Las Vegas Stogie Sommelier Mike Kristl Chats About Cigars And Celebs

If you ever wondered why you have two hands, Mike Kristl has the answer.

“One hand for a drink and one hand for a cigar,” he explains matter-of-factly.

As the retail director for Montecristo Cigar Lounge at Caesars Palace, Kristl oversees one of the largest humidors in Las Vegas. He’s the cigar sommelier, curating and maintaining the lounge’s extensive cigar collection, while also helping guests, ranging from mid-west moms to NBA players, pick the perfect stogie to enjoy inside the 4,000-square-foot cigar bar.

“I’m dealing both with people who never smoked in their life to people who are the biggest smokers in the world,” says Kristl, who moved here from Kansas City, Missouri to work for Las Vegas cigar king Michael Frye, a partner at Montecristo Cigar Lounge. “You’re always going to get the nuts and the inexperienced. That’s Las Vegas. That’s what I love about it.”

Kristl shared some stogie stories with Haute Living inside the new semi-private Clubhouse at Montecristo by Old Homestead, the only place on the Las Vegas Strip where aficionados can enjoy cigars, high-end spirits and fine dining all in one.

Mike Kristl
Mike Kristl

Photo Credit: Courtesy Photo

What are the least and most expensive cigars in the Montecristo Cigar Lounge humidor?

Vegas is a tough market for tobacco. I’ve got to carry a big variety; the medium of the road tobacco all the way to the highest end. The tobacco we have in our humidor starts at the very lowest end at $8 a cigar all the way up to $400 for our Daniel Marshall Golden Torpedo, which is a cigar that’s wrapped in 24 Karat Gold, and you actually smoke the gold. This was created by master cigar box maker Daniel Marshall to be an experience. That’s why he brought that cigar into us to sell it here. It fits very well with our program.

Do a lot of people buy the pricier cigars?

Cigar people have money. This isn’t a hobby that you can just jump into and be okay smoking lower-end cigars because there’s really not a lot of low-brand tobacco. The good stuff in life is expensive. Especially if you want to indulge yourself.

cigar bar retailPhoto Credit: Caesars Entertainment

Do you get many celebrities?

My clientele ranges from [record producer] Suge Knight to Michael Grover, Paula Deen’s husband; two guys who might not talk to each other much, but if you gave them a cigar, I betcha five bucks they would sit down and smoke it together.

I get a lot of NBA players. Michael Jordon; Everyone knows him to have five or six cigars a day. He has money, he smokes good tobacco, he’s enjoying life. I’ve given him a Montecristo Number II White Label Cuban in the high-limit pit, but he smokes everything from Dominican to Cuban. He’s a cigar enthusiast. Dennis Rodman was just here Saturday.

Jim Belushi is a huge smoker and great guy. He loves tobacco, doesn’t care what it is as long as it’s a medium to full-body tobacco and it has good flavor.

Here’s a funny story. Clyde Drexler, he comes in and he buys a small Panatela cigar … and cuts it in half. The reason he cuts it in half is that he has a half hour before the next person makes him uncomfortable or upset at the bar. Celebrities get messed with in Vegas, especially by people who have never seen one before … or are star struck … if he needs to put it out and go to another bar, he’ll do that.

If you see Rob Lowe, tell him he owes Mike a cigar. He’s a nice guy. We had a full, packed house. He walked in and a couple guys turned around and noticed him right off the get-go and they go “Rob!” He thought it was the coolest thing in the world. He went and sat down right in the middle of their table and had a cigar, had a bottle of Pellegrino and mingled, just like anybody else.

cigar bar cigarsPhoto Credit: Aleza Freeman

What about female clientele?

When I first got into the business, cigars for women were not around. Maybe 1 percent were smoking. Now it’s 5 to 8 percent, maybe even 10 percent. Especially here [in Las Vegas]. When they go home, they may not ever have another cigar until they come back to Vegas. You never know.

Why are cigars so popular in Las Vegas?

Vegas is here for us to be grownups to gamble and have fun … to bring the money you want to waste. You can go pooling, you can go clubbing, you can go cigar-ing, you can go gambling … you can go hiking.

Would it be strange to take a cigar on a hike?

No, in fact, I have a cigar lighter that works up to 9,000 feet in elevation for that reason. This is where I got married [showing a photo on his phone], Mount Charleston at Cathedral Rock. I smoked a cigar the whole way up.

So, you can hike and smoke. Now at the Clubhouse, you can eat and smoke?

To have that experience, to smoke and eat, you’re never going to see it again unless you’re in Vegas … unless it’s a private lounge.

cigar bar clubhousePhoto Credit: Photo Credit: Pat Gray / Kabik Photo Group

What kind of lighter are you using now?

This is a Dupont, [clicking noise]; that noise when you open it up, people know that noise. Feel that [handing it over]. It’s a piece of jewelry. That’s platinum on Chinese lacquer … a $1,500 lighter.

How important is it to invest in a good lighter?

I call it the accessory. You can accessorize everything.

The lighter business is actually as much money as the cigar business. There are all different types of lighters. You want one for your back door, you want one for your golf bag, you want one for your boat. You want a water-resistant lighter; an elevation lighter …

Humidors are the same way. People spend $300-$400 on an average box of cigars and they put it in a $200 humidor, and they wonder why their cigars aren’t staying. You’ve gotta get the better seal, you’ve gotta get the better wood.

Would you say cigars are more hobby, less addiction?

Yes. In the cigar world … most people want an experience. They’re not just nicotine driven. They want to go out, they want to enjoy dinner, they want to get their favorite drink, they want to smoke their favorite cigar. That’s their zen.

Cigars are all natural. There are no chemicals in cigars like cigarettes. You do not inhale. If you don’t want to smoke it, you can chew on it.  I have one gentleman who comes in and chews on a cigar for one hour then flips it over and chews on it for another hour, and throws it away. He gets two hours out of a $60 cigar and he never even lights it.

You are the owner of that cigar. Enjoy it and relax for 45 minutes to an hour. That’s what I think everyone needs, every day.