As I sit back and reflect on my birthday weekend I feel one thing – gratitude. I am eternally grateful to have been blessed enough to make it to see the age of 31. This past weekend I traveled to West Palm Beach, via Greyhound Bus, to attend the Smoke Inn’s massive cigar event “The Great Smoke“, in order to celebrate my 31st birthday.
It was a weekend full of cigars, friends and zero worries for me. When it comes to traveling I like to spend as little money as possible on accommodations and instead spend on the experiences. So I booked an Airbnb room in Palm Beach Gardens, inside someone’s apartment. The host was friendly, as I arrived to get my key and introduce myself. I basically told him; ‘I will hardly be around, you will probably only see me when I come back to sleep and when I leave again.‘ After about 30 minutes of getting acquainted and changing into my leopard print shirt for my birthday weekend I headed over to Smoke Inn West Palm Beach to meet up with the New England Cigar Militia headed by Kevin Parow and “The Commish.”
After about a half hour hanging out with the fellas, Kevin told me that Kevin Shahan from Cigar Prop has a friend that cannot make the event. Kevin called me and explained the situation and I was able to get the ticket to The Red Meat Lovers Club Dinner, as long as I agree to give up the cigars that I received at the event to the guy who bought the ticket. Without a doubt I wholeheartedly agreed and received a message with the ticket to the dinner and also to the brunch on Sunday.
After a few hours, Boston Jimmie finally showed up to the get together at the shop and so did my buddy Frank Cannon. The drinks flowed and the conversation was interesting as always. Since I am shirtless Mike it is only fitting that the New England Cigar Militia give me a shirt for the occasion as well! Along with the shirt I also received a New England Cigar Militia patch as a sign of friendship between “The Commish” and I.
After we hung out for the better part of the afternoon we then headed out to the expo center at the south Florida fairgrounds for the Red Meat Lover’s Club Dinner.
The Red Meat Lovers Club Dinner
The first thing experienced attendees told me – don’t fill up on appetizers! I immediately followed their advice and only had one grass fed beef slider and some chili topped with bacon. The appetizers were phenomenal to say the least. The dinner was held on an outside portion of the expo center, the table was very long and perfectly set to seat the large number of attendees. Bottles of red wine were spread out along the table to share while having dinner. The weather was a bit windy and chilly and it even rained tad, but despite those challenges the dinner went off without a hitch!
There were a couple of food lines and although long, it really did not take much time to get our food. We were served very large Tomahawk steaks that were perfectly cooked and sliced. They tasted just as delicious as they looked. We could eat as much as we wanted. I only had 2 plates of meat along with potatoes and bacon that were on every table. The horseradish sauce that was put on the meat was absolutely phenomenal! I am not much of a fan of spicy food or condiments but I have to say, the sauce was just enough that I could bare it and it added lots of flavor to the food.
As we ate I talked and introduced more people to Stogie Press, discussing our love for cigars and other topics that came up! After dinner I made my rounds and spoke with other attendees at the dinner. There were a couple of highlights for me:
- The first was standing there and talking with Pete Johnson from Tatjuaje Cigars for over an hour with The New England Cigar Militia
- The second was meeting Rudy Giuliani the former mayor of New York City.
Without getting overly political, some love Rudy and some don’t. Regardless of where you stand politically you have to admit that when the former mayor of New York City grabs your phone and personally signs you up for his podcast you don’t tell him no! After all he was the man that started to take down the mob during his time as a prosecutor. Regardless of how you feel about him, he is a part of history so it was nice to be able to meet him and get a picture.
Rocky Patel Party
After dinner we headed over to Smoke Inn – Boynton Beach for the Rocky Patel pre-party and mingled among the other attendees, while the DJ made sure the party went well into the night. While at the party I was fortunate enough to run into Luigi and his team from CigarMedics and was surprised when Luigi handed me a Humidimeter device and told me how much he enjoyed reading my articles. I was very humbled in that moment to see the reach that I have and to feel the love and support of an awesome company!
As the night went on I mingled some more and had a few drinks and ended the night early, somewhere around 1 AM. I had to go back to my room and get some rest as the next day was my birthday and it would be a big day!
’31’ Started Fun
Saturday morning sunrise came quickly and I got up early to get ready to head over to the South Florida Fairgrounds Expo Center for The Great Smoke! Before the event I met up with a few members of the Cigar Cartel also known as ‘C2’. Michael Self, Shaggy and Jay Finch are all good brothers of the leaf who I’ve interacted with many times, so it was nice to tailgate before the event started. We eventually got word that we could go and get our bags and lanyards to get in, so I went and checked in, got my stuff, and spent the rest of the time by the entrance just waiting to enter the event. I did not have a VIP badge so we were able to go in around 1 PM. Prior to entry I smoked a few Jas Sum Kral (JSK) cigars and had the pleasure of hanging out with Jolene and Neil Methvyn. Jolene is half of ‘The Smoking Chicks‘, which you will learn more about next month! At 1 PM we were able to go into the expo center and ‘The Great Smoke 2020‘ officially started!
Once inside, I immediately went to whiskey row and took a shot of Irish whiskey to start off my 31st birthday. I walked around a little to get a feel of the layout and headed right over to the food station and ate an amazing pulled pork sandwich and baked beans. After lunch, I went back to whiskey row and took 2 shots of Flor De Cana’ Rum and went to walk around some more. I even ran into Pedro from Drew Estate. It is always a pleasure seeing him, he gave me more energy and excitement after those few shots!
I made a stop to see Kevin and Jessica from Cigar Prop. I had to give Kevin the cigars from the dinner to send to his friend, I also bought an “I’d Tap That” T-shirt because he was so gracious to have me on his Monday night show recently and he hooked me up with a dinner ticket the might before. I also visited the ‘Cigar Pxrn‘ booth and bought a shirt from them as well. I know you might find it ironic that I go by ‘Shirtless Mike‘ but I really do wear shirts!
After a little while I jumped in line to collect my cigars, and I was surprised at how many people wished me a happy birthday or saw me and said hello. I do not consider myself a celebrity but it was very evident that I am becoming known in the cigar world which is a very good feeling! As I walked the room collecting my cigars I ran into Patrick Vivalvo from La Palina Cigars and he handed me a shirt and hat along with my cigar. I also ran into Matt Booth along the way and was given a very cool Room 101 T-shirt and even got a picture with Boofy. As I continued on my collection spree I ran into countless cigar representatives and brand owners along the way, all of which I consider very good friends by now. It was nice to see everyone all in one place. After I collected my cigars I then headed over to Cigars for Warriors and donated a few cigars to them and also a little cash to help with shipping cigars to troops overseas. They deserve it!
I continued the day walking around and mingling with people and just having a great time. Later on, towards the end of the event, Boston Jimmie gave me an Altidas, 20-count sampler box with some of my favorite cigars in them. He also gave me an Aging Room cutter that is gold and very very durable. He said it was from him and his wife Dianne to wish me a happy birthday and to thank me for my work on Stogie Press. There are no words to describe how he shows appreciation, so I thanked him, and here is another public thank you brother!
As the event came close to an end, the raffles began and there were amazing prize packages won but some lucky attendees. All in all, The Great Smoke keeps getting better every year!
After the main event, Boston Jimmie and I headed over to Smoke Inn-West Palm and had an amazing time at the Southern Draw Cigars after party! I opted not to go to the Spearmint Rhino because I have spent a lot of time in strip clubs over the years and that’s just not my scene anymore, not to mention, Robert Holt is a very good friend of Stogie Press so I wanted to go to his event and relax from a long day. The lounge has the fights on that night, so between the party and the fights it was standing room only. I had a spot in the corner with The New England Cigar Militia and also was hanging out with Dustin Proudhomme from Espinosa Cigars and Drita Hyde from Elegant Plume. Throughout the night I drank quite a few Jack & Cokes and even someone bought me a shot of Gentleman’s Jack. The entire after party was a major success complete with a birthday shout out by the DJ. After being tipsy and very tired from the day I ended up leaving after midnight. I went back to my room and got some rest. My birthday was a success!
No Sunday is ever better without attending a brunch. So, I ended a fun weekend with great friends at Smoke Inn-Boynton Beach. I arrived before noon and got my brunch bracelet and sat down outside in the beautiful 70 degree weather and lit up a Henry Clay Warhawk waiting for The Commish to arrive. Once they pulled up, we moved to a bigger table and hung out until it was time to go inside. There were three lines, one for breakfast and two for lunch. The breakfast side was longer so I opted to start with lunch and I ate some cube steak and dressing. The other lunch line had mashed potatoes and gravy and some other lunch items. Once I was finished with lunch I stood in line for breakfast. There you could have an omelet made fresh with anything you want and could also get chicken and waffles, sausage and bacon and coffee. The bartenders made their rounds serving bottomless mimosas and bloody Mary’s and believe me they were very delicious!
What capped the afternoon was getting to have a 2-hour long conversation with Steve Saka! Steve is a true cigar nerd and isn’t concerned with being some celebrity in the cigar world, which is very rare to find. Steve is just an average guy who just happens to be one of the greatest cigar blenders of his time. He spoke about his time at Drew Estate, industry politics, and what it’s like to visit Nicaragua, explaining why it isn’t smart to drive as a gringo down there. Overall, Steve Saka’s visit was a welcomed treat and I was able to smoke a Sobremessa Brulee’ with the man himself. Not many people get that much of an opportunity to hang out with a person like Steve, a man who is passionate about his craft and has built his company from the ground up and made such an impact on the cigar industry as a whole. After Steve got up I continued hanging out with the guys from The New England Cigar Militia and finished off the afternoon on a relaxed note.
After the event Kevin Parow graciously took me to the Greyhound station and the weekend came to a close. Once I got to the station I talked with a guy who saw me finishing my cigar and noted he liked cigars too. Like a good BOTL, I graciously gave him a cigar to smoke and waited for the bus to take us home!
I want to extend a thanks to Abe Dababeneh and his incredible crew from Smoke Inn for throwing such a massive event weekend. I also want to thank the New England Cigar Militia for their company all weekend and to every one who wished me a happy birthday or handed me a cigar or bought me a drink. I really felt the love all weekend! This is 31 and so far it is fun!