It is a rite of passage for cigar fans—to stand in line outside the convention center at The Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and wait for one of the biggest cigar celebrations in the world to begin: The Big Smoke Las Vegas. Now in its 21st year, the annual Cigar Aficionado event spans three smoke-filled days, a whirlwind mix of educational cigar and tobacco seminars and boisterous evening gatherings. It started last Friday night when cigar enthusiasts from across the globe trekked across the desert to The Mirage convention center to meet their favorite cigarmakers, indulge in fine food and drink and collect cigars from more than 35 premium cigar brands.
"I missed the first few years [of Big Smoke Las Vegas], but I've been coming every other single year," says Chris Simko, who made the pilgrimage from Bay View, Wisconsin, with his wife, Laura, to smoke cigars in Sin City.
"It's a destination for us," says Laura Simko. "Every Easter we look out for the tickets."
A unique offering this year was a special VIP ticket that allowed patrons access to the convention center an hour earlier than regular ticket attendees. This meant more time for participants to smoke with friends and family and to shake hands and take pictures with cigar icons like Carlos Fuente Jr., Rocky Patel, Litto Gomez, and José "Pepin" Garcia. For regular ticket holders, the event ran from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. A second Big Smoke Evening was held the following night, on Saturday. Over the weekend, nearly 4,000 cigar smokers gathered in Vegas to light up, raise a glass and chase away the evening hours.
"The VIP experience was fantastic," says Pete Murcott, from Santa Barbara, California, who came with Dave Murcott, his brother from Dallas, Texas. "This is our fourth year [at Big Smoke Las Vegas].
"We love it," says Dave Murcott.
For many attendees, Big Smoke evenings represent more than just a cigar party: the events offer cigar fans the chance to reconnect with old pals, greet loved ones and build new friendships. The bonds of cigar smokers are built stronger by sharing a Big Smoke together. David Foster, a 71-year-old Cigar Aficionado charter subscriber from Richmond, Texas, traveled to the Big Smoke with his son Ashley Foster, also from Richmond. Ashley bought his dad Big Smoke tickets as a birthday present.
"It was on his bucket list; got him a present," Ashley Foster says.
Foster and his son roamed the convention floor, hauling in premium cigars from exhibitors and enjoying the jovial atmosphere. Cigar exhibitors this year included A.J. Fernandez, Altadis U.S.A., Alec Bradley, Arturo Fuente, Ashton Distributors, Bombay Tobac, Boutique Blends Cigars, Cornelius & Anthony, Drew Estate, El Artista, El Galan, E.P. Carrillo, Espinosa Premium Cigars, Foundry, General Cigar, J.C. Newman, Joya de Nicaragua, La Flor Dominicana, La Galera, La Palina, My Father Cigars, Nat Sherman, Oliva Cigar Company, Padrón Cigars, Plasencia 1865, Studio Tobac, Quesada, Rocky Patel, Tatuaje, Ventura, Victor Calvo and Zander-Greg.
"You get to try a lot of brands you might not otherwise pick up," says James Duplisea, a local from Las Vegas. "It's great to try new things, find new cigars you like."
Other exhibitors during the evening events included humidor maker Daniel Marshall, the Procigar organization, cigar-smoker advocacy group Cigar Rights of America, air purification company Rabbit Air, humidification device producer Boveda, as well as high-end watchmakers Tutima Glashütte, Corum and Carl F. Bucherer.
When Big Smoke attendees felt thirsty, the call was answered at every corner: drinks were provided by Jack Daniel's, Fonseca, Taylor Fladgate, Guinness, Lagavulin, Ron Diplomatico, Clarendelle Wines, Casa Noble, Ketel One Vodka, Crown Royal, Bushmills, Tincup Whiskey, Johnnie Walker and 1000 Stories Wines.
Seemingly endless food tables stationed throughout the convention center were loaded-up with dinner options and desserts made possible by The Mirage's kitchen and catering services as well as local restaurants such as Delmonico Steakhouse, Texas de Brazil and LAVO. For fans of luxury automobiles, two cars, crouched like steel tigers in the middle of the showroom, included a gleaming Karma Revero (which retails for $130,000) alongside the new Genesis G90.
As the evening events came to a close, many attendees were already making plans for next year's smoke-filled weekend.
"I'm already thinking about next year's event," says Fletcher Wells, from Maryland Heights, Missouri. Wells is a Big Smoke veteran who boasts that he's attended almost every single Big Smoke Las Vegas.
"Every year I look forward to coming." he says.