Call me wanton if you will. But there’s something irresistibly sexy about grown men wearing leather breeches, knee-high leg warmers and black dress shoes. I’m sure most straight guys would say the same thing about women busting out of their dirndls.
And when those nice lads in lederhosen start chanting “Eins, zwei, drei – G’SUFFA!” (“One, two, three – DRINK!” as translated from Austro-Bavarian), well, forgive me for momentarily forgetting about watery weisswurst and greasy schnitzel. A shot of jägermeister chased by a nostalgic bounce around the dance floor to Nena’s 99 Luftballons certainly helps a lacklustre meal go down.
The Vancouver Alpen Club, now celebrating its 76th anniversary, claims to host the largest Oktoberfest party in Western Canada. The annual celebration began last weekend. Although the festival hall is sold out for Saturday, tickets are available for next Friday and Saturday.
Mind you, there will always be room in the lower-level Deutsches Haus. Open year-round for lunch and dinner, this family friendly restaurant is apparently one of Vancouver’s greatest hidden gems.
Don’t believe everything you read on Yelp.
Yes, the folksy, wood-panelled weinstube is charming. As are the geriatric club members who have been coming every weekend since the 1950s (one gregarious dance-hall matron swore to it on her white Mercedes).
But I wouldn’t go out of my way for bland bratwurst, soft pretzels, clove-heavy red cabbage or thin mushroom gravy served alongside slippery tongues of flatly breaded pork Jägerschnitzel (the kitchen doesn’t even offer veal).
Pickled herring and käsespätzle (a long-noodled German mac ‘n’ cheese sharply spiked with Emmental) are probably better choices. And how can spicy wieners split into crisply charred, tentacle-like squid shapes ever go wrong when downed with $2 glasses of pilsner?
If you get there early, service might be prompt. Good luck after the Italian crooner band starts playing.
Still, I had to admire the steely nonchalance of our young waitress as she delivered a forgotten bottle of Austrian Riesling about midway through the second course. And the sardonic way she rolled her eyes while hoisting two empty beer mugs when I asked for a photo. Great sport that fräulein.
But don’t you dare try sneaking upstairs after coffee and strudel. I made the mistake of thinking a dinner reservation would include entry into the beer hall. We were blocked by burly security guards and marched back to a smiling flank of volunteers who were collecting the $25 cover charge and selling flouncy blouses and hand-embroidered aprons.
Seriously. If you forget to dress up in traditional garb, yet still want to compete in the nightly Bavarian Princess contest, you can always buy a full skirt and bodice at the front door. Just hike that skirt short and bring tables of friends to hoot and holler, which appears to be the winning combination.
The Oktoberfest Olympics carry on all through the night, with yodeling contests, stein-holding competitions and nail-pounding games. The prizes include Deutsches Haus gift certificates. But honestly, the food downstairs doesn’t look any more appealing than the $12 pork hock and sausage dinners being served out of the steam pans upstairs.
I’m not trying to be a party-pooper. The Alpen Club Oktoberfest is actually a fantastically fun event. The crowd is a mixed bag of young and old. The live band slides plenty of traditional oom-pah-pah polkas and musikverein horn-blowing in with the prerecorded electronic dance music. And everyone seems to have a well-behaved blast.
“Next year, I’m coming here as a guest, not a worker,” one of the hired security guards confided while outside on break. “This is the best party I’ve ever seen in Vancouver.”
Indeed. But may I suggest you go for the party and hold out on the food until after everyone starts yodeling? I’m sure it will taste much better then.