Santulli, went for $55,000 to Chris Preziosi. Tom Shannon III of T-Bird Restaurant Group Inc. won a 2007 Cadillac XLR donated by Gary Cowger, group vice president of General Motors Corp., with a bid of $75,000.

C.A.O. International Inc. donated a lot featuring a signed copy of the pilot episode script of the HBO hit "The Sopranos," plus a signed C.A.O. Tony Soprano humidor, 348 cigars and a trip to Central America to blend a cigar.

Cigar Aficionado's Gordon Mott (far right) with restaurateur Drew Nieporent (far left) and cigarmaker Tim Ozgener.

The lot raised $18,000 with a bid from Cosmo DeNicola of AmTech Software. Ashton's Robert Levin and Andres Araya of Las Ventanas donated an amazing selection of 992 Ashton cigars -- including the ESG and VSG -- and a four-night trip to Las Ventanas. The cigars and the trip went for $30,000 with a bid from Levin himself.

After the auction, several men spoke to the crowd, including Schwarzenegger, one of only two living persons to appear twice on the cover of Cigar Aficionado. He received a standing ovation. "It's a great pleasure to be here today, and to be with all of you," he said. "Democrats, Republicans, we all like to smoke stogies, and we like to contribute."

Ernesto Padilla, owner of Padilla Cigars (left) and General Cigar's Cooper Gardiner.

Milken, who was given 12 months to live 14 years ago, spoke about how we are winning the fight against cancer. "For the second consecutive year, they announced that the number of people who died of cancer has gone down in the United States," he said to applause. "I think the testimony of how far we've come is that you can run for president of the United States and [having cancer] is not an issue. It's a symbol of how far we've come."

Greenfield spoke excitedly about the notion of having a cigar smoker in the White House again. "We may have, someday, a person in the Oval Office who, when he talks of a thousand points of light, he means the light at the end of a cigar."


The head table. Standing, from left to right: Leonard Riggio, Jeff Greenfield, Marvin R. Shanken, Rudy Giuliani, Rush Limbaugh, Joel Surnow and Chuck Wagner. Seated, from left to right: Cathy and Gen. Tommy Franks, Hazel Shanken, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Milken.


Gen. Tommy Franks stands at the podium at the Four Seasons.

With that in mind, Shanken took to the podium to announce Rudolph Giuliani as a speaker. "I've been saying this for five or six years when I introduce him. People applaud, but they take me lightly," said Shanken. "Don't take me lightly anymore: ladies and gentlemen, the next president of the United States, Rudy Giuliani."


Giuliani spoke poignantly about the importance of the evening. "My dad did die of prostate cancer, and the first year I came here was the year before I had it," he said. He went to Milken for information, a man he had prosecuted in his former role as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. "Michael and I had a complicated past. It's remarkable what he's done for prostate cancer, and it's remarkable what Marvin has done."

"When I was a kid, when I found out my father had cancer, it was a death sentence," said Giuliani, who has lived with his cancer for six years. "Now, some of these cancers have 75 percent survivor rates. That's the only political pitch I'll make -- for optimism."

Rush Limbaugh, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rudy Giuliani enjoy the Night to Remember.


As the plates were cleared and Port glasses filled, Shanken took to the podium again, this time with a large cigar in his mouth. The waiters brought out Humidipak bags filled with cigars. He lit, and he puffed. "Gentlemen, start your engines," he said. "This is a cigar dinner."