This will be the first in a series of Winnipeg Grey Cup 2015 previews here at Discombobulated.
With the 2015 CFL regular season winding down, thoughts turn to getting drunk for four days straight in the Grey Cup host city. Classy, I know. This year, as a Roughrider fan, I do not need to be worried about surviving all the way to the actual game on Sunday. There won’t be anything there for me to see, and even if I do make it to the game, I will freeze to death by halftime. Any way you look at it, Grey Cup 2015 offers nothing but disappointment and misery (much like the 2015 Roughrider season).
The last time Winnipeg hosted the Grey Cup was in 2006, so that’s all I’ve got to go on as far as what’s in store for this year’s national party.
Let’s start with hotel rooms. Basically, there are none. Winnipeg did not have any hotel rooms in 2006 and this more or less stayed true in 2015. I booked early this year, given my experience in 2006, so I managed to snag a room at Place Louis Riel.
Place Louis Riel. Hmm. Canada is the only country in the world that would name hotels after people convicted and hanged for treason. I’m not saying he didn’t have his reasons or his supporters, and the issue is complicated. I’m just saying that there are no Benedict Arnold Hiltons or Julius and Ethel Rosenberg Best Westerns.
I wanted to stay at the Fort Garry or the Winnipeg Fairmont, but those hotels, and virtually all of the top downtown national brand hotels, were booked about two years in advance, as were the intriguing smaller boutique hotels. The downtown Holiday Inn, which is in a good location, remained available up until a few months ago, which is odd given its aforementioned good location, but that was the exception that proved the rule. However, I don’t regard the Holiday Inn as a top national brand. I’m an aristocrat and, as noted above, very classy. Tons of class. The amount of class I possess is Trump-esque in its proportions. Huuuuge. Holiday Inn is for losers.
With the Place Louis Riel not being my first choice, I am still not sure what I have gotten myself in for, but the online pictures and reviews seem somewhat assuring. I was required to pay my hotel bill months in advance, which seems pretty bush league. And it prevents me from jamming on them a few days before check in if a room at the Fort Garry opens up at the last minute.
Anyway, if you have not already gotten your hotel room, your options are as follows:
- Find a friend or relative with whom to stay, who you do not feel is an embarrassment, which I suspect will be difficult given that they live in Winnipeg.
- Give up and head to Vegas to watch the game at one of the day clubs. Given how little interest there will be in Canadian football on an NFL Sunday in Vegas, you will likely need to go to the day club at the Las Vegas Holiday Inn, which is for losers. Losers.
- Be willing to be extorted for a room at a dubious hotel that you would not otherwise be caught dead at, and which you will likely be found dead at on Monday morning.
- Be prepared to be doubly extorted for a room at a decent hotel offered through a travel package, which will attempt to distract you from how bad you are being ripped-off with some weird complementary item like a Wrestlemania XIV t-shirt or a commemorative USFL Philadelphia Stars rubber mini-football (actually, that would be pretty cool).
- Accept being extorted to some lesser degree for a decent hotel room as long as you are willing to share four to a room which, more to the point, means four to one bathroom. Given the amount of drinking and recovery periods, I do not like your odds of avoiding cholera, hepatitis, conjunctivitis and a host of STDs. You might as well stay at the bus station downtown.
- Stay at the bus station downtown.
As a rule, the only two cities that have enough hotel rooms for a Grey Cup are Vancouver and Toronto. In either city, if you reserve a room in January or even February, you will still have the pick of the city. For instance, I stayed at the Four Seasons in Vancouver for 2011 when I booked early. In 2014, I booked later and stayed at the St. Regis Hotel, which is a perfectly excellent hotel (google it) with the ideal trifecta of a connecting bar, steak joint and liquor store. I did not need to leave the building except to urinate in the back alley (a Grey Cup tradition). In any other city, you have to book almost a year in advance to have any chance of staying anywhere remotely good, and with Regina, forget about getting a hotel room. Any hotel. If you want a place to stay during Grey Cup, it’s either your crazy aunt’s place or Moose Jaw, and I’ll let you decide which probably smells better.
Anyway, my Winnipeg hotel experience in 2006 was, uh, not… good.
I stayed at the Gordon Downtowner which, as I found out that very weekend, was better known to the locals as the Down and Outer. I did not know what to expect, so when I hopped into the cab at the airport (which incidentally, looked like a poorly maintained bus station designed by a high school class that had won some Expo 1967-type contest), I asked the driver about the Downtowner. The conversation went a little like this:
Me: Take me to the Downtowner, please.
Cab Drive: Seriously? Uh… oh-kay…
Me: What kind of place is the Downtow—
Cab Drive: Very bad! Very bad hotel! Very bad neighbourhood! Very dangerous! Do not go outside at night! Very bad!
He sounded like my mother warning me about girls in high school, and like my mother, he was right. There was literally blood on the walls; some in the halls but mostly in the room. Outside, some openly (and unjustifiably) hostile hookers made it impossible to look out the window without being screamed at for not letting them up for a visit. Talk about your hard sell (pun most definitely not intended). My friend with whom I shared the room correctly pointed out that our room had a different unidentifiable bad smell every time we re-entered it. On Sunday afternoon, as we were heading out for the big game, I commented to a couple of other guests that it looked like we had managed to avoid getting stabbed that weekend, and one of them pointed out that the weekend wasn’t over yet. He never made it to Monday.
We found out this year (2015) that the Downtowner has been renamed the Hotel Royal Plaza which, like the Holy Roman Empire, is neither a hotel, royal, or a plaza. The place appears to have been fixed up by way of a splash of new paint on the cinderblock walls, and now seems to hold itself out as some strange combination of faux-trendy-boutique-hostel. I don’t know what to say. My two friends decided to stay there for this year’s Grey Cup because of the undeniably good location and low price, but I could not bring myself to pull the trigger, such was the trauma of 2006.
The reviews at TripAdvisor seem to oscillate between unreasonable outrage over minor things like the limited/strange choice of food at the free breakfast and difficult-to-follow soap-related problems with the hotel laundromat, to inexplicable joy over issues that suggest the reviewer had extremely low expectations in the first place (paraphrasing): “The electricity was on for most of the day!” and “The family that runs the place was very happy to unplug our room toilet every time!” I just want to say that I personally don’t want to stay at a hotel that has a laundromat that people actually complain about. I like my Grey Cups to feel like mini-vacations, not like I’m serving a weekend prison sentence for vehicular homicide.
Topping things off, it appears as though this hotel does not allow alcohol to be consumed in the rooms, so, uh, in closing, no. Spending an entire November weekend in Winterpeg without alcohol would be like getting stuck in Winterpeg for an entire November weekend without alcohol. I don’t know which would be worse, and I do not intend to find out. I will be spending my weekend in my hotel room at the palatial Place Louis Riel pounding back Crown Royal and Gibson’s Finest between visits to the Spirit of Edmonton, the Palomino Club and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (the entire third floor is devoted to the sufferings of Saskatchewan Roughrider fans).