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Part One: Big Smoking Las Vegas

Nov 7, 2006 | By Michael Moretti
Part One: Big Smoking Las Vegas

Walking through the Venetian Hotel to Cigar Aficionado's Big Smoke Las Vegas gives a visitor an inkling of what's in store for the weekend. The sweet smell of cigar smoke wafts from the hand of many passersby, beautiful women smile at every turn and cheering erupts from the row of craps tables as you stroll through the casino. Upon reaching the escalator leading to the ballroom floor where the festivities await, the scent of cigars becomes stronger and the anticipation more pronounced. Coming over the crest, you hear the chatter of attendees waiting with tickets in hand and already smoking what they brought from home. Inside the cavernous ballroom, scantily clad woman hurry to booths, waiters arrange the banquet tables and the music starts to pulse from behind the screen where the shadow dancers take the stage.

At 6:30 p.m. the doors swing open to the sounds of the cheering crowd, which floods in for three hours of indulgence in the finer things in life. Eager veterans and wide-eyed newcomers sling empty Cigar Aficionado tote bags over their shoulders to be stuffed full of smokes from some of the industry's premier purveyors of cigars.

Eager attendees show their evening session passes before heading inside.
This past weekend, in its 11th year in Las Vegas, Cigar Aficionado welcomed more than 6,000 lovers of the leaf to Sin City for three days of cigar revelry. From military personnel to businessmen to bikers to guys dressed in cow and pirate costumes and smoking jackets, people from all ages and walks of life stood shoulder to shoulder.

"Some people talk about the Big Smoke and some people go," said Markus from San Diego, California, who has come with his wife for the past 10 years. This year he also brought his mom, dad, sister and a few friends.

"It gets better and better every year," said Misty and Sylvia, longtime friends and neighbors from Los Angeles, who flew in together for the event as they have for the past four years.

Sinclair, Kim, Aaron and Debbie from Seattle Washington, stood at a table with beer and cigars as if they were old friends. "We actually met on the line to get in last year," said Aaron, "and we called each other before this year's event and met up."

Emina Rexhepi, Stephanie Rolewiez, Terri Tracey have a girl's night out with cigars.
Bill and Jordan, locals from Las Vegas, were attending their first Big Smoke, but their wives, Cherie and Ladonna, were veterans returning for their third year. "This is fantastic," said Bill. "It's a great variety of things and the upmarket side is excellent. The wives got the tickets, so we said to ourselves, let's go."

Quinn from Montana, Doug and Mark from New York and Steve from Florida are old friends who came to the Big Smoke to reunite. Weighing the combination of cigars, booze and bonding, they said quite simply, "We like the girls."

Midway through the night, tote bags brimmed with handmade cigars from around the world, many of them handed out by the owners of the companies who make the cigars. The lineup consisted of Adan y Eva, Arturo Fuente, Ashton, A. Turrent, Aurora 1495, Black Pearl, Bolivar, Camacho, C.A.O., Carlos Toraño, Cuba Aliados, Cuesta-Rey, Cusano, DaVinci, Don Tomas, El Rico Habano, Emilio Reyes Collection, Felipe Power, Flavours by C.A.O., Gran Habano, Helix, H. Upmann Vintage, Kahlua, La Aroma de Cuba, La Flor Dominicana, La Gloria Cubana, Oliva Serie G, Padilla, Padrón, Puros Indios, Quintero, Rocky Patel Premium, Romeo y Julieta Real, Sosa and Zino Platinum.

Big Smokers fill the room and head to cigarmakers' booths to collect the evening's smokes.
The elite of the cigar industry were there, including Carlos Fuente Sr. and Jr., Jorge Padrón, Ernesto Perez-Carrillo of La Gloria Cubana, Sherwin Seltzer of General Cigar Co., Jim Colucci and Janelle Rosenfeld of Altadis U.S.A. Inc., C.A.O.'s Tim and Aylin Ozgener, Litto Gomez of La Flor Dominicana, Robert and Sathya Levin of Ashton, Carlos and Charlie Toraño, Alberto and Alejandro Turrent, Jose Blanco of La Aurora, Henke Kelner of Davidoff, Philip Wynne of Felipe Gregorio, Rocky Patel, Jose Oliva, Ernesto Padilla, Mike Chiusano of Cusano Cigars, Pete Johnson of Tatuaje, Alan Rubin of Alec Bradley cigars and Doug Wood of Black Pearl cigars.

To cleanse the palate in between puffs, copious amounts of libations were poured. Cigars were paired with an array of high-end spirits on or off the rocks, from single-malt Scotches such as Laphroaig, The Glenrothes and Talisker; blended Scotches from Johnnie Walker, including the rare Blue Label; whiskeys such as Tullamore Dew, Bushmills, Yamazaki, Jack Daniel's, Bulleit Bourbon and Woodford Reserve Bourbon; Chopin, Level and Absolut Ruby Red vodkas; Plymouth gin, 10 Cane Rum, Hennessy Cognac, fine wines from Monrosso, Terrazas, Esperto and Casa Lapostolle and frosty brews courtesy of Budweiser Select and Pilsner Urquell.

Craig and Lori Jones take five to enjoy a smoke together.
Gearheads parked themselves around a fleet of glittering new automobiles -- decked out with plush leather and state-of-the-art sound and video systems -- and imagined themselves at the wheel. Those with visions of the ultimate in tailgating or bouncing and bucking off-road were treated to SUVs from Hummer, Lincoln and Range Rover. Others fantasized about speeding down the highway in luxury with Aston Martin, Corvette, Cadillac, Dodge, Infiniti, Jaguar, Porsche and Saturn.

To keep the mood of Sin City in the spotlight, dancers gyrated center stage silhouetted in soft glowing hues behind transparent screens. The DJ kept them moving with booming beats and polled the seated crowd out front as to which body had the best moves. Visitors to the C.A.O. booth had their photos taken with the beautiful Flavourettes. General Cigar gave guests a keepsake by photographing them in their very own Punch ad. Those who needed to work on their golf game strolled to the golf station where a pro gave pointers on better chips, drives and putts.

Adam Treiger, Milena Treiger, Mitch Gilberman couple spirts and cigars in the late hours of the event.
What would the good life be without fashion accessories, travel and adventure? Tommy Bahama modeled the finest in island-inspired apparel; Colibri, Daniel Marshall and Diamond Crown displayed the latest gadgetry in lighters and humidors; Mikimoto displayed the beauty of elegant jewelry; and Carl F. Bucherer and Stratosphere laid out the finest craftsmanship in timepieces.

There would be no empty stomachs in the room with fine fare from Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, Aureole, Charlie Palmer Steak, Commander's Palace, Delmonico Steakhouse, Piero Selvaggio's Valentino Las Vegas and Tao.

At 9:30 on Friday and Saturday evening, the lights began to fade to the chagrin of the crowd, but guests puffed merrily on their way out the door to the cigar-friendly Vegas Strip. Most would no doubt continue into the night. The Big Smoke was just beginning as well, with much more to come.

Photos by Camilla Sjodin