At long last, it was time for the Epic East Coast Adventure. It all started back when rwgill and ted_badger announced their engagement. There was no way I was going to miss the wedding, and given that I was going to be on the east coast already, why not visit my friends out there! Oh, and hey, since the Great American Beer Festival was the weekend before, why not go there too! Because if something's worth doing, it's worth overdoing.
Took the light rail (YAAAAAAAY) to the airport at some ungodly early hour. Flight from SEA to DEN was nice and calm. I wanted some free time in Denver before the festival started at 5:30pm, so I took the earlier flight which got me in around 11:40am. Of course, since the Denver airport is so gorram far outside the city, it takes forever to actually get downtown. An did I mention the sprawl that is just *endemic*? Ugh. Passed a "mall", which was more of an industrial park for retail: you couldn't walk from the football stadium-sized JCPenny's to the even larger sporting goods store, no, you had to drive or (probably) take a shuttle. Yikes.
Took the bus to Denver's light rail, figuring it would be a nice way to see some more of the city, and, hey, I'm a huge public transit geek, so taking it was a destination in and of itself. Sadly, it was clearly a much older design. The main cabin of their system is hugely off the ground, and the wheelchair ramps are these huge concrete structures that lead to a door just behind the driver, so the operator can manually let down the ramp to let people on (!). I've taken accessibility for granted, I suppose, and such things are useful even to those of us currently-abled, especially when wheeling around a huge suitcase, and this seemed almost like a retrofit to the system.
The upside to this (as we'll see again, repeatedly, later in the trip) was that I have a new appreciation for Seattle's rail system, not only how good it is, but where it fits in the spectrum between light and heavy rail (did I mention I'm a huge geek?).
Anyway, I got to my hotel (the Crowne Plaza) and checked in. Veged out for a bit, changed, and headed out to explore the city. Downtown Denver was nicer than I imagined; *lots* of surprisingly great architecture, both old and new. The convention center has a sculpture
of a *huge blue blue bear that's peeking in the window*. How awesome is that? But despite that, it still had a slightly oppressive feel that I could neither explain nor get past. I'll touch on this in future posts as well.
Took a long walk around, through the Theater and LoDo districts, stopped at a local place for a quick meatball sub, and wandered over to the 16th Street pedestrian mall. Now, this was actually a good idea: take a street in the middle of downtown, prohibit cars, run free shuttles with 2 minute headways along it, and turn the rest of the road into essentially a linear (if concrete) park. There were two big problems with execution, though. One, all of the fixtures were severely dated, and two, it had turned into tourist trap central. Wacky T-shirts and *INCREDIBLY* tacky western wear galore. Not much else. Well, there were two Corner Bakery Cafe locations along it, which was nice (yes, it's a chain, but they have a special place in my heart after their good pastries and truly excellent coffee saved my mornings at LISA in Dallas, TX). These locations' coffee didn't live up to my memories, but it was still pretty good, and what I was after at that point.
Because I was not feeling well at all, having gotten essentially zero sleep the night before. Now, when I passed the Convention Center around 2, there were already people lining up for the opening of GABF which wasn't for hours yet. And this kinda worried me, because I was NOT in the mood for standing in line. And my stomach was not doing well, even after the coffee. *sigh* So, as it was approaching 5, I walked back down to the Convention Center to see what the current
There was a monster of a line. Just massive. Seriously, 4 people wide, two blocks down and two blocks back. At this point, I decided that I didn't really need to be at the festival for every possible moment, and took the light rail down to 10th & Osage to have an early dinner at the Buckhorn Exchange, which was recommended to me by several friends who were longtime residents. They specialize in exotic meats, and a high-protein dinner was just what I wanted.
This turned out to be the best decision I made all day. Not only was I able to score a table without a reservation (since it was just me, and I got there right when they opened at 5), but the dinner and experience was fantastic, and it really calmed my stomach. The hot waiter wearing the black leather apron didn't hurt the atmosphere none, either.
The place has a fascinating history, and quite the interior: every inch of the walls was taxidermy. This lead to interesting conversations between waitstaff and patrons ("What is this? Buffalo? What do they look like?" "If you go around the corner, you can see one mounted on the wall."). Really, go look at their website. I started with a cup of buffalo chili (forgoing the bread and salad), and had a dinner of roast quail, elk, and lamb. The chili and quail were excellent, the elk was disappointing (very tough), but I think that could have been the best lamb I've had in my life. The outside was a little more charred than I'd like, but the interior was properly medium rare, as requested. It was simply delicious: strong, gamey (in a good way!), and tender. Yum. Recommended! Would go again!
As I said, I felt much more human after dinner, and took the rail back to GABF. Even though it was now just after 6pm, there was still a *massive* line. Fortunately, it was moving very quickly, and I was finally inside.
I'm not really a beer person, but I wouldn't mind being one, and I have enjoyed going to several NW beer festivals. This was the big one, though, the national event that all the big names attended. So I had higher hopes. Now, on the positive side, the place was big enough, and was well put-together (water stations, big bathroom signs, extra capacity, &c.), and they did have their crowd control down pat. Unfortunately, there were three main problems with the festival,
and together they may keep me from going back. First, the brewers were organized by location and *nothing else*. There was no way to do something like try all the stouts, or all the cask-aged beers. Sure, you could pore through the guidebook (which, as far as I can tell, isn't available before you get to the festival) and try guessing from the names of the beers, and then draw out a battle plan, but really? That's the only way? Bleah. Second, many of the beers were already
gone by Friday, the second day of the festival. Really? You're not holding anything back for the other days? Seriously? Third, and this isn't the fault of the organizers, I suppose, but this festival was, as kitschparade would say, severely amateur hour. The crowd seemed full of warmed-over frat boys (in a bad way). Drop your cup? A big "OOOOOOOOOOHHH!" would rise and be picked up by half the crowd. Really, guys? Really? But, no worries, you could buy a big
boxing glove type thing that you could tie around your wrist that had a cup holder molded into it. Now you could get as drunk as you want and not drop your mug! Ugh. This was very much for the target audience at this place. Now, any two of those were not true, and I'd go again
for sure. If I lived in Denver, and didn't have to worry about airfare or hotel, I'd probably go also. But the way things stand, I will have to seriously reconsider going again. Which is a shame, because I actually had a lot of great beer!
Here are my finds for more standard beers, going from good to great:
- Left Coast Black Magic
- Dogfish Head Theobroma
- Ommegang Adoration
- Kona Pipeline Porter
- Dogfish Head Chateau Jiahu
- Black Dog Honey Raspberry Ale
- Dry Dock Vanilla Porter
- Golden City Imperial Stout
- Seabright Oatmeal Stout
- Dry Dock Apricot Blonde
Although 2 of the coconut beers I wanted were already out (argh!), and the one I did get to try was very disappointing, there were some very off-beat beers that were quite noteworthy! First was Six Rivers Chili Beer. The chili flavor was present, and really worked well with the beer, and there was even a mild amount of heat in the finish. This would be great with potato chips; I want some now just thinking about it. The second sounds like it could be terrible; a gimmick gone wrong. I want to promise you it wasn't! It's 21st Amendment Hell or High Watermelon Wheat Beer. Yes, watermelon beer! Listen, it was good! I was worried it'd be some awful artificial flavor, like someone dropped a Jolly Rancher in my glass, but it wasn't. It was a natural, mild flavor that went very well. Try it! Really!
Around 9pm, I wasn't quite ready to call it a day, but my stomach clearly was, so I ambled back to the hotel, and just crashed.
Next up: D.C.