Five things I’ll miss about GenCon in Milwaukee
1. The Velvet Room: Man, this place was the shit. Cosmetically, it reminded me of my girlfriend’s bar. The staff was cool as all hell, they hosted our parties on the cheap, their drinks were “of a perfect tenor” and the place was close enough to get mind-shatteringly hammered and still be able to flow downhill back to the hotels to sleep it off. They put in new garage-style bay doors this year, which was really cool and opened up the bar to the patio — and Milwaukee is very nice at night in the summer. I mean, seriously, I stopped by this place every night since it was open while we were at GenCon.
2. The Hilton: I don’t know what it was about this place, but it was just a more pleasant stay than the Hyatt. Innumerable marauds occurred while we stayed at the Hilton, from the gratis after-parties (“Unless you let us drink in this function room, we’re all going to drink in my room and you’re going to have a police issue on your hands”) to the time when we tried to “merge” rooms with our unsuspecting neighbors by crashing apart the between-room doors with an ashtray liberated from the lobby. Oh, yeah, and that time we watched a bunch of porn in Andrew Greenberg’s room before getting all hopped up on Percocets and holding an impromptu “roof party.”
3. George Webb: Even though they were dumbasses this year and I couldn’t get served — despite the fact that GenCon’s been there for almost 20 years, they apparently didn’t think they’d need more than their normal staff to cover things — and the food is utterly disgusting, there’s just something comforting about a place that you can stagger into at 4 am, screaming like a madman and menacing the rest of the guests and still have them bring you an omelet to settle your drunk ass down before a few hard, inebriated hours of sleeping. I tried to eat there this year, but the place was understaffed and I was apparently more concerned with selling a pair of pants for two dollars. Then again, maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t eat there, because Rich did and it made him all barfy. So I just gave the pants to Pauline. No, they weren’t my pants, they were pants that I, um, found in some office building’s service hallway that I raided after leaving a room party at the Pfister. Pants.
4. The Calderone Club: I’m really picky about restaurant Italian food, as most of them overcook their pasta, overload their servings with garlic or otherwise fuck things up. Not so with the Calderone Club. Their pizzas are fantastic, with copious amounts of fresh ingredients on a wonderful crust topped with just the right amount of tomato sauce. Their pasta is light and soft, not the “al dente” (meaning, “it’s been in the pot all day” in restaurant lingo) garbage other places serve; their stuffings and garnishes are just about flawless. Take meatballs, for example. Meatballs aren’t complicated. You just mash an egg, some ground beef and some breadcrumbs together (okay; I add garlic and parsley when I make mine, but what are you going to do?) and brown it in some olive oil. Most restaurants oversaturate or burn them, however, while Calderone’s remain soft and most without being underdone or oily. And their waitresses are cutie-pies, especially that one with the flippy hair.
5. The Weather: Some people bitch about Milwaukee weather, but brother, believe me, until you’ve sweated in the shade in hundred-plus-degree Atlanta or Dallas, where the air sticks to you like a cheap suit and you’re begging for even a hot wind to come blowing across the plains because any moving air at all is more comfortable than the inferno-fired broil the earth is inflicting on you, you have nothing to complain about. Milwaukee was downright cold this year (at least at 4 am on Wisconsin Street), which is a good thing, and the air only got humid on Sunday, keeping the miasma of gamer-funk to a minimum. You remember that old Peanuts character, Pigpen? The dude who walked around with a cloud of dirt trailing him? GenCon is like that, only there’s about 25,000 Pigpens and it’s nothing so benign as filth — it’s full-tilt body odor.
Five things I won’t miss about GenCon in Milwaukee
1. The Safe House: What a fucking dump. It’s a bar built on a nifty premise that falls down at the point when its customer base becomes an issue. Housed in a building that purports to be an import/export shop or something, the Safe House is actually a bar that requires a code word to enter. No, I’m not going to spoil it for those in on the joke by revealing the password here — I’ll leave them that bit of dignity. Inside, it’s a spy-themed bar, sort of like a Chili’s except without tricycles and lawnmowers and shit on the walls; it’s trenchcoats and movie posters and briefcases and shit instead. It’s laid out very confusingly, which is also cool, as if it were designed to addle enemy spies or the uninitiated or whatever. Where it fails, however, is in the six-times-over-fire-code population of bloated, sweaty, reeking goobers who rank it up with their presence. They go in, hog enormous amounts of space, put their fucking backpacks and Yoda helmets everywhere and commence to order single drinks and mull over them at peak volume for hours. Now, at a bar, unless you’re going to drink your weight in volume, get that fucking drink to go. I think the Safe House used to be where the “industry pros” (hah!) hung out, but that since became the Velvet Room, likely because the people who spend money in the dealer’s room didn’t want to pay the prices a bar like that asks. Not that I’m trying to be an elitist jerk or anything, but when I want to talk to pros about business, I want to do it in an environment where I’m not surrounded by snerging geeks and if I want to act social with fellow pros, I want to do it as an escape from the convention floor I’ve been on all day. Goddamn, do I hate the Safe House.
2. The Hyatt: Hot, humid, no water softener, soap that dried my delicate skin, four elevators constantly full of stank-behemoths, crappy bar, shitty cable and the acoustics of a cinderblock with a cone glued to it directed point-blank at your eardrum with a Creed album being played over it. Two saving graces: the adept bell captains and the friendly housekeepers. Desk staff evened out — some were dicks and some were sweet as sugar.
3. This One Crazy Neighborhood We Ended Up In For This After-Party But There Was Nobody At The House And All We Heard Was Some Dog Barking And No Way Are We Knocking On That Door At This Time Of Night In This Neighborhood With No Guns: I’m pretty urban-savvy and even in the depths of my Omega-fueled terror, I knew that getting out of the cab was a Grade-A bad idea. Back to the hotel, cabbie. I know this happened only one time, but I include it because I always seem to end up all drunk or fuckled in some heinous Milwaukee neighborhood at some part of the trip. A few years ago, we closed down a club called Mad Planet and asked them to call us a cab. We waited outside for the cab, and across the street there was some other club closing down and this mob of thugs and their girls poured out of it. Some of the girls in their crew started yelling at each other and one of the girls tried to pull the other’s weave out. Then some people got in a car while another dude pounded on the car with a baseball bat. Where the fuck did the baseball bat come from? Did he bring it into the club? Was it stashed “just in case” outside? And, shit, we waited, like, an hour for that cab in that villainous neighborhood and when the cab finally came, it was too small for the amount of people we had with us. Shit. I won’t miss that crap, not one bit.
4. Mulletopia: I wasn’t off the plane for five minutes before this frost-crested, tank-top-and-cutoffs-wearing mullet wandered from the native flora to bask in his own splendor. And it’s not just the gamers, either; there’s mullets all over Milwaukee. Arguably more so than at Origins (in Columbus), which is positively frightening.
5. The Safe House: Goddamn, do I hate the Safe House.