A long line of eager smokers filled the halls of the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas Friday evening as thousands waited for the signal to start this year's Big Smoke Las Vegas. Some gathered as early as 2 p.m. to ensure quick access to the grand ballroom floor.
Inside, cigar celebrities were putting the finishing touches on their presentations for one of the most well-attended events in the Big Smoke's 17-year history. Tickets were sold out, and those lucky enough to reserve tickets and attend were salivating at what waited for them inside.
At half past six, the first surge of guests raced forward, catching impressive eyefuls of a claret red 2014 Chevy Impala, which will not be available until next spring.
Up front was the Alec Bradley booth, staffed by an energetic Sam Phillips (their vice president of marketing) who wore a camera on his head to document the event. He spent both evenings tossing hats, shirts and cigars into the crowd.
Eric Newman of J.C. Newman, deciding to buck tradition, offered patrons a choice of cigars from three of their major lines. "We've never done that before," said Newman, gesturing to the separated stacks of Maximus, Julius Caeser, and Diamond Crown smokes.
The Zino Platinum mobile lounge held a cozy few guests in the refined luxury of a blinged-out van.
Gary and Oliver Hyams from Gurkha-in their first year at the Big Smoke-were sharing both the Royal Challenge and Ghost lines with patrons, and gave out large posters with some of their most interesting label and box art.
Mike Giannini meanwhile was standing by for photo ops at the steam-punkish Foundry booth. "We just started to ship [Foundry] last week," said Giannini, "so it's the first time consumers get to see them up close."
Ernesto Perez-Carrillo and son Ernie handed out three sizes from their E.P. Carrillo core line, while Bill Paley offered the La Palina Classic Robusto. Representatives from Padilla Cigars handed out fine smoke after fine smoke.
It was quite the occassion for even longtime attendees. Philip Archinal, in an eye-catching red paisley smoking jacket, explained that he'd been to the Big Smoke Las Vegas with friends Mike Avey and Doug Halcomb for ten years now. The trio gathers together for this every year and they refer to it as the men's retreat.
The crowd only got bigger for the Saturday night show, which brought the grand total of Big Smoke Evenings attendees to more than 4,000.
Set up next to the Glenmorangie booth, Larry Sherman stepped cautiously amid a growing pile of shredded-coupon confetti as his team took the numbered slips from patrons and passed out the Nat Sherman Timeless. Sherman took time to cut and light cigars for some of the patrons, and talked about the company's history and their plans for the future.
"I think it's really special about Big Smoke is getting to talk with a group of people so passionate about cigars," said Sherman. "They're so happy to be here-it's like trick-or-treat for them."
On the other side of the room were grand buffet stations with sliders and snacks from some of the best restaurants in Vegas. Tao from the Venetian offered braised shortribs on steamed buns. Lavo from the Palazzo was serving Rosemary Paninos with porchetta and crueolo cheese. Delmonico Steakhouse of the Venetian presented a classic steak tartare with traditional garnishes and rosemary lavash.
Nearby the Padrón and Ashton booths continued to shell out cigar after cigar to patrons who stretched lines around booths, while La Flor Dominicana's Litto Gomez and his son Tony handed out two sizes of Double Ligero.
Then, for the first of several times over the next two nights, the music stopped, the lights went low, and a Cirque de Soliel aerialist performed on ribbons high above the floor for all to see.
Spirits whetted everyone's appetite for cigars with a variety of rums, Scotches, whiskeys, and more. George Dickel poured three whiskeys: Barrell Select, No. 12, and No. 8; Zacapa Rum was pouring both its 23-year old variety as well as its X.O.; Crown Royal poured four varieties of its Canadian whisky. The folks at Zaya rum and Crystal Head vodka kept the drinks flowing, as did Guinness with a large table of their Black Lager and Maestro Dobel tequila.
Both Dewar's and Hudson Whiskey were offering a handful of options for attendees. Dewar's served Dewar's Signature and Aberfeldy 21, while Hudson featured their newest release: Monkey Shoulder. Talisker poured their namesake 10-year, as well as two varieties of Lagavulin and two of Oban. Michter's poured three varieties of organic vodka, a gin, and four of their whiskeys. There were offerings from Abelour, Wagner's Conundrum, and four options from Glenmorangie; Cigar Zin and Luna De Luna rounded out the wine pourings.
In all, the cigars passed out included blends from: Aging Room, Alec Bradley, Arturo Fuente, Ashton, Camacho-Room 101, C.A.O. Concert, Casa Fernandez, Casa Magna, CLE, Cusano, Diamond Crown, Dona Flor, Don Pepin, Dunhill Aged, E.P. Carrillo, Estilo Cubano, Foundry, Gurkha, Hoyo de Monterrey Reposado en Cedros, Joya de Nicaragua, La Aroma de Cuba, La Gloria Cubana Serie R, La Palina, Macanudo Crü Royale, Montecristo Las Vegas, Oliva, Padilla, Padrón, Partagás 1845, Pinolero, Pura Sangre, Rocky Patel, San Lotano, Studio Tobac, Tatuaje, Te-Amo Revolution, VegaFina Fortaleza 2 and Zino Platinum.
Watchmakers Oris, Carl F. Bucherer, Cuervo Y Sobrinos, and the cigar accessories folks from Lotus, and Vertigo all gave the smoke-obsessed guests plenty of bling to marvel at in between puffs.
And one of the most popular booths (with some of the longest lines) was Rocky Patel, where booth owner Patel and former-baseball-great-turned-cigar-partner Gary Sheffield greeted patrons and signed autographs. Sheffield talked proudly of the namesake blend now being sold by Patel, saying that Patel has given him a unique variety of flavors and puts out a very consistent product. "That's what I look for in a cigar."
Tatuaje mastermind Pete Johnson greeted his fans with a gigantic handshake. Johnson says he loves doing these events. "I get to really meet my fans, and get their feedback. It's one reason I went into the business: I love cigar people."
By the end of the night the room had filled with smoke, but if fatigue had affected any of the patrons, they weren't showing it.
Longtime Big Smoke veterans Fletcher Wells and Lenny Abramowitz, usually first in line for seminars and evenings alike, say friendship is what keeps them coming back.
"This is where we see each other," said Wells, who has twice won the cigar rolling contest during the seminars. He and Abramowitz live in different parts of the country, and Big Smoke is where they meet every year to catch up and spend some time enjoying their love of cigars. "It's like a family reunion."