WEST PEORIA — Smoke-filled rooms have become obsolete with the 2008 enactment of the Smoke Free Illinois Act that prohibits smoking in public buildings and vehicles. In acquiescence to state laws, the Peoria-based Gentlemen’s Cigar Society held its 13th annual Cigar Summit in the outdoor beer garden at Jimmy’s Bar in West Peoria on July 28 and 29. 

The Cigar Summit is our biggest event of the year,” said Peorian Mark Little, president of the Gentlemen’s Cigar Society. “We’ve had 500 members and guests show up this weekend, and we’ve had people come from Chicago and St. Louis. We basically just celebrate cigars, and we raise money for Cigar Rights of America, which is an organization in Washington, D.C., that represents cigar consumers and manufacturers.”

Celebrating cigars last week meant smoking them, talking about them with other aficionados, buying premium brands, comparing them, and sampling them with various beverages. Other activities included adult beverage samplings, raffles, contests and cigar-rolling demonstrations.

Representatives from STL Cigars of St. Louis and La Palina Cigars of Washington, D.C., were in attendance.

Jimmy’s offered Cuban sandwiches for the second day of the summit, the only time of the year the bar offers such fare.

“Being in the Society has been a good way to network,” said Peorian Kris Villiger, a Cigar Society member. “I’ve met people from a lot of different backgrounds, and I’ve heard a lot of good stories. I look forward to the Cigar Summit, because that’s the best chance all year for me to network with this great group of people.”

The Gentlemen’s Cigar Society was formed about 15 years ago by a group of Eureka College professors. Since then, the group’s membership has grown to 250 people and the club’s name has become outdated, because women are welcome to join. The membership roll is primarily made up of central Illinois residents.

“The Gentlemen’s Cigar Society could use more representation from Tazewell County, particularly Pekin and East Peoria,” said Peorian Al Probyn, a Society member. “We have members from Morton, but I hope people from Pekin and East Peoria will get on board.”

“This year’s summit was a huge success,” said Little. “Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves, and we packed Jimmy’s for a night and a full day, which means we brought them a lot of business.”

The Gentlemen’s Cigar Society meets for breakfast the first Sunday of each month at 8 a.m. at the Last Chance Bar and Grill in Peoria, and holds a dinner meeting at shifting locations the third Thursday of each month.

“You don’t have to be an experienced cigar smoker to enjoy our Summit,” said Little. “We’ve had people here who are new to cigars but are curious about them. It’s a great opportunity to meet people. A lot of people sitting around the tables hadn’t met each other before coming to the Summit and got acquainted over their cigars. We’ve seen friendships formed in this group that might have never been established if the Society hadn’t brought them together, and we’ve seen business partnerships started. No matter what our backgrounds, religious beliefs, or political differences are, we all have one thing in common.”