By GREG MAFFETT
Published: June 19, 2010
I've been caged a couple times in San Diego. At first it was not something that bothered me. I opted for the cage at the North Park Beer Fest and had a not bad time as I sampled a few good beers. But the music was too loud for such tight quarters. Then the crush of people made moving impossible. Then the sun started pounding and there was no shade. That was that.
I tried again a few months later at the World Beat Center in Balboa Park. This event added good food to the mix. Ritual Tavern and a few other quality eateries were there. It was in the park so there was more than asphalt around you. And it was at night so the sun didn't scorch you. But the cage was still very tight around the building. It was a fair value, but you felt the cage effect more than anything else.
By the time the City Beat Festival of Beers set up shop 200 yards from my house, I was done with the caged life from the inside. I walked by with my daughter and pondered the primates within. I had to wonder how many trips it would take until the customers to "get it". Or for the promoters. There was just something aesthetically broke about this experience. I know they need barriers, but the chain link fence and claustrophobia combo can't have legs.
So that brings me to the San Diego Oysterfest. My daughter sent me the info and happened to be down this weekend. Otherwise I'd have passed. But it was an adventure that was not totally awful. I'd say that the promoters are starting to get it. The San Francisco version of this fest was greeted with dismal reviews. Bottom line upstate was "it was only worth it if you were a fan of the band Cake". San Diego fest was offered sans Cake. SF charged $30 for an entry fee, but you got half off (plus a 3 dollar service fee) if you had the travel zoo discount. Even at $18 people gathering in SF's Cow Hollow were calling it a bum deal. In SD the prices were 20 (or 13 with the discount). For 13 dollars you got...in.
That was it. Entry to the fest. Now entry plus an oyster shooter and a beer would have changed this review. With all the other caged events you got entry plus something. 5 tastings or something. This was just an armband. Now that said, they did have the best venue of any caged event. It was right on the bay. Great views of boats and even an occasional navy ship passing by. You had the Coronado Bridge at its best. So that was a step in the right direction. But...
Clicking on "map it" on the event website took you to the wrong place. It took you to marina park, not marina park north where the event was held. When my daughter and I arrived at the wrong place I had immediate concerns. There were lots of parking space in the lots. And she found a meter with an hour and a half left on it. That sealed it, we were at the wrong place. Sure enough there was a guy there from the Symphony who was directing loads of people to the right place.
It was behind Seaport Village. We got there and my daughter saw the sign at the parking entrance to sea port village that said "no event parking". She started to turn away, but sometimes it pays to be old. This was one such time. I knew they couldn't enforce that sign. So in we went and found one of the last spots. All we had to do was buy a post card and get the parking validated at a shop and we were good. Better than $3 and hour to park there.
Walking through Seaport Village I was overcome by the cheery thought that "No one I know would actually enjoy this tourist trap." But then as I thought over all the people I know, I had to revise that to "no one I like". That said, we hustled through the village and found the fest.
I will say it was well staffed. There was no wait to get in. Good on them. Inside there were the usual tents with stuff. But it was pay for everything inside. So there you go, you pay $13 for the chance to be caged in and pay for more stuff. Sigh. Now they did have a live band playing at the far end. And it really was a nice venue to spread out a blanket, listen and look at the bay. I mean you could do that on any other day with an iPod, but you had the crowd and band if that was your thing. If you happened to like one of the bands, mebbe this would have worked for you.
I did get a half dozen oysters. They were OK. Not bad, not great. They had one sauce and it was good. But it was $12 for 6 Ok oysters in a town where I can get 6 great oysters for that or a little less. Check minus.
I saw a beer place and went in there...to find that once I was in I was subcaged. You had to stay in the beer area. Ugh. I cut my daughter free while I sipped my Guiness. While doing so a guy started to chat me up. He was working for Gorilla Service Industries. I saw three of these guys on the walk in and figured it was temp labor. It was. He was an unemployed truck driver trying to make a few bucks. We chatted about the oil spill in the Gulf and illegals in Arizona (there actually was a thread there). He was not happy about being unemployed, but he was very philosophical about his current lot in life. That turned out to be the high point of the festival.
After that I caught up to my daughter. She had done the entire fest while I was sipping beer. I sip fast, especially when strangers are chatting me up, so I knew there was not much there. There were only two kinds of oysters, raw and barbecued. One other place had an oyster taco. But no stew or anything else. Hrmm. We went inside the music area and saw there was a liquor stand. The sales people there were, I think, unemployed porn starlets. I can see why they were working the liquor stand vice the beer stand. I'd like to know that any alcohol they handed out was strong enough to disinfect...
I did get a salmon cake made by a vendor who was down from Venice. They did a nice job with that. But it was a $2 nibble that they charged $4 for. Kind of kept with the theme of being overpriced.
Looking at this from the business perspective, I see why it had to go this way. The overhead of running the show is not trivial. They did have to rent the fences and porta-potties and book a few bands. And hire the trash contractor and the ticket takers. And they had 4 paramedics in one tent just in case. It was not a cheap event to put on, so I don't think they were making a killing. Be surprised if they broke even.
In many ways it is a step in the right direction for caged people events. I think the venue was better than any other and there was room to roam. It did provide jobs for people willing to work. But even with that, coming up with a value proposition for a consumer in a down economy is tough. Not sure they will get it fully figured out any time soon, but I'll take this as a sign of potential progress in the genre.
On the way out we backtracked through Seaport Village. We did stop at some random shop where my daughter did buy some piece of San Diego kitsch as a gift. That had been on her agenda since her first trip down here almost two years ago. So that was how it ended.