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April 3, 2014

Downtown celebrates ‘Game of Thrones’ medieval-style

By Joshua Hoover

Walking towards Winks in the Galleria on E. 9th on March 29, I was taken aback by the transformation that the restaurant had undergone.

There were brightly colored banners hanging down in front of the door, and a line of people waiting to get in. Rather than the normal sports bar crowd that one would expect on a Saturday during March Madness, this line was filled with people dressed in medieval costumes, including several carrying around replica swords and staves, and it stretched around the corner from Winks.

Of course, going to a release party for the new Game of Thrones Fire and Blood Red Ale, made by Ommegang brewery out of Cooperstown, New York, is going to attract a different crowd than your typical Saturday evening.

Sponsored by the Winking Lizard, Cleveland was one of only 10 cities across the U.S. to host a release party for the beer.

After signing in, I was handed a glass goblet branded with the Ommegang Brewery logo, the Game of Thrones logo, and the Fire and Blood logo. Inside the goblets were one ticket for a free pint of Fire and Blood, and one for a pint of Take the Black Stout. I was also given a bottle of the Fire and Blood, which was signed by the Ommegang brewmaster, Phil Leinhart. After getting my swag, I was ushered into the restaurant, passing by a replica of the Iron Throne on my way in.

The inside of the restaurant was a complete shock, especially compared to any other sports bar I had ever been in.

Even though the NCAA basketball tournament was going on, all the televisions were dark. The jukebox was on, but was turned off within 10 minutes of me being there. The overhead fluorescent lighting was turned down, and there were several candles on each of the long, high tables that provided most of the illumination. I was sat at a table with ten others, five to each side with one person sitting at the head of the table. Above us was a red ceiling draping, leading to a banner decorated with one of the house crests from Game of Thrones.

After a short time, dinner was ready to be served — and what a dinner it was.

Winks had advertised it as a medieval feast, and the food that was served would have pleased any Lord of Westeros. With Cornish game hens, smoked turkey, lamb stew, several styles of potatoes and even an entire roasted pig, there was more than enough food for the 200-plus guests.

Coming back to the table with a plate loaded with food and a beer waiting for me, it was a quiet dinner, as everyone at the table was too busy devouring the incredibly juicy food to make much conversation.

Fortunately, the classical musical duo provided some ambient music while everyone ate. The jugglers weren’t as exciting as everyone was expecting, as they weren’t able to do any really impressive tricks, and they didn’t juggle anything dangerous.

The medieval dancers that performed were just two girls dressed in Greek outfits dancing on the bar.

After dinner was finished, many at the table ordered additional drinks. One end of the table started up a conversation discussing craft beer, the various beer dinners and events that they had been to recently. The other end of the table began an energetic conversation about the upcoming Game of Thrones season premier, as well as the differences between the books and the television series.

Although the entertainment that was offered wasn’t what the crowd was expecting, everyone left happy. In addition to the glass and bottle of beer that each guest received, everyone also walked away with an etched metal coaster and a key-chain featuring one of the crests from Game of Thrones.

Winks and Ommegang really went all-out on this event, and it showed. As people were headed out, they had nothing but positive things to say about the experience, with several saying that it was the best beer dinner that they had ever been to. With the success of this event, Ommegang should seriously consider hosting another event when their fourth beer in the series comes out.

You can follow the new season of Game of Thrones on HBO starting on April 6, and Fire and Blood is available now.