A Disappointing Start to Oktoberfest
Oh boy, where do I even begin with this festival? A couple of months ago, I convinced one of my friends to volunteer with me at the D.C. International Beerfest. It sounded like a good deal: pour some beers, socialize and then gain access to endless samples of more than 100 different beers.
We got into more than we had bargained for. Let’s start with the fact that the event was originally slated for Aug. 16 at Union Market, but was rescheduled last minute to Sept. 20 (a few days before the date) and relocated to Mellon Auditorium. Weird choice of venue for a beer festival, I thought. With a less than fortuitous start and a questionable change in venue, I was unsure of where the day would take us.
Volunteers were asked to arrive at 11 a.m. sharp. We came, we waited and we waited some more. Not until 11:30 a.m. were we allowed in. Upon entering I had déjà vu to when I arrived for my eighth grade dance. Except that was a more desirable situation since we had a red carpet rollout. Instead, we were greeted with tacky plastic table covers patterned with international flags strewn across folding tables in the front room. The main room didn’t look any better. The same theme and décor dominated the massive space with Igloo coolers, like your family takes on cross-country vacations, thrown on the tables. To round out the decorations, these bootleg bathroom signs directed patrons to the only set of restrooms at the venue:
I understand it’s a beer festival not a swanky event, but there has to be some semblance of order, organization and taste. I was not feeling this. Besides the aesthetics, other missteps and miscues of the day included:
- Being told not to spill any beer because “it’s original flooring and they will freak out if there’s too much spillage …” Groundbreaking discovery: don’t invite over 1,000 people to drink endless samples of beer and wine out of glass cups if you’re concerned with damaging the floor. I’m fairly certain the odds will be against you in the spill ratio.
- Not getting the pizza lunch volunteers were promised. We were in the backroom and no one felt it important enough to tell us that lunch had arrived. By the time we asked, it was gone and they refused to order more. Hanger and customer service do not go hand in hand. I was a little worried about how I was going to deal and how much sass I was going to dole out to unsuspecting patrons.
- Speaking of a food shortage … they were selling pulled pork sandwiches in one small corner of the main room and a few food trucks were lined up on the curb outside. It is kind of awkward to have to go in and out of the venue for food. The “VIP” refreshment table consisted of snack0sized bags of Doritos, Cheetos and Nutter Butters as well as an assortment of individually wrapped candies. Someone must have made a Costco run 15 minutes before the doors opened. I’d be upset if I paid $50 for that sad spread.
- The music. The first session was rocking to Top 40s and dance music. The second session got weird 90s funk. I guess DJ Teddy decided to stop having fun after 3 p.m.
- Being directed to “pour less beer in each glass because we’re running low …” Maybe you should have stocked more inventory and maybe you should not have designed cups with a physical line on them denoting how far it should be filled. I refused to cheat paying festival goers, so I kept giving the rightful pour.
- Pouring beers that were mislabeled. I was told quite a few times that the placard listing one of my beers was incorrect. For crying out loud, it’s a BEER FESTIVAL. How do you not have the correct beer information?!
- The bathroom situation. Having attended quite a few beer and wine festivals, I can tell you that the one thing that must be in order (quite literally) is the bathroom. The women’s bathroom flooded and was out of commission for part of the festival. Not okay.
- Getting yelled at and physically pushed out of the venue right at closing time. I’m aware that events go to a set time, but it was certainly not the right way to handle this kind of situation.
I don’t know what’s worse: confronting a drunken crowd of people, telling them they have to leave or confronting a line of inebriated women, telling them they aren’t allowed to use the bathroom. I almost felt sorry for the guy in charge who was tasked with doing both.
I think part of the problem (and there were lots of problems) with this festival is that the organizers were confused with the type of crowd they wanted to draw, which created a confusing event. There was quite the eclectic mix of attendees ranging from hardcore beer enthusiasts interested in expanding their knowledge of suds to those whose goal was to get as drunk as they could as fast as they could. This ill-planned event was doomed from the beginning.
At the end of the day, we made some new friends with fellow volunteers and got to drink a lot of great beer. It was fun to be on the other side of the table, serving the beers and interacting with the attendees. Would I ever return to this festival or any other festival this organization puts on? Probably not. I’ll take my chances with the 1,209,803 other food and beer events D.C. hosts.