A Night To Remember

A high-energy evening for charity.
| By David Savona | From Kevin Costner, July/August 2008

They got the band back together.

The Blues Brothers—Dan Aykroyd, aka Elwood J. Blues, and Jim Belushi, aka Zee Blues—took over the Night to Remember dinner, with a five-song performance of driving blues that sent feet across the room tapping and brought smiles to the faces of the gathered crowd. Wearing their trademark black suits, black hats, thin black ties and dark sunglasses, the Blues Brothers entered the Pool Room of the Four Seasons restaurant in style, dancing to the rhythmic walk of a blues bass beat and Aykroyd's wailing mouth harp.

The Blues Brothers brought a new passion to A Night to Remember, the annual charity dinner hosted by Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Cigar Aficionado magazine. The April 16 event raised more than $1 million for the Prostate Cancer Foundation, and brought the world one step closer to curing this killer of men.

"You know why we're here," said Shanken, standing at the podium in the richly decorated Pool Room. "We're a dying breed, here to celebrate the joys of cigars."

The room, one of the most beautiful in New York City, was decorated with four cherry blossom trees in springtime bloom, one at each corner of the marble pool. Inside were some of the movers and shakers of the world: Michael Milken, founder and chairman of the Prostate Cancer Foundation; former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and his wife, Judith; Jeff Greenfield of CBS; sports commentator and former NBA star John Salley; David Pecker, chairman and chief executive officer of American Media Inc.; Jamie B. Coulter, the former chairman of Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon; Ed Rabin, former president of Hyatt Hotels Corp.; Richard Santulli, chairman of NetJets; Chuck Wagner, owner and winemaker of Caymus Winery; Richard P. Torykian Sr., director of Lazard Freres & Co.; Lee Einsidler, CEO of Sidney Frank Importing Co.; Frederic DeNarp, president and CEO of Cartier North America; John Esposito, president and CEO of Bacardi U.S.A.; Jack Kliger, president and CEO of Hachette Filipacchi Media U.S.; Jim Taylor, general manager of Cadillac for General Motors; Philip Geier Jr., chairman emeritus of Interpublic Group of Cos.; Gerry Ruvo, president and CEO of Skyy Spirits LLC; Larry Schwartz, president of U.S. spirits and national accounts for Diageo North America; Richard Cohen, president and CEO of Robert Talbott Inc.; Royce Pulliam, president and CEO of Global Fitness Holdings; restaurateurs Drew Nieporent of Nobu and Ken Aretsky of Patroon; and celebrity chef Michael Lomonaco.

"[The Blues Brothers' performance] breathed a lot of new life into the evening," said Michael Goldstein, owner of Park Avenue Liquors, who has attended every one of the Night to Remember dinners. He was joined by his sons Eric and Jonathan. "I look at it almost as a club with friends you meet once a year."

Some of the world's greatest cigarmakers and executives from around the cigar industry were also in attendance: Carlos Fuente Jr. and Wayne Suarez of Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia.; Jorge and José Orlando Padrón of Padrón Cigars Inc.; Robert and Sathya Levin of Ashton Distributors; Dan Carr, Cooper Gardiner, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, Benjamin Menendez, Sherwin Seltzer, Bill Chilian, Keith Sparacio, Rich Chandler and Michael Giannini of General Cigar Co.; Litto Gomez and Ines Lorenzo-Gomez, the husband-and-wife team behind La Flor Dominicana; Rocky Patel of Rocky Patel Premium Cigars; Peter Banninger of Davidoff; Bobby Newman of J.C. Newman; Alejandro Turrent of Te-Amo cigars; Alan Rubin of Alec Bradley Cigars; Cano Ozgener, Gary Hyams, Frank de Kok, Micky Pegg, Mike Conder, Aylin Ozgener Franke and Jon Huber of C.A.O. International Inc.; Jose Oliva of Oliva Cigar Co.; Charlie Toraño of Toraño Cigars; Ruben Ysidron of Savinelli; Les Mann of Colibri; Frank and Matt Arcella of the Davidoff shops in Las Vegas; Vince Nastri, owner of Barclay-Rex in New York; Billy Fakih of the Cigar Inn; and Ron Melendi of De La Concha.

Dinner began with trays of warm hors d'oeuvres, including fried oysters with hollandaise and caviar and tuna burgers, and the first of the evening's dinner wines, a 2004 Philippe Colin Chevalier-Montrachet. A salad of mâche with soft boiled eggs and crisp shallots soon followed, then a sublime risotto with spring peas.

After the Blues Brothers had rocked the house, Shanken began a Night to Remember tradition—the auction of mystery wines. True to the feeling of camaraderie throughout the night, the winner of a mystery wine does not take the bottle home, but shares it with the table. The wines are always special, but this year they were off the charts— a 1945 Château Latour and a 1945 Gruaud-Larose in magnum; a 1928 Haut Brion and a 1928 d'Yquem; and a 2000 Mouton-Rothschild, in magnum. Each raised between $20,000 and $31,000.

Shanken kept his busy gavel swinging as he began the auction proper with a golf vacation at The Breakers in Palm Beach, donated by David Burke of The Breakers. The trip was won with a $9,000 bid by Lee Einsidler. "That's a steal," said Shanken, who, along with his wife, Hazel, donated the airfare portion. The second lot, a collection of three humidors and the first samples of the new Artesanos de Miami cigar, donated by General Cigar Co. and Ernesto Perez-Carrillo, sold for $12,000 to Jamie Coulter. A collection of 2005 Bordeaux donated by Christina and Don Zacharia of Zachy's went for $16,000 to Philip Geier. A gorgeous men's Cartier tank watch in 18-karat white gold, donated by Frederic DeNarp, went for $17,000 to Dawn Fitzpatrick.

Aykroyd stepped to the podium with a broad grin. "Marvin, you are not a holder of the TCAC," he said solemnly. Shanken smiled and replied, "What's the TCAC?"

"The Texas Cattle Auctioneer Certificate," said Aykroyd, in the staccato voice made famous on "Saturday Night Live" and in myriad films. The actor took over the auctioneer's duties and quickly picked up the pace of the bids, rattling off numbers in impressive form for a 105th Anniversary Harley-Davidson motorcycle in copper and black donated by Tom Celani of Motor City Harley-Davidson. A bid of $20,000 by Pier Luigi Tolaini won the bike, but there was minor controversy—Carlos Fuente Jr. raised his hand late, hoping to bid $25,000. Shanken announced that Celani generously agreed to donate a second bike, making the lot worth $45,000.

Aykroyd talked up the sixth lot, a collection of nearly 600 Ashton and San Cristobal cigars, plus an Ashton humidor, which sold for $17,000 to Jacques Moore. The entire trove was donated by Ashton brand owner Robert Levin. A vacation to the One & Only Palmilla, donated by Edward T. Steiner of One & Only Resorts, with airfare provided by Levin, sold for $26,000 to Coulter. Coulter also bought the eighth lot, an offering for lovers of strong cigars—a collection of every Fuente Fuente OpusX (including the rare "A"), limited-edition tins and dinner for 10 at the Grand Havana Room in New York City with Fuente Jr., donated by the Fuentes. It sold for $25,000.

Lot 9, which allowed the winner to be one of the first to own the new 2009 Cadillac CTS-V, went for $76,000 to C.A.O. patriarch Cano Ozgener. The car was donated by Jim Taylor of General Motors and Cadillac. Lot 10, a vacation at the Four Seasons Punta Mita, went for $15,000 to Litto Gomez. The trip was donated by the Four Seasons Punta Mita, with airfare compliments of Hazel and Marvin Shanken. Lot 11, a collection of Partagas cigars, including the long sold-out Partagas 150, went for $7,000 to Richard Berkowitz. It was donated by General Cigar. A party for up to 60 guests in a Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, donated by Del Frisco's, went for $22,000 to Michael Goldstein.

Ira Walker splurged on Lot 13, up to five hours on a NetJets Gulfstream 450, donated by Richard Santulli of NetJets. It went for $60,000. The Padrón family donated an extraordinary lot of cigars, including Padrón Serie 1926 80 Years, Padrón Millenniums and the commercially unavailable Reserva de la Familia. It went for $33,000 to attorney Doug Wood. The final lot, a vacation on Coulter's luxurious yacht Relentless, went for $85,000 to Brett Seltzer. Milken, in a special bid, pledged $200,000 for the Blues Brothers to play a concert.

The entrée of rare steak in black truffle sauce was paired with a gorgeous 2001 Caymus Special Selection, which the diners sampled as the speeches began. John Salley joked about being chased in his youth in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn—given his size, it's hard to imagine he was chased for long. Jeff Greenfield made the importance of the night crystal clear. "There is a presidential debate on tonight, the Yankees are playing the Red Sox, but Rudy Giuliani and I are here, which shows you we have a decent set of priorities," he said.

"I look forward to this every year," said Giuliani, speaking to Shanken. "I will come here and help you with this, no matter what."

Milken took to the podium to speak of the enormous impact of the dinner. "For every dollar raised at this dinner [over the years], we've been able to leverage that 30-fold," he said. "We have raised effectively $400 million." The room broke into hearty applause.

As Milken concluded, the waitstaff appeared with glasses of 1977 Taylor-Fladgate vintage Port. They would soon return with Humidipak bags filled with fine, premium cigars, including Padrón Serie 1926 No. 9s and Fuente Fuente OpusX No. 2s, Cigar Aficionado's No. 1 and No. 2 Cigars of the Year, respectively. Shanken returned to the podium. "It's time to relax and light up," he said, putting fire to a large cigar. The Night to Remember had only begun.