When Keith Meier, founder of Bethlehem, PA.-based Cigars International, decided to open up
his warehouse last Spring and invite nearly two dozen cigar makers for a big cigar “herf”
for his customers, little did he anticipate the avalanche he’d unleash only a year later.
The day, dubbed a “mega-herf”, was a ton of fun for the 400 cigar lovers who jumped on the
reasonably-priced tickets and came to meet the faces behind some of their favorite smokes,
sample lots of ‘gars, win prizes, and listen to live music.
So, naturally, plans were ramped up for this year’s event – which was hauled over to the
Pennsylvania Expo Center in nearby Allentown rather than the cramped cigar warehouse.
Meier urged all of the “big guns” from each cigar company to personally attend, and invited
nearly a dozen microbreweries and liquor companies to sample and whipping up a traditional pig
roast lunch. When ticket sales surged to 1,500 eager cigar fans after only three weeks, the
event was declared “sold out”, and anticipation for the big day swelled. By the time the doors
of “CigarFest ‘05” opened on the sunny Saturday afternoon of April 9th, two lines of cigar
fanatics stretched clear around the building in opposite directions, the scene looking more
like the opening night of a blockbuster movie or a playoff game than a cigar herf.
“This is pretty wild”, noted one attendee who’d already been tailgating with friends for hours
before queuing up. Despite a fairly challenging breeze, many tried their luck at a “longest cigar ash”
contest held outside the hall. Even though everyone would be taking home dozens of cigar samples from
the event, many brought stogies with them anyway to enjoy while waiting for the doors to open.
Now that’s dedication to a cause.
Cigar herfs are nothing new, of course, but traditionally they have been home-grown affairs, more
along the lines of a “local guys night out” than a full-blown cigar festival. In an age when their
personal freedoms are constantly under attack, any excuse for cigar fans to get together and have
some fun – free from the scowls of a largely disapproving public – is welcome. But there’s something
exciting about strength in numbers. It’s almost startling and a bit cathartic to see well over a
thousand people all lighting up cigars.
While fancy jacket-and-tie evenings may have their place in the comic scheme of things, let’s face it;
it’s a hell of a lot more fun just hanging out and relaxing. Herfs drop all of the stuffy pretenses
and just let cigar fans be themselves.
“This event is the real deal – not some overly glitzy affair with a bunch of comp corporate tickets and
people who couldn’t give a damn about cigars, “says, Meier, a young gun in the world of cigar retailing
whose cigar shop on Main Street in historic downtown Bethlehem is the cornerstone of a highly successful
mail order catalog and Internet trinity. “I happen to love it around here”, he says of the former steel
mill region, “but the cigar nuts making this trip were true enthusiasts.” Meier tracked ticket sales
from all over the country, proving there’s plenty of interest in large-scale herfing.
This year’s CigarFest crowd was so big, in fact, it created some traffic jams inside the Expo Center thanks
in part to the return of Lindsey Vuolo, who was signing photos as well as several added attractions
including “have your picture taken with a famous cigar maker” booths an a bunch of “return your smoked
butt for a new cigar” offers. Meier, who notes that his team continues to learn the ropes of throwing big
parties after two years, promises to fine-tune the long lines next year but in the end few fans seemed to
If smokers were thrilled to see so many cigar makers all gathered in one place, the makers themselves were
equally impressed by the turnout. Certainly the economics were a good deal; a reasonable tickets price
($75) entitled herfers to dozens of cigars, lunch, liquor tastings and entry in numerous raffles
(the proceeds of which went to a local organization that serves mentally handicapped children and adults).
But to travel hundreds, or even thousands of miles, it takes more than just good bargains. Herfs and cigar
events bring something else entirely to the table; access to cigar makers. Unless you’re confident you’ll
rub shoulders with the founders of some of your favorite cigar brands down at the local cigar-friendly
watering hole, cigar events offer a rare opportunity to meet a whole bunch of these guys one-on-one, all
on the same day.
“It’s not easy talking shop with 1,500 enthusiasts” notes Cigars International’s Steve Rowbottom, “but
each and every manufacturer was more than willing to take the time to show their appreciation towards
each attendee.” Cigar luminaries Rocky Patel (Indian Tabac), Nick Perdomo (Perdomo Cigars), Christian
Eiroa (Camacho Cigars), Mike Chiusano (Cusano Cigars) and Philip Wynne (Felipe Gregorio) were among the
many luminaries handing out cigars and chatting with fans.
Those who didn’t get their fill of cigars and schmoozing during the expo could also attend a boisterous
“after-party” at a local cigar friendly pub and really get some words in with the cigar VIP’s.