Eat, Drink and Push the Jager

Photo by James BunoanFacts, fun and friends gleaned from Old World's 25th annual Oktoberfest Press Day:

Oktoberfest began at Huntington Beach's Old World Beer Garden on Sept.15, which is a little confusing since you'd expect Oktoberfest to begin in Oktober. Anyway, this all got started Oct. 12, 1810, when Ludwig of Bavaria married Princess Therese of Saxon-Hildburghausen. The revelry lasted five days and included parades of riflemen and heavy drinking. The Germans dubbed such festivities Oktoberfest, though here in America they're known as Movie Night at the White House.

Yes, there was plenty of drinking back then, which explains why, according to the handout material, the official motto of Old World's Oktoberfest is "Drink Eat, Dance and Be Merry: Full Bar Available." Which is a wonderful sentiment andreally poor punctuation. Anyway, there was plenty of drinking going on during Press Day. Beyond the usual intake of brewski, numerous distillery reps scoured the grounds talking about their hooch and giving out free stuff. Maggie Wells and Angie Trankiem of Jägermeister were handing out flip-flops with "Jägermeister" carved into the soles so that when you walk on the beach, you'll make an impression in the sand that says, "Jägermeister." It's like that story about Jesus making one set of footprints when he's carrying us in our hour of need, except it's hard liquor.

I did take a Jägermeister cap and visor—really cool-looking black-and-white numbers with the logo of an elk with a cross overhead (Jägermeister means "Master hunter"). I really liked them, but I don't think I'll wear either of them much lest people believe I'm part of a fundamentalist venison biker gang. Hey, I'm Falun Gong 24/7.

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Maggie and Angie are exceedingly nice people. I won't say I was surprised, but like most people, including Maggie and Angie, I had certain preconceptions about people who push booze in bars à la the Bud Girls and Duff Man. "I always assumed that promotion girls were slutty with fake boobs," said Maggie. Maggie and Angie, both college grads (Angie's considering grad school), like the money the job pays, though they admit it can be trying. "If you walk into a bar and the total teeth count is four, you know it's going to be a bad bar," Maggie says. As for lines, they get a lot of: "Oh, if you ask them if they'd like a free T-shirt, they'll say, 'Can I have yours?'" Angie says. "Or," Maggie says, "if you ask them if they want some free stuff, they say, 'What about you?'"

Maggie's and Angie's experiences are not unique. Consider Heather, who selects the 21 women who dress up like German beer-hall fraus as imagined by Russ Meyer. An exceedingly jovial type, she admits she gets a little tired of hearing, "Oh, look! It's Heidi!" How does she handle that? "I just say, 'No, it's Heather. Wanna shot?'"

Competing with the gals from Jägermeister was Debi Bulmer who pushes Fernet Branca, a bitter-tasting liqueur that is becoming increasingly popular in bars as a quick high and a great hangover cure. "It was invented by an Italian woman who wanted to cure PMS," Debi says. The attempt obviously failed else there'd be statues and parades honoring the anonymous señora. Still, Fernet Branca, Debi tells me, is terrific for helping digestion and is known to cure cholera. "Really," Debi says. So, next time you party too hard and come home with a headache, indigestion, feeling bloated with a deep hatred of men anda bit of the cholera, you'll know where to turn.

All this booze talk was ironic since German beer sales have dropped 5 percent this year as Germans have become more health-conscious. The average German now drinks 99 liters of mineral water, which puts them behind only the Italians and Belgians in that category. Coincidentally, organizers believe that attendance at the Munich Oktoberfest will be around 6 million, nearly a million less than the 6.9 who got slogged last year.

Oktoberfest at Old World Festival Hall and Beer Garden, 7561 Center Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 895-8020. Wed.-Thurs., 6:30-11 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 6:30 p.m.-1 a.m.; Sun., 2-8 p.m. Through Oct. 27.

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