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The Crowd: Gentlemen’s Smoker still raises scholarship funds

The Crowd: Gentlemen’s Smoker still raises scholarship funds
Gregson Hall, John Wortmann, Leticia Rice, Jerry Johnson, Henry Schielein and Luke Sikora attend the annual Gentlemen's Smoker at the Balboa Bay Club. The event raises money for college scholarships. (Courtesy of the Balboa Bay Club)

It began some two decades ago with hotelier Henry Schielein, former president of the Balboa Bay Club, who brought to Southern California the Old World tradition of the “gentlemen’s black tie smoker” from his prior post at the legendary Ritz Carlton Hotel, Boston. Schielein adjusted and modernized the concept of a men’s only night out, which simply boils down to bragging about their accomplishments, talking sports and enjoying amazing food and libations.

And let’s not forget the cigars. In a modern world such a concept seems like an anachronism.

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But guess what? The Gentlemen’s Smoker was a smash from the first outing and has remained so each summer on the lawn of the Balboa Bay Club and Resort facing the Newport Bay’s main channel.

Gone are the tuxedos and the stiffly starched collars, replaced by nautical blue blazers and khaki slacks often worn with the unofficial Newport Beach uniform: the Tommy Bahama island-themed shirt.

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There are a number of factors that make this once-a-year event unique. First, it’s all for an exceptionally important community cause. Each year, funds raised from donations, auction sales and ticket revenue are earmarked in full to support the Balboa Bay Club’s annual 1221 Student Scholarship Awards Program, which in 16 years has raised in excess of $1.7 million and has sent hundreds of Newport-Mesa students off to college with a leg up.

Second, the setting is spectacular. Round tables covered in crisp, white summer linens festooned with florals, candles and an army of coordinated wine and champagne glassware at each place setting bids welcome to the some 100 gentlemen guests joining together at 6 on a summer night fronting the Pacific.

Third, the food, which this year once again was supervised by Balboa Bay Resort Executive Chef Rachel Haggstrom, featured an over-the-top multi-course dinner created around a superb cut of filet and fresh lobster. Without question, libations flowed. Charles Krug was the wine sponsor this season, joining liquor sponsors Patron and Grey Goose.

And, finally, the cigar reigned king of the night. The selection rivaled the best offered by any tobacco purveyor in the country.

The major undertaking was produced by Balboa Bay Resort General Manager Sam El-Rabaa, working in conjunction with Balboa Bay Club General Manager Leticia Rice and event coordinators Aaron Trent and Melanie Hertrick. Chairman of the Balboa Bay Club Board of Governors John Wortmann returned as master of ceremonies and was joined by former Costa Mesa mayor, businessman and comic wit Peter Buffa. The duo encouraged the crowd to bid generously on an array of amazing travel, dining, wine and lifestyle items, including a trip to Las Vegas on a private jet. At the end of the evening $36,000 had been raised.

Gentlemen in the crowd included members of BBC and BBR ownership team: Dick Pickup, Todd Pickup, Kevin Martin and Joe Moody. VIP guests included Tim Smith, Bill Blaine, Tyke Camaras, Peter Bretchger, Brett Leffel, Don Wise, Mark Doyle, Tom Delape, Gregson Hall, Bran Hinman, Kirk Dawson and Rand Sperry.

B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.

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