Lots Goin’ On At Smoke Inn’s Last Luau
On a sunkissed, South Florida Saturday morning, “Honest Abe” Dabaneh, Smoke Inn Cigars Proprietor, and Ferio Tego’s Michael Herklots kicked off Smoke Inn’s annual The Great Smoke 2022: Last Luau. Saturday’s main event was but one of many unique special hootenannies that kicked off two days before and culminated with a final “hangover” breakfast on Sunday. The annual cigar event itself has been rockin for over 15 years, but this year’s format is yet a another first after going almost 100% virtual – another first – in 2021 due to Covid concerns. For the first time, this format explored the best of both worlds, in-person and virtual. And why not? Dababneh recognizes he enjoys a global clientele so choosing to offer his customers in-person and virtual options is not only a good thing, it’s also a sound business strategy.
This year, the in-person crowd certainly dwarfed the virtual folks, offering yet another sign that we’re collectively getting back to “normal.” Sadly, we were unable to cover the show in person so we joined approximately 250 virtual cigar lovers on Smoke Inn’s Youtube channel for the live stream. Smoke Inn also offered the live stream on their Facebook page, but for some reason the tech giant pulled the plug on the feed early in the show leaving us Youtubers as the only virtual attendees. While the hosts declared this year’s show more of a cigar event than 2021’s production, it seem to play out as more of a dreamy cigar trade show with all the fixins.
The event and show all took place at a cavernous, local event center that was carved up by an outer ring of trade show-like vendor booths rich in food, booze and lots of cigars. Moving inward were specialty booths for coffee, official TGS swag, a plinko game – even a place to get a trim and a shave. All this encircled the large VIP area with tables butting up against the main stage decked out in South Pacific palm trees, totems and twin volcano’s that would actually “erupt.”
Non-VIP attendees gathered outside while VIPs were allowed in one hour early. But once the doors opened, the whole place came alive with sound, color…and smoke. The pictures on this page are glorified screen shots from the live feed, so a combination of poor lighting at times combined with some jittery camera action made for some less than stellar images that certainly didn’t do justice to the colorful fun going on at ground level.
Social media darling and cigar distributor, Kim “Shmokini” Keeney reprised her role as one of a pair of roaming reporters along side Paul, her affable, fedora-adorned partner in crime who together wandered the event center in search of truth and fun…and some occasional hijinkery. The duo canvassed event goers, cigar makers and sponsors and highlighted some fun things to do at various booths including playing games, for what else, cigars!
Like every year, Abe enlisted the help of some of the most prominent cigar makers in the land to not only help sponsor the event with one-off event exclusives, but also have some fun on stage. Michael and Abe invited preeminent purveyors Steve Saka, Aanorsa V.P., Terrence Reilly, and Erik Espinosa on stage for some lively interviews, but a surprise visit from Carlito Fuente, Jr and another opportunity to walk away with a special Opus X cigar, certainly got everyone’s attention. I personally think the highlight was Michael’s sit down with Erik Espinsosa and TV Chef and Food Network’s host of “Diners, Drive-ins & Dives”, Guy Fieri. Fieri and Espinosa collaborated on what turned out to be a two-year project that would culminate in Fieri’s first branded cigar, aptly named Knuckle Sandwich. On a side note, I also thought it was interesting that as part of a story he was recounting, Fieri revealed that he doesn’t use a cutter to cut his cigars, instead choosing to use his chompers to skillfully trim his cigar’s cap.
I thought the Saka shtick was good as you can be guaranteed anything and everything can happen when Saka’s on the mic. The preeminent blender and former Drew Estate exec introduced a last-minute event cigar called Chochada, a common Sanish word with varying regional meanings, but when used as Nicaraguan slang can mean ‘unimportant” or ‘trivial.’ The event exclusive 5-pack of the coronas came about in a rather unusual manner. One day, Saka was doing some inspections at the Joya de Nicaragua factory, where his cigars are made, when he came across roughly 4,000 cigars pigeonholed in an aging room. He couldn’t recall what they were called, why he had them made nor what the blend was. Nor did anyone else at the factory The only hints he had was a tag with a note in Spanish, but it was discovered that he had requested a special corona back in 2017 and, well, forgot about them. So, some lucky TGS2022 attendees (including yours truly) are now the proud owners of a unique Saka creation with almost 5 years of age and a funny name that Saka humorously defines as “…that thing over there whose proper name cannot be remembered.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Great Smoke event without some live entertainment (other than unintentional hot mic jibber, eclectic guests and patrons, etc.). Last year’s musical acts were great (including Abe’s daughter, Petra), but the only comic relief came when the comedians they booked left the stage. Although the heckling going on was pretty damn funny. This year, I was kind of hoping for a Don Ho impersonator to saunter out playfully strumming a ukulele while crooning “Tiny Bubbles” or maybe a surfer guitarist channeling Dick Dale for a “Miserlou” thrash. No. But Abe and company did stick with the popular Luau theme by featuring a Hawaiian music and dance troupe aptly called the Aloha Islanders Dancers who hula’d and shimmied to a number of really cool sets of traditional Island music while showing off some crazy hip moves. Even some brave audience members got to get jiggy with the coconut bra-clad dancers a time or two.
When the leis weren’t flying, all attendees, virtual and in-person, were entered into hourly raffles held at the top of every hour during the event. Some great prizes could be had including some top shelf swag and cigars.
Of course, during the entire event, one of the great perks of having a TGS2022 ticket meant having access to a special TGS store where participants could not only pick up ultra-limited event exclusives from the likes of DTT, ADV, Espinosa and Aganorsa but also get those cigars they always wanted for 25% off. I took full advantage by grabbing a box of Sin Compromiso No. 2s. Some box deals also came with additional swag or special cigars packs.
Overall, I thought the event had everything you could possibly ask for…and then there was even more. My virtual pals and I enjoyed it in a very different way, and with a lot of you know…envy. Yeah, not a big fan of watching other people have fun, but hey, I was attending in an official capacity, right? My virtual pals seemed to make the best of it and no one was complaining. But still, would have been nice to cruise “Whiskey Row”, maybe try some spicy chocolate and wash it down with some Rom 101 Gin or chase Kim Keeney around until I got some selfies, pick up some unique treasures, or just stock up on enough cigars to justify adding another Newair. This team went all out, again, and I can’t imagine how much fun was had at the live events before and after. A 4-day party with a cigar theme. I’m in. Oh, and whether in a media capacity or not – we’ll be there next year. Mardi Gras, anyone? – In Fumo Pax!