Edward Wong puffed a fat cigar in a smoky lounge with a half-dozen friends Friday afternoon and philosophized about life.
“This is what cigars are all about, right?” he said, surveying his friends. “Socializing, trying out new flavors, meeting new people.”
A market researcher by day, Wong left his family in Cincinnati and drove five hours with a group of friends to attend Burns Tobacconist’s 2013 Chattanooga Tweetup and Cigar Festival this weekend.
“I’m here with my extended family, my cigar family,” he said.
“Aw, what a nice thought,” a buddy responded.
“Although you know you always hate family,” Wong shot back.
The circle roared with laughter and insults flew back and forth like a ball in a heated tennis match.
About 450 cigar smokers are flocking to the annual cigar festival from all over the United States, paying either an early bird price of $75 or a last-minute $100 for a three-day pass. The cigar lovers will hang out at both of Burns Tobacconist’s two Chattanooga locations, drinking, smoking and generally enjoying life. The group went on a two-hour riverboat cruise Friday night and will share meals, conversation and cigars throughout the weekend.
Wong bought his ticket the minute purchasing opened. Now the event is nearly sold out, said Matthew Allen, a manager at Burns Tobacconist.
“We wanted to mix social media with what cigars do, which is bring people together,” he said. “It’s a big gathering of like-minded individuals. We have a good time. We know how to throw down.”
The Tweetup is Burns Tobacconist’s biggest event of the year and has more than tripled in size since the first year in 2011.
“If you had told me three years ago that we’d have this many people here, I’d have said you were crazy,” Allen said. “But we’ve worked really hard to be one of the best cigar retail shops in the country, and hard work pays off.”
The festival features 55 cigar manufacturers, Allen said. Paul Copeland, general manager of Franklin Cigar in Franklin, Tenn., brought one of his employees and a VIP customer to the festival.
“The buzz about this thing is unbelievable,” he said. “We hear about this place all the time. And the opportunity to see all these cigar reps while they’re here under one roof is priceless.”
He added that while there are many cigar-oriented meetups, the Chattanooga Tweetup is unique because it relies on social media and draws a wide crowd. Last year, the festival had participants from 48 states, excluding Alaska and Delaware. Allen drove in just for Friday.
“We filled the cooler up, hit the road, got here and started smoking and drinking at 10 a.m.,” he said. “And we plan on going a full 12 hours. Every guy’s dream is to walk into a room and be surrounded by cigars, play pool and have a full bar.”
<em>Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at sbradbury
@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6525.</em>