Canadian Christmas is back and with it, by popular demand, the 103rd edition of the Hoser’s Guide to Grey Cup! So grab a beer ‘eh and settle in for this year’s lesson.
By using this guide to chart a course across the frozen tundra of Winterpeg, Manisnowba, you will be taken through every important watering hole Grey Cup has to offer while avoiding the sobering pitfalls of bad parties and the dreaded dry mouth. This is my 10th straight Grey Cup and I can say with great confidence that I am a hardened veteran of the Grand National Drunk. The Hoser’s Guide is all about the best places to party and where to find beer so if you can’t handle that then TAKE OFF EH!
I have much knowledge to impart which makes this year’s guide quite lengthy. Should you wish to jump ahead, this year’s Hoser’s Guide is broken up thus:
Finding Autographs and Pictures from current and ex-players.
The Boozy Laws of MB – where and when you can buy beer/liquor.
Getting Around – sorry, no Uber.
Team Parties – which to patronize and which to avoid.
The Hoser’s Itinerary – a day by day breakdown of where to be for GC weekend.
Wednesday – don’t bother.
Thursday – autographs and the Spirit of Edmonton.
Friday – TD MB and team parties.
Saturday – pancakes, street festival, parade and Atlantic Schooners.
Sunday – Carry the Cup and watch the Eskies v RedBlacks.
Fan March – get to carry the Cup, it’s not easy.
The Game – be prepared.
Post Game – the traffic.
Finding Autographs and Pictures
Over the years I’ve run into many present and retired players and never once came across anyone who wouldn’t sign an autograph or pose for a picture. Be on the look out for:
- Players coming and going from hotels as you walk by.
- Roped off VIP areas in the team parties.
- Grey Cup rings on the fingers of the guy beside you.
- Linemen at all you can eat restaurants.
The Boozy Laws of MB
MB ranks around the middle of the pack when it comes to liquor laws in this confederated land. The best part: you can buy beer from the “vendor” until 2am. Vendors are private beer stores run by hotels and some even offer drive through service. However, you can only buy liquor from the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission’s (MLCC) Liquor Mart stores (colloquially known as “the LC”). Hours for these establishments vary with the latest closing by 11pm.
Manitoba is one of the few jurisdictions where the drinking age is 18 and to prove it you only need one piece of government issued photo ID, unlike communist BC.
You won’t have much success walking around with an open beer so keep your Grey Cup Parade and Fan March roadies concealed in something nondescript, say a coffee cup or coke bottle. Winnipeg Police love watching beer sacrifices to the gods of asphalt, though they usually stop short of offering up a summons as long as you don’t make a scene and are behaving.
One final thing worth mentioning: the provincial minimum drink price is legislated at $2.25. You won’t find this at any of the official Grey Cup parties but if you’re adventurous and wander into into the seedy underbelly of the city you definitely will.
Thankfully, most of where you’ll want to be is downtown (I have never in my life said that about Winnipeg before).
There are FREE buses (Blue and Gold routes) going between IGF and the airport (Spirit of Edmonton) that will service all the downtown and Pembina Hwy hotels starting Thursday until Monday. Several other routes are free on game day with a Grey Cup ticket. Full details HERE.
It’s one bus to Club Regent Casino (Players’ Awards) from downtown (route 47).
Cabs are cheap compared to places like Toronto or Vancouver — $30 to $40 should get you from one side of the city to the other. However, Winnipeg isn’t exactly at the frontier of new technology so forget about taking Uber because it just isn’t available.
Pro-tip: There will be free buses taking fans from the end of the Fan March (The Forks) to IGF on game day.
All the venues with the exception of the Spirit of Edmonton, Club Regent and IGF are within walking distance of each other.
Not all team parties were created equal. A couple are dependable hits, others are sure misses. Over the years I’ve been to them all but not all of them every year and they do evolve. I’ve ranked them below out of five based on my own experiences, your mileage may vary. Rant against me in the comments or send an email.
Spirit of Edmonton (5/5)
From 4pm (Th) / 2pm (F, S) until 12:30am at the Victoria Inn
Why Edmonton?!?! WHY are you hosting Spirit of Edmonton at the Victoria Inn in the ass end of town, far, far away from everything else? It’s tragic because last year Spirit was hands down the best party! Great conversations are a certainty and easy access to drinks assured but I’m worried it won’t be as popular this year given the location. It’s free, the most diverse party and mandatory for 2015.
Touchdown Manitoba (5/5 for Bomber fans 4/5 for everyone else)
From noon until 5pm (F) at the RBC Convention Centre
This only runs from 12-5pm on Friday so don’t sleep in too long. It is a very well run show. Players will be here so keep an eye out. Like every Manitoba social there will be cold cuts served about half way through which go quick so be on the ball! There’s also a really kick ass silent auction. Last year I won the Drew Willy autographed football. Also, as per Manitoba tradition, as soon as the prizes come off the table, the place empties out so you’ll know when to leave.
As of press time tickets are almost sold out so snap some up quick!
Atlantic Schooners DownEast Kitchen Party (4/5)
From 5pm (Th) / 3pm (F) / noon (S) until 2am at the RBC Convention Centre
This was great at 101 in Regina but a real disappointment at 102 on the Thursday and Friday nights (with the exception of the band). I heard that the Saturday night was quite rocking though so I definitely recommend the same this year as I plan on going. It’s also one of the more diversified parties of the weekend. Also, lobster rolls!
Riderville (5/5 for Rider fans, 3/5 for everyone else)
From 12pm until 2am (Th, F, S) at the RBC Convention Centre
Riderville always has lots of attendees but it’s also the least diverse group of all the parties. This is the biggest team party. Check it out if you haven’t before.
Lion’s Den (3/5)
From 4pm (Th) / noon (F, S) until 1am at the Delta Winnipeg Hotel
They usually book a larger venue than needed so there’s no worry about being locked out. Last year they had live music but it was horrendous. I would’ve given the Lion’s Den 4/5 had it not been so difficult to get drinks at 102. Let’s hope they have it sorted out this time around. I spent Saturday night here last year and met a lot of great folk, including multiple retired players. Look for them in the VIP section if they have it again this year.
Stamps House (3/5)
From noon until 12am (F, S) at the Pony Coral Downtown
I had the misfortune of living in Winnipeg for many years and successfully avoided ever patronizing a Pony Coral. I suppose if country is your thing than this is the place to be. They are advertising prize giveaways so it does have potential.
From 3pm (F) / noon (S) until 2am at the Fox and Fiddle
Last year the back half of the bar was a private party for the Box J boys and their invited guests. What’s the point of going to the Hamilton team party if you can’t hang out with the Box J Boys? If you don’t make it, don’t worry.
Toronto Argonauts Double Blue Bash (1/5)
From 2pm until 5pm (F) at Earl’s Kitchen and Bar on Main St.
I couldn’t get in last year because some marching band was trying to enter at the same time but through the glass wall I could tell it wasn’t worthwhile. Given the state of the franchise it’s not hard to understand why this party is only three hours long. The venue, Earl’s, is a great restaurant but Double Blue Bash is running concurrently (3-5pm) with Touchdown Manitoba (12-5pm) so it should be off the board for most of you.
From 2pm until 5pm (F) at Earl’s Kitchen and Bar on Main St.
See above. Same venue, different three hours. I might check it out but only because they are in the game this year.
Looks like Montreal is boycotting the Grey Cup festival after not making the playoffs. You’re not missing anything.
The Manitoba Craft Beer Concert Series
My experience with these has been that they are WAY overpriced. Personally, I have never cared for any of the bands that have played the “Concert Series” over the years. I might pay $20 but certainly not $40. In 2007 (Toronto) I sneaked past the guards though the exit doors and it was actually really lively and a good time. In 2012 (Toronto, again) I purchased half price tickets from scalpers and it was completely dead. I still managed to have a good time though because I hung out with a couple of ex-players playing pool away from the stage in a VIP area. What I’m saying is this can be great, just don’t risk paying full price.
There is a ton going on during Grey Cup weekend but don’t feel overwhelmed. You can do pretty much all of it in a few short days, I will teach you.
Well you will laugh, I guarantee that. Whether or not you cry depends how drunk you get I suppose.
You just wasted a vacation day; rookie.
If you’re in town early enough you might be thinking about grabbing a bite at the Blue Bomber Breakfast, but you can’t, because it’s sold out. The only other thing to do until later in the day is check out the Street Festival at the University of Winnipeg but that’ll only kill an hour or two. Drinks are cheap on Thursday afternoon in Winnipeg, find a shady bar and feed the bartender money until the sun sets.
If, like me, you started the day working for the man but sneaked out early to catch an afternoon flight, you have arrived just in time. The Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Fan Fest starts at 5pm at Club Regent Casino and looks very promising. The CFL Awards show starts at 7:30 but is already sold out. Instead, head on to the gaming floor and feed the black jack dealer money until 9pm when the CFLPA Official Players’ Party starts. It’s only $65 this year (I’m going). Bring a sharpie!
Failing that you could gamble on either Riderville or Schooners at the Convention Centre downtown. I won’t because it was a let down last year on Thursday night.
I highly recommenced Spirit of Edmonton as an alternate to the Players’ Party, it’s a pretty safe bet.
You’re drunk, go to bed. Remember this is a marathon not a sprint and you have three more long days ahead of you.
You’re hungover, so am I, but you need to get your act together pretty quickly. The Commissioner’s State of the League address is at 11am at the Fairmont. You likely skipped breakfast so grab a quick bite afterwards. Don’t worry about hitting the Calgary pancake breakfast at the U of W today because it’s too much of a detour, you can go tomorrow.
Afterwards, head over to the Convention Centre for Touchdown Manitoba starting at noon. Don’t dither too long or you’ll miss the free food and the silent auction. The cure for your hangover is here: beer. Have six and before you know it the prizes will be off the table and the crowd, like your blood, thinned. You really shouldn’t be hungry because of the cold cuts but if you missed them try to catch the tail end of the Double Blue Bash at Earl’s on Main and order dinner.
At this point I recommend reconnoitering TigerTown at The Fox and Fiddle and perhaps eating there after a few pints if you haven’t already.
The latter part of the evening affords many more options and it should be hard to strike out. I recommend trying the Lion’s Den before Stamps House. Should those fail you could try Riderville or the Schooner’s but I would head to Spirit of Edmonton before it came to that, saving the Convention Centre for Saturday.
Go to bed, you’re drunk.
You’re feeling a bit worse than yesterday but this is to be expected. Get up solider! Beer doesn’t drink itself.
Now’s your chance to raid the Calgary Grey Cup Committee Pancake Breakfast. It starts at 11:30 and goes until 1:30. In all my years I have never made it out of bed in time for it (which I guess makes me a terrible Grey Cup soldier). From noon until 2pm cheerleaders from across the league will be performing in the Duckworth Centre (U of W) just beside the free pancakes. There’s a 100% chance of Duckworth being dry so don’t sweat missing it, the cheerleaders make appearances throughout the weekend at all venues.
This is the perfect time to check out the street festival if you haven’t already. Make sure you bring your swag bag! Sounds like much of it’s inside this year and I have high hopes. This happens to be a convenient area to be in since the combined Grey Cup/Santa Claus parade will march on by starting at 4:30pm. I advise wearing (or bringing) your beer jacket for this as the forecast is f—ing cold.
After the parade there is something called a “Parka Party”.
You may be wondering, WTF is a parka party?
I haven’t a clue. The Grey Cup festival website describes it as featuring music, games and family fun activities. “Family fun” usually means no booze so I’ll leave it at that.
Saturday is THE party night of the weekend. Even the locals whom aren’t going to the game will be out and if nothing else, Winnipeg is a football town. This is the night to go the Convention Centre. I suggest the Atlantic Schooners DownEast Kitchen Party, mostly because I’m not a big Riderville fan but do try your luck there if so inclined.
Unless you are a fan of either 54-50, Queen City Kids or Loverboy then skip the Manitoba Craft Beer Concert Series. Traditionally Grey Cup concerts are held in general admission venues where people can mingle, this is just a concert at an arena.
If the Convention Centre is a bust then there’s always Lion’s Den, Stamps House, TigerTown or my preferred backup — Spirit of Edmonton (which will likely have a long line).
Party hard, then find somewhere warm to pass out. You’re drunk again.
The day of days! Canadian Christmas!
If you’re still wearing last night’s clothes then peel them off, take a shower and grab an Irish Coffee. You’ll need a bit of energy if you’re going to have your picture taken with Lord Grey’s legacy at the Fan March!
The ONLY thing you should concern yourself with before the game is the Fan March. However, you can’t just walk up behind it and expect to have it handed to you, it’s very well organized. You need a wrist band to hold the cup. These are handed out by volunteers moving around various parts of the crowd. I’ve found them most often at the back of the march.
Getting a wrist band is fairly easy if you have a great get up since they will seek you out for photos and publicity.
If your wardrobe is lacking then your strategy should be thus:
- Head to the back of the march or gravitate towards one of the volunteers if you see one. They are all dressed the same and stand out. In the above picture they are wearing grey jackets with yellow gloves.
- Be slightly aggressive when you spot one, don’t be Canadian and let someone else’s mom in front of you (I made this mistake once). They only hand out a few at a time before moving on.
- Be passionate! Everyone wants to hold the cup but you’re the biggest fan there is so make it clear to them.
- If that fails hopefully there is someone persuasive in your entourage who can intervene on your behalf (“NOOO! You don’t understand what this will do to him, he’s the biggest fan in Tuktoyaktuk… etc”).
- Make sure your crew is AHEAD OF YOU and ready to take pictures of you and Lord Grey’s legacy. Pose well.
Prepare for extremely long lines. Getting in will take a while because security is tighter. There will be way more people buying beer than a normal game, the corollary of which is there are way more people trying to pee than a normal game. Also, in addition to cracking, the concourses of IGF were designed much too narrow, add that to the fact everyone is wearing three layers of clothing and getting from A to B becomes infuriating even for the Dalai Lama. Plan your beer, bathroom and food breaks strategically. In Edmonton I was literally seconds away from pissing myself trying to get into the men’s room and I never even sniffed a beer.
Getting home after the game from IGF is a nightmare which has to be one reason why there is a party right beside the stadium this year. Most post game parties I’ve been to have been unofficial and disappointing. This year features an official after party at the Max Bell Field House beside IGF. I think it’s a great idea. $25 (+fees) gets you in and I’ll probably be there if not in a cop car for wearing a mask.
Congratulations, you’re suffering from liver sclerosis! The good news is that the liver is capable of regeneration and as long as you didn’t beat it down too hard then you can book your flights to Toronto and Grey Cup 104!
I can be sighted starting on Thursday evening at Club Regent and at as many of the parties as I can get to throughout the weekend. Stop and say hello if you spot me, we’ll have a beer or three.
If you haven’t already check out the 103rd Grey Cup Festival, it has all the events and times listed as well as links to tickets.