There only two Grey Cup hospitality rooms that are worth addressing at any length: Spirit of Edmonton and Riderville. Hence, I will talk about neither of them in this post. Instead, I will address them both elsewhere. This post is all about the also-rans (in no particular order other than worst to best): the non-existent Montreal thing, the Ottawa Redblacks Party, the Toronto Double Blue Bash, the Stamps House, the Lions Den, Atlantic Schooners 9th DownEast Kitchen Party, Tigertown and Touchdown Manitoba.
Here’s the thing about hospitality rooms at the Grey Cup. Canadian football fans are fundamentally lazy cheapskates who like to drink, a lot. Hence, hospitality rooms need to be easy to find, not bother with fancy food or themes, and have no cover charge. And clean bathrooms. Actually, just have clean bathrooms. I can’t stress this enough. In fact, if the hospitality room is just a clean bathroom, I’m in. Totally.
As I go through this list, I realize that in my 20-odd Grey Cups, I have never been to some of the hospitality rooms and, of the ones I have managed to stumble into, I have typically been so drunk, my recollection is highly suspect. Therefore, if I get any details wrong, or anything remotely correct, it is purely by accident. I’ll start off this hazy parade with Montreal.
The Montreal Thing
As far as I can tell, Montreal doesn’t even have a hospitality room this year in Winnipeg. And for some reason, it feels like the only time Montreal ever bothers with a hospitality room, it is located in a local legion hall. There’s nothing wrong with that; I’m just not sure if I have this right.
I consider Montreal to have the worst hospitality room based upon the following criteria: I do not believe it exists. In general, Montreal has the smallest presence at any Grey Cup, including Grey Cups held in Montreal. I assume most Québécois are too classy to attend something as gauche as a Grey Cup. Let’s just hope the Montreal cheerleaders show up. They speak French.
The Redblacks Grey Cup Party
Never been to it. Don’t care. This year it’s located at an Earl’s. I have nothing bad to say about the Redblacks or the organization. I have nothing bad to say about Earl’s.
However, when I lived in Winnipeg in 1990 (the longest three years of my life), there was some kind of local bar/restaurant chain called, if memory serves, Grapes. It seemed to be Winnipeg’s version of Earl’s. I remember only two things about Grapes. First, the bar part was always loaded with old guys who I thought were too old to go to a bar, although, in hindsight, they were probably younger than I am now and I happen to believe that a bar is a fabulous place for me to be. Second, the restaurant part royally screwed up my steak the one time I ordered food there. This was really my fault because I ordered a steak at a place called Grapes.
It appears that Grapes is no longer in existence and Earl’s has taken over. Whether I attend the Redblacks Grey Cup Party depends upon how lost and/or drunk I get (quite and very).
The Toronto Double Blue Bash
The Double Blue Bash sounds like the description for a really bad bruise, which reminds me of one of the Edmonton Grey Cups. No idea which one.
I was wandering around downtown Edmonton at about three o’clock early Sunday morning after being kicked out of the Edmonton Convention Centre (the weird glass building that seems to be built into the side of a hill, and cannot get good cab service after 11:00 PM), so this could have been any one of the Edmonton Grey Cups. We had started out with about eight guys in our “crew” (crew is what I understand the kids these days call their circle of friends), but at this point in the evening, we had scattered to the four winds and I think it was just me and Ruprecht (I have changed his name to amuse myself). It was cold. Arctic cold. Edmonton cold.
To warm up, we wandered into some “restaurant” (for lack of a better word) that looked like a cross between a looted grocery store and a hookah bar for transients. Very brightly lit. The tables appeared to have been stolen from a campground. It was filled with two types of people: old guys in town for the game and people I will call millennials for lack of a better term but I think it communicates what I’m getting at. Both groups were eyeing each other warily. This restaurant, or soup kitchen or whatever it was, was selling pizza and smoked meat sandwiches (at least I hope that’s what those things were) and other junk designed to be consumed exclusively at 3 o’clock in the morning by people who just don’t care anymore. About anything.
I was standing against the wall trying to call a cab on my cell using my frozen fingers (and frozen cellphone) and my friend was considering ordering some “food” for himself, having previously lost the will to live. This young skinny girl in a tiny blue dress, no coat and way too much lipstick walks in followed by her rotund but warmly-dressed wingman (or wingwoman, I guess). She walks directly up to me and appears to stand beside me. I assumed that she thought I was in line for food since there is never any reason for any woman ever to walk up to me and appear to stand beside me unless, I suppose, she happens to be walking past me when she suddenly suffers a goat seizure. Anyway, like a veritable Sir Lancelot, I tell her that I am not in line for food. She immediately launches into a loud and unnecessarily detailed diatribe about how she was in a car with four black guys who were trying to get her to do cocaine. When she allegedly refused (I say “allegedly” because she did not strike me as the kind of girl who refused anything except maybe a breathalyser demand), they threw her out of the car and she fell hard on her ass. As she is going through this story, I am looking around to see that everyone is staring at me and probably assuming I know this lunatic. Ruprecht is laughing at me and has already discreetly backed away from me.
After telling me she got thrown out on her butt, she pulled her skirt down to show me her bare ass (everyone’s still watching), which had the nastiest multi-blue-coloured bruise I have ever seen, about the size of a baseball. This is why “Double Blue Bash” reminds of a bad bruise and the Grey Cup (although this girl’s bruise also had a little red in it too, so it also reminded me of the Buffalo Bills). We were married three weeks later.
That’s a long story for no payoff (much like my life) but that’s almost all I have to say about the Toronto Argonaut hospitality room. Almost.
I have had exactly one experience with the Toronto hospitality room (that I can remember): Winnipeg 2006. My friend and I were bored (because it was Winnipeg, duh), and somehow we ended up near the building that houses the headquarters of the Manitoba Liquor and Lottery and Long Barrel Rifle Corporation (it feels like those three things would go together in Manitoba). Anyway, since our brains were starting to freeze, we decided (out of pure desperation) to look through the Grey Cup guidebook that is handed out at the airport. To our relief and disappointment, we found ourselves fairly close to the crappy bar at which Toronto had decided to hold their Bash (although I am not sure if they called it the Bash back then).
Upon entering, we found ourselves alone but for some bored staff members and a several patrons who looked like they had similarly random reasons for being in the building, none of which included the conscious desire to be there. There were a few Argo banners hanging loosely around the bar. It looked like someone had either been trying to pull them down or someone had not bothered to put them up properly in the first place. My friend decided to order a drink. Our Grey Cup guide book claimed that the Argo cheerleaders were scheduled to show up, so what the hell.
I was doubtful, but moments before they were supposed to show up, the Argo cheerleaders started pouring in. They threw off their winter clothes, hit the tiny dance floor and put on a hell of a show. Since the place was so small, our faces were about five inches from their flailing hair, boots and nether regions. There is no way any of the men in that building should ever be that close to that many hot athletic young women, including me, so it was a good time had by all (except, I assume, these poor girls who were contractually required to put on this show for us slobs). The performance ended with the apparently obligatory calendar sale, which I was too cheap to purchase, but which some of the other stunned males in the room bought.
Not conspicuous in their absence was any actual Toronto Argonaut fans.
The Stamps House
First, Calgary, enough with the damned pancakes already. Booze + pancakes = diarrhea. Who wants that, especially if you have to attend an outdoor Grey Cup game in minus 30 weather wearing a damned snowsuit? And who can get up in the morning to eat the damn things anyway? I assume someone is eating them, otherwise you wouldn’t keep doing this thing every year, but those people are obviously crazy. Don’t encourage them with pancakes. Don’t encourage anyone with pancakes.
I guess my point is that, speaking for myself, I would prefer that Calgary put its effort into non-diarrhea-causing activities like… hmm. Actually, pretty much everything at Grey Cup causes diarrhea, so do what you want. Forget I said anything. One of these Grey Cups when I’m in my late 70s, assuming the league is still around in five years, I’ll get up early enough to see what the pancake fuss is all about. I’ll have a few pancakes with the junkies, the walk-of-shamers and the parents with young children (always a nice combination for a crowd). Then I’ll shuffle back to my hotel room bathroom and spend the rest of the day on the toilet. I can hardly wait. In fact, I’m going to do a little practicing right now.
Oh yeah, that’s the stuff.
As for the Stamps House, I have never been there. It typically has some kind of country-western theme, thereby perpetuating every stereotype the rest of Canada has about Alberta. I always plan to go but something always gets in the way. So I got nothing.
The Lions Den
Here’s my problem with the Lions Den (aside from the fact that there is inexplicably no apostrophe in “Lions”). They always rent more space than they need; the place always looks empty. One year they had a semi-trailer parked inside the Den (Toronto 2012, I think), and there was still plenty of room to wander around and quietly question one’s life priorities.
My only solid memory of the Lions Den is, I think, the aforementioned Toronto 2012 Grey Cup. Owner David Braley was present in the roped-off “VIP” section. The VIPs consisted of two young Asian girls and two bored older guys sitting on opposite ends of two randomly placed couch. These guys both looked like Sigmund Freud. My friends confirmed that they were seeing this too, so I wasn’t going nuts. I was left to assume this is how the truly rich live: they can afford two of everything. Two young Asian girls. Two psychoanalysts. Two CFL teams. Two couches.
I made it into the Lions Den at the 2011 Vancouver Grey Cup but that was because I had just been awarded my winnings from the 2003 Stenley Cup. The Stenley Cup is a nation-wide NHL playoff draft organized by my friend that I stopped entering after 2003 when I was deprived of my winnings on a preposterous and non-existent technicality. My friend was just temporarily jerking me around, but everyone was so amused at my over-reaction to “losing”, they decided to just go with it. However, this turned into a near ten year long practical joke and my friend finally told me I had won during a party at the Sheraton Wall Hotel (beautiful hotel; crappy name). I took my winnings, which he had been sitting on for almost a decade, and immediately left the party to hit all the hospitality rooms I normally do not attend because I had my not-inconsiderable winnings to pay the cover charges I would normally never pay even if my life depended upon it. And I was bombed. I do a lot of things when I’m bombed.
The Atlantic Schooners 9th DownEast Kitchen Party
Never been. There is a cover charge and they make too much of a fuss about their lobster (see above re: diarrhea). And, I go to Grey Cup to get away from “kitchen parties”. Nevertheless, this hospitality room is rated high because a) they go to the trouble of a hospitality room even though they don’t even have a football team in the CFL (much like Saskatchewan), and b) the room is open for Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The only other hospitality rooms open for all three nights is Riderville and Spirit of Edmonton.
Tigertown is a watered down version of the Lions Den. The only difference is it is usually located at a venue that is too small, which is a good idea because I rarely see anyone in this place. The exception was last year’s 2014 Vancouver Grey Cup and the 2013 Regina Grey Cup.
Tigertown 2014 was located in an old, tiny dumpy bar. In a word: awesome. It was packed to the gills. Do this every year. Find a small shithole of a bar in the host city and just let’r rip. Well done, sirs.
At the 2013 Regina Grey Cup, Tigertown was located in the cement compound that housed virtually all of the hospitality rooms (Spirit of Edmonton was conspicuous in its absence). I believe this place was constructed to contain horses, cows and sheep for the annual Agribition, although it may have been a misconceived nuclear fallout shelter for Regina’s elite (thus explaining all the sheep stalls). In any event, it is apparently the hub of Regina. I ended my Saturday night at Tigertown watching two giant Lego men and three members of the Tiger-Cats cheer team dressed in neck to ankle spandex (I’m not complaining) gamely dancing with various drunk losers. I was not one of those losers because I can’t dance. I’m the loser standing in the corner watching the other losers dancing, drunkenly muttering to myself that “they think they’re so cool dancing with the cheerleaders but they’re not” and blaming my asthma for terminating my dancing career after one year of Ukrainian dance lessons.
Look you idiots, get rid of the cover charge or admission fee or whatever. There is nothing appealing about anything that has the word Manitoba in it, and charging people money to get in is just insulting. I have never entered Touchdown Manitoba. I refuse as a matter of principle, and I have no principles. This is the only one. I realize this is a little strange, but ever since Vietnam, I just don’t care anymore, man.
This hospitality room is rated high only because the Blue Bombers consistently have a hospitality room at every Grey Cup and it is always open on all three nights (Thursday to Saturday). Most importantly, it is supported by Bomber fans who are second only to Rider fans in Grey Cup attendance and who are, generally speaking, very nice.
(Unfortunately, while nice guys don’t necessarily always finish last, they do appear to miss the playoffs for six of the last seven seasons.)