It was "guys' night out" last Friday night on the Newport bayfront. The 20th annual Men's Smoker and Lobster Clambake took over the lawn at the Balboa Bay Club. There were 120 men ranging in age from recently graduated to recently retired, who donned their khaki or white slacks and blue blazers adorned with the perfect summer-silk pocket square.
They came together for what can only be described as a latter-day fraternity dinner complete with an over-the-top selection of the world's premium cigars.
The dudes arrived at dusk, enjoying cocktails by the water's edge. A martini bar featuring Purity Vodka flowed as waiters offered crab cakes, beef Wellington and bacon-wrapped scallops. For those preferring champagne, a Louis Roederer Brut Premier was being poured into tall champagne flutes served on silver trays as organizers put the finishing touches on an evening that had a serious social purpose.
For the past two decades, the smoker has raised funds supporting the Balboa Bay Club's 1221 Club Scholarship Fund, which provides grants to deserving graduating seniors from the Newport-Mesa Unified School District heading for college. The 2014 smoker raised upward of $45,000 from auction proceeds. The price of admission was $275 for members of the Balboa Bay Club and $300 for guests. To date, the annual event has raised nearly half a million dollars for the scholarships, making the party a significant contributor to the educational goals of local youth.
The VIP crowd of businessmen, politicians and local celebrities was led by the Balboa Bay Club's chairman of the board of governors, John Wortmann, who was joined by comedic auctioneer Peter Buffa, former mayor of Costa Mesa and present-day investment banker. The team of Wortmann and Buffa is an annual highlight of the evening, with Wortmann playing straight man to Buffa's political jabs and commentary.
The chatter raises big bucks for scholarships as the men bid on such travel items as hotel stays at various Fairmonts from Hawaii to Vancouver to San Francisco and beyond. Additional generous hotel donors included Hotel Irvine, Montage Laguna Beach, Surf & Sand Resort, Westgate Hotel, Meritage Resort and Spa, Arizona Biltmore, Monterey Plaza Hotel, Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel and the St. Regis, to name only a few. Also going to the highest bidder were dining excursions at the Back Bay Bistro, Sardine Factory, Red O, the Oak Grill, Capital Grille and Piero's Las Vegas.
As the sun set, the Balboa Bay Club dining staff, under the direction of Executive Chef Vincent Lesage, began formal bayside service, beginning with a seafood trio featuring lump crab, poached shrimp and smoked salmon all served with Louie dressing, deviled egg and caviar. The appetizer course was paired with Trinitas Sauvignon Blanc. Enjoying table conversation were special guests Ron Gold, Hunter Peterson, Gary Sherwin, Steve Rosansky, Karl Kruger, Tony Wilson, John Newton and international jeweler Mardo Ayvazyan. Tim Busch, chairman of Pacific Hospitality Group, joined Steve Arnold, Kory Kramer, Father Robert Spitzer and Sam El-Rabaa, general manager of the Balboa Bay Resort, enjoying the dinner, which included a serving of New England clam chowder prior to the presentation of the entrée featuring a pan-seared filet and baked lobster tail accompanied by sautéed asparagus and a potato and mushroom gratin.
Generously participating in the evening's cause were Gregson Hall, Don Wise, Fletcher Jones car dealer to the stars Kirk Dawson, Noel Hamilton and Malcolm Smith, general manager of the Balboa Bay Club. Also front and center were Costa Mesa Ford dealer Bob Robins with sons Jim and Dave Robins, industrialist Tykye Camaras with son Dean Camaras, real estate executive Brad Hinman, restaurateur Peter Sabatino, Don Bartolo Sr. and Don Bartolo Jr., Art Rivera, Mark Doyle, and the Edward Welbourn family including Bob Welbourn, Robert Welbourn and John Welbourn.
The smoker at the Bay Club was initiated by the retired hotelier Henry Schielein, who joined his former protege Dieter Hissin, bringing to the Orange Coast a tradition previously only celebrated in the mahogany-paneled board rooms of East Coast men's clubs.
Schielein's concept was to provide gentlemen with an evening of fraternal camaraderie paired with the finest food, libations and cigars available. To give it a modern spin and to reduce any criticism that the hedonistic evening was a nod to times past and forgotten, the aspect of a charitable connection gave the party much-needed weight. Even in these anti-smoking times, the event continues to draw a crowd and raises important dollars for a worthwhile cause. The BBC Gentlemen's Smoker remains one of the last grand old-fashioned traditions celebrating the summer season on the Newport Bay.
THE CROWD runs Fridays. B.W. Cook is editor of the Bay Window, the official publication of the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach.