A room full of happy cigar smokers isn't easy to find in 1992. Don't tell that to Gay Talese, Gregory Hines, Philippine de Rothschild, Zino Davidoff and Michael Nouri. They puffed away contentedly on everything from Macanudos and Davidoffs to pre-Castro Montecristos, sampled 1975 Mouton-Rothschild and 1977 Fonseca Port, and, well, they lived it up into the wee hours of the morning at CIGAR AFICIONADO's launch party at the St. Regis Hotel on September 9 in New York.
Every one of the 175 smokers in the crowd behaved like he was back in college. Instead of just the four C's--cuisine, coffee, Cognac and cigars--the night celebrated camaraderie and community, a coming together of like-minded, independent individuals who share a common passion for cigars. They came from all over the world: London, Paris, Geneva, Hong Kong, Canada, Mexico and 20 American states. Hines, who won a Tony Award this year for his hit show, Jelly's Last Jam, on Broadway, took a night off for the first time in 156 performances.
The warm, late summer evening began with a Champagne reception at the St. Regis Rooftop. Nearly every cigarmaker outside of Cuba attended. Edgar Cullman Sr. and Edgar Cullman Jr. of Culbro Corporation. Zino Davidoff, the 87-year-old founder of the Swiss retailer. Dick DiMeola of Consolidated Cigar. Carlos Fuente Jr. and Carlos Fuente Sr. of Arturo Fuente. Hendrik Kelner, who actually makes Davidoff cigars today. Manuel Quesada of MATASA and Ernesto Carrillo of La Gloria Cubana. Their cigars found their way into the hands of the happy partygoers.
The room was also filled with other notables from other industries. Advertising executives like Jay Chiat, Sean Fitzpatrick, Dick Costello, Sol Waring, Sam Ratner and Bill McCaffery. Phil Guarascio of General Motors. Gene Pressman of Barneys Department Stores. Restaurateurs Ken Aretsky of The '21' Club, and Adam Tihany of Remi, among others.
Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of CIGAR AFICIONADO led off the evening by welcoming everyone and encouraging new friendships. He said that when he announced his plans for a cigar magazine 12 months ago, his friends responded with the likes of "You are crazy," to "the biggest mistake you'll ever make." But he added, "You know what, we did it." The audience reacted with appreciative applause. With the enthusiasm that swept up everyone in the room, Shanken simply said: "This is one of the greatest nights of my life... . We're all in this together. We're all passionate about something which has brought us together."
The dinner was punctuated with "intermezzos," when fine cigars were passed around, and the guests lit up while people in the audience were invited to the podium to speak briefly about cigars.
Writer Gay Talese took the opportunity to eloquently express a feeling known to all cigar smokers. "There's a sense of kindred spirit. What we have in common, in a time of timidity and conformity, and an almost obsessive concern about being correct...tonight in this room, while not wanting to offend, is that we assert our right to like something. Tonight gives us a forum for the expression of a pleasure in a time when we need to confront the naysayers, the Prohibitionists and the censors, and celebrate our right to be happy."
Michael Nouri, a television and screen actor, described his visit to Cuba a year earlier when he had "exercised my Constitutional right as an American to travel anywhere in the world at my own risk." He said the night triggered vivid memories of his trip, but also that it reminded him of how many people in the room were "smugglers."
But the evening ended on a note of gentility and civility with Philippine de Rothschild, the proprietor of the famed first-growth Bordeaux Château Mouton-Rothschild, who was the guest of honor. Shanken gave her CIGAR AFICIONADO's Man of the Year award. He added that the baroness was a "lover of life, quality and good taste." The charming, elegant baroness admitted that she now had something that she'd never had before--being a man, "at least for tonight." She said she felt "sorry for the people who don't understand" that cigars are one of society's most "civilized pleasures."
In closing, the baroness called upon the musings of Alfred de Musset, a 19th-century French poet. "Every cigar smoker is a friend." Every cigar lover in the room already knew that.