Lots of hospitality visionaries have witnessed massive growth and change in Las Vegas over the years, but few have stories to share like Michael Frey. His family arrived before it was Sin City, in 1958.
“I loved growing up here, because my family was connected to a lot of people in the casino business, and as a kid I got to see some of the greatest acts in the history of entertainment,” he says. “My first date ever, I took a girl to see Elvis Presley—young, thin Elvis at the old International, now the Westgate—and we were in the front row, touching the stage. My dad drove us, because I was only 12, and during ‘Love Me Tender,’ Elvis got down on one knee, put his scarf around my date and kissed her. It was the best date ever.”
Despite his early love of Vegas life, Frey went to school at USC and worked in TV and film for almost a decade before returning to the desert. When he did, he quickly found a niche in the booming cigar scene of the mid ’90s and revolutionized the way Vegas smokes. “No one was doing cigars right in the casinos, and if any town was great for cigars, this was it.” His endeavors evolved from a handful of small shops along the Strip to include a booming cigar commerce platform, high-end lounges like the game-changing Casa Fuente at the Forum Shops, and restaurants and bars like T&T at Luxor and Rhumbar at the Mirage.
His latest project is an update of his local Cigarbox shop, a relaxing lounge and bar launched three months ago just off the Strip with an expansive humidor and a primo selection of aged spirits. It’s the perfect retreat for Frey, and he’s already got plenty of regulars. He’s hoping to create more of these experiences, including the possible overseas expansion of the recently opened Montecristo Cigar Bar at Caesars Palace.
“What I always loved about smoking in a social setting like this is how cigars are a great equalizer when it comes to social status,” he says. “If you go to New York, you have lounges and stores on Madison Avenue where you might find a CEO of a Fortune 500 company sitting next to a truck driver on his break. They’re going to have something in common through cigars. They may not talk to each other ever again, but for that hour they’re sitting there, smoking and talking, and it’s a great thing to see. That’s why I love this business so much.”