Thousands of cigar lovers descended upon The Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas last weekend. Some were Sin City locals, others traveled from as far away as Australia, Hungary and China, but no matter where they came from, all who attended Cigar Aficionado’s Big Smoke weekend were united by a single, common bond: the love and appreciation for handmade cigars.
For the past 23 years, The Big Smoke Las Vegas has been this magazine’s premiere cigar-smoking event. A crowd of nearly 4,000 attended the evening parties last Friday and Saturday night to meet and collect cigars from some of the top cigarmakers in the world, including Rocky Patel, Jorge Padrón, Litto Gomez, Carlito Fuente and A.J. Fernandez.
“Of course you get to load up your humidor, and that’s great,” said Thomas Hally, who has attended three years in a row. “But it’s talking to the cigarmakers—whether it’s Litto Gomez, Carlito [Fuente] or Pete Johnson—that gives you a perspective you can’t get anywhere else.”
Hally, who works for a technology company in Charlotte, North Carolina, was especially happy to see former Cuban cigarmaker Hamlet Parades at the Rocky Patel booth this year. “I loved his cigar since the first time I tried it. It’s been great seeing him come to this side of the industry.”
When the VIP hour began at 5:30 p.m., the crowd outside The Mirage convention center was already glowing with anticipation. As guests entered the event space, they were given a Cigar Aficionado tote bag and the freedom to visit with any of the cigarmakers they desired. This year’s cigar exhibitors included Aganorsa Leaf/Casa Fernandez, Aging Room, Alec Bradley, Arturo Fuente, Balmoral Añejo XO, Bellas Artes by A. J. Fernandez, Casa Turrent, Cohiba, Diamond Crown, E.P. Carrillo, El Artista, H. Upmann, Hamlet Paredes, Herrera Esteli, Illusione, Joya de Nicaragua, La Aroma de Cuba, La Aurora, La Flor Dominicana, La Palina, Macanudo, Mbombay/Gaaja, Micallef, Montecristo, My Father Cigars, Nub, Oliva, Oscar Valladares, Padrón, Plasencia, Rocky Patel, Romeo y Julieta, Tatuaje, Ventura and Zander Greg/Nat Cicco.
There was an abundant selection of spirits, wine, beer and cocktails to choose from. The excellent lineup of drinks vendors this year consisted of Bacardi, Calumet Bourbon/BirdDog Whiskey, Cardinal Mendoza/Glengoyne, Chartreuse, Cooper & Thief, D’USSE, Dewar’s, Guinness, Hennessy, Indianos Tequila, Jack Daniel’s, Ron Zacapa, Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey/Tincup Mountain Whiskey, Westland American Single Malt Whiskey and Whistle Pig Rye Whiskey, as well as San Benedetto water.
While the guests visited and collected cigars from their favorite brands, they also perused the many lifestyle exhibitors on hand, including Boveda humidification devices, Casa de Campo Resort & Villas, Dominican Republic Tourism and Rabbit Air air purification. Karma Automotive had one of its stunning autos right on the show floor, and Cigar Rights of America was there to help spread the word about the overbearing government regulation of handmade cigars.
Attendees were invited to pair their cigars with a buffet of hardy food, including special offerings from Delmonico's steakhouse, Texas de Brazil and Dolce Vita.
“The atmosphere is fantastic,” said Richard Boatwright, who traveled from Houston, Texas, with his friend Kim Watson for their first Big Smoke. “Vegas is the perfect town for an event like this.”
Boatwright and Watson were among the many first-time attendees at the Big Smoke this year—and they were already thinking about coming back in 2019. For many of the guests who come to the Big Smoke, the event has a way of turning into a tradition. Such is true for friends James Duplisea, David Villalobos and Eric Trammel, who were celebrating their fifth consecutive year at the Big Smoke Las Vegas weekend.
“It’s a great opportunity to chat with people from all over the world,” said Duplisea, a Las Vegas local. “And every single person here loves cigars.”
“This is the highlight of our year,” said Villalobos, Duplisea’s fellow Sin City local. “Something we always look forward to.”
Over the years, they have learned to utilize the popular divide-and-conquer technique, where the three will split up their ticket booklets and break to gather cigars as quickly as possible. After they collected their favorites from brands like Arturo Fuente, Alec Bradley and Padrón, they relaxed and enjoyed their cigars while visiting spirits vendors.
“Not only do you collect your old favorites,” added Duplisea. “It’s an opportunity to try cigars you wouldn’t normally buy and discover new favorites, too.”
The Big Smoke isn’t just a meet-up destination for friends, but family, too. After Steven Turley attended last year with his son Chris, they decided to come back again, this time with Steven’s son Bryce. The father and his sons live at opposite ends of the country. Steven lives in Columbus, Ohio, while Chris comes from California and Bryce is in Florida. But it was here, at the Big Smoke Las Vegas, where they planned their reunion. “It’s been great,” said Chris. “This is a hell of a community. We’ve met some really nice people.”
“I’m already hoping to convince them to come to Florida,” said Bryce with a laugh. He was referring to the next Big Smoke on the calendar, Big Smoke Florida, which will take place in Hollywood, Florida, on March 23, 2019.
The cigar-smoking festivities continued into the night. Piles of cigars gathered atop the banquet hall tables, where friends and family sat around to inspect their new smokes, thinking about which selection to light up next. There were a lot of smiles, a lot of laughs and a lot of warm handshakes. It was a testament to the uniting power of handmade cigars and an assurance that the bonds formed at an event such as this will continue into the future.
At the end of the evening, as the guests headed out into the electric Las Vegas night, they weren’t just leaving with a selection of new cigars, but also new friends, a feeling of camaraderie and a strengthening of existing bonds, all facilitated by the common love of handmade cigars.
Save The Date
- The Big Smoke Returns to Las Vegas November 15-17, 2019
- Don't Miss The Big Smoke Florida, March 23, 2019 in Hollywood, Florida (Buy Tickets Now)