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Tastemakers: Hanna Bistro final cigar dinner

Rick Coates - March 22nd, 2010
Hanna Bistro - Final Cigar Dinner
On Tuesday, March 23, Hanna
Bistro in Traverse City will host its final cigar dinner. In that Hanna is
an extension of what once was Hattie’s of Suttons Bay, home of the first
official cigar dinner in Northern Michigan 23 years ago, it seems only
fitting to pay some sort of tribute, especially considering that these
dinners will no longer be legal in
Michigan after May 1.
I was at that first dinner in 1987; it was made up of a couple dozen
guests, mostly regulars from Nolan’s Tobacconists in
Traverse City. The next year The Rowe Inn hosted a spring and fall cigar
dinner (The Rowe Inn will host their final cigar dinner on April 22) and
these dinners have grown in popularity since, with more than a couple
dozen happening in Northern Michigan annually, often attracting 60 to 80
guests (depending on the space of the restaurant).
The popularity of cigar dinners grew not only in Northern Michigan but
around the country. By 1994, according to Cigar Aficionado (cigar magazine
published by Wine Spectator) there were 1,500 cigar dinners taking place
annually throughout the United States, they even published an 80-page
guide to help cigar dinner organizers. The Cigar Dinner Event Planner
became the bible for many restaurants. In Northern Michigan, such a guide
was not needed, as tobacconist Mike Nolan was the master at planning such
events assisting chefs and restaurant managers in the planning and
promotion. Nolan and a cast of characters from his tobacco shop have
played hosts at many of these dinners, with a few
not-so-politically-correct-jokes, along with commentary of the cigars for
the evening and often the oratory talents of Dennis Taylor were enlisted.
Taylor would read a salacious passage about cigar roller Consuelo from the
Thomas Sanchez best selling novel Mile Zero.
Since that first dinner at Hattie’s I have attended well over 100 cigar
dinners over the past 23 years. The food, drink and the cigars have all
been wonderful but the magic of those dinners was in the camaraderie of
the evening. “I don’t think I will ever be able to duplicate the
camaraderie of the cigar dinner,” said Rob Giffer, proprietor of Hanna,
who along with Jim Milliman put on that first cigar dinner. “It is going
to be a shame to see these dinners go away. I just don’t see any other
dinner concept duplicating the same sort of feel.”
Most dinners started with a social hour where the first cigar was served
and enjoyed with one’s favorite libation and plenty of conversation. It is
important to note that from the very first dinner Mike Nolan was a
proponent of designated drivers, our trips to the Rowe Inn,Hattie’s and to
Hermann’s in Cadillac (their last dinner is April 28) were by shuttle bus.
The meals were always impressive, chefs from each establishment went to
great lengths to make meals cigar friendly, and most dinners were often
three to five courses. Special guests would often attend from
representatives of cigar companies to winemakers and bourbon and whiskey
A particular favorite dinner of mine was when brewmaster Larry Bell
(Bell’s Brewery) came to Hattie’s and paired his microbrews with each
course for the evening. Bell also spoke to the art of pairing a cigar with
a good beer. But it was the after dinner wine tasting that made the
evening memorable and fortunately for all of us our shuttle driver agreed
(of course the big tip we offered helped).
I am going to miss these dinners, I know many people will. Cigar dinners
are disappearing as fast as they came into significance as many states
have put in place smoking bans. I am a social cigar smoker, smoking 5 to 8
a month at best. It is hard to explain to the person who has not been to a
cigar dinner, but there is something magical that takes place when a group
of people (not just men, I have seen plenty of women at cigar dinners)
gather and enjoy cigars together.
One question that has been floating about is whether or not the 15th
Annual Father Fred Cigar Dinner will take place this year. The charity
cigar dinner raises more than $100,000 annually for the
Father Fred Foundation and is slated for May 13. There is speculation that
the dinner will be allowed to happen as scheduled (it takes place outside
under a large tent at the Williamsburg Dinner Theater), Mike Nolan, event
co-chair hopes to make an announcement soon.
If you have ever thought of attending a cigar dinner, your time is running
out. Reservations are filling up quickly for the final dinner at Hanna on
Tuesday, March 23. For details check out or call them to reserve a seat at 231-946-8207. For
a listing of cigar dinners taking place over the next month throughout
Michigan go to or call them at 231-946-2640.
---Rick Coates

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