The inaugural launch of the Cork and Fork Festival is on this weekend, and I was fortunate to be able to take it in on Friday night. This festival is put on by the folks that bring us the annual Orleans Beer Festival, and knowing what a great event that is, I was really looking forward to seeing what this exciting new event was all about! It certainly did not disappoint!
Held at the Shenkman Arts Centre, Cork and Fork utilized the layout and the various rooms well, and really took advantage of the versatile space that comes with that venue. The main floor of the Shenkman Arts Centre has two separate entrances, one off of the main set of stairs at the front, the other through the lesser-known back door. Parking can be a bit of a challenge at Shenkman, so we snuck into the back when we arrived, and found no lineup issues at check in there. Our tickets were scanned, bracelets affixed, and we were on our way in under a minute. When we reached the main area of the festival, we found two distinct lines the led to “somewhere,” so we decided to join one of them in hopes that it would lead to a drink or some food. Fortunately, it was the line for tokens which are needed to buy food or drinks. The volunteer at that desk was unable to tell us how many tokens would be needed though, or even specifically what one token gave you (ie, 2oz of beer, a glass of wine, a full meal, a sample….etc). So, we took a chance and bought two small bags of ten tokens at $20 per bag.
Walking through the main room, we discovered that the second lineup we were in was for obtaining a glass for the drinks, so we did that next. There was no real process to it at all, they just handed you either a beer or a wine glass with a free token inside. Although it was a fairly smooth process once in the lineup, it would have been great to have a volunteer standing near the lineups, or even a simple sign, letting patrons know which way to go for what. Once we had our glasses, we were set, but where to go?
The main concourse boasted a trendy bar area with high tables set up and activities going on throughout the room. There were a few winery tables set up, as well as a brewery or two, plus a DJ at one end. These included Wiprsnapr Brewery, and Bust Cider Company, among others. We continued on through the hallway and discovered a back room. This room smelled amazing!! The delicious scent seemed to be coming from Meatings Catering, who had a variety of delicious offerings available. This room was packed with people, with the Dueling Pianos Band entertaining the crowd, and working song requests into their lineup. This room also featured delicious craft beer options from Clocktower, and Orleans Brewing Company along with a host of wineries including Sandbanks and Dairy Distillery. Also on the food side, there was a delightful spread from La Trappe a Fromage.
We continued to explore and followed the crowd into a second, similarly-sized room, which turned out to actually be the main stage for the Arts Centre. Here we discovered a comparable selection of food, drinks and entertainment. This included a small stage for the musicians at the side of the room. Broadhead and Stray-Dog Brewery were set up in this room offering a solid beer selection, and wine offerings from Casa-Dea Estates Winery. There was also a slightly greater selection of food in this room, with sushi from Soul Stone and a Mac and Cheese bar from OCCO Kitchen. My favourite part of this room, however, was the booth for The Urban Barrel Company; they had an amazing whiskey to try and, WOW, it was incredible! I’m normally not a big whiskey drinker, but The Urban Barrel converted me! Now where can I buy this amazing product?! The Urban Barrel Company is intriguing, and has a great business plan, so watch for them around town, and also keep an eye out for their distillery opening next fall.
The crowd that this event attracted was a fantastic mix! The demographic suggested a slightly “older” crowd; the event definitely wasn’t full of kids who were there to get drunk. Although the festival offered no specific suggestions for dress code, I highly recommend putting some effort in before going, as people were dressed from business casual to semi-formal. You don’t need ball gowns and tuxedos, but the crowd there seemed to be dressed to impress. The age group of the crowd spanned from late twenties and upwards with a pretty even mix of gender. There were pockets of what appeared to be singles looking to meet up, so if you’re on the prowl and seeking a plus-1, you may find what you’re looking for here. The people that I spoke with, both vendors and patrons alike, were all very friendly, and seemed eager to chat with fellow party-goers. It was an amazing atmosphere.
As any event on its inaugural day, there were glitches to be found. We didn’t arrive right at opening bell, so we were not specifically affected, but what I learned from speaking with other people was that there was a pretty significant initial entry problem. As mentioned, there are two doors into the Shenkman Arts Centre, and apparently, the back door is the one to use. Registration at the front door had an unexpectedly long line, which led to an even longer line to get tokens and a third, equally long lineup for a glass. I was told that some people waited over 45 minutes before they could even really start exploring the festival. Based on the initial confusion after registration that we faced when we arrived at 8pm, I completely understand how this would have been a problem. A suggestion to remedy this that I would make to the organizers would be to implement a similar set up as at the beer festival, where upon registration, you obtain your glass and free token so you can get a drink and happily mingle in the lineup for purchasing more tokens. It would regulate the traffic flow and get a drink into the hands of thirsty patrons, while eliminating a third line for entry.
Another issue to point out is that this event is extremely limiting for anyone with food sensitivities or allergies. There are not a lot of options to eat at this festival, so for vegetarians or those on gluten free diets, you will have some difficulties. There are a few choices, but you really have to look. I had a jack fruit taco on a corn tortilla from Meatings Company. After that, I had some of the sushi too….both were delicious! I’m hoping that next year, there will be more food choices (although I’m not sure where they will set up due to space limitations). That will hopefully also alleviate the lengthy lines at each of the food stations.
There are classes and learning sessions to take in as well, albeit through a ticket upgrade. I didn’t attend any myself, but I received some feedback on the glass-tasting session. There was an expert taking the audience through the difference in wine glasses, explaining how each wine affects different part of your palate. Different senses are experienced on your tongue based on where, and for how long the wine touches them, so glass shapes are designed to maximize certain sensory receptors. As part of the exercise, the same wine was consumed in four different shaped glasses to illustrate the point, and apparently it was incredible, and quite eye-opening. Participants also go to keep their set of four wine glasses, which retail for $35 a piece, making the $90 each that they paid for this experience well worth the price!
My recommendation is that once you arrive, enter through the back door, grab your glass first, get something in it, and then buy your tokens and wander around, which will allow you to get a lay of the land before settling in at a location. There is a lot to see, and you don’t want to miss anything, so make sure you do some exploring! Also, if there is a specific entertainer that you are planning on seeing, have a look at the schedule and plan your time. Keep in mind that there are delays with long lineups for food. Another suggestion that I would make would be to have a small seating area set up around the stage in the first room, because the music in there was INCREDIBLE (the Dueling Pianos Group!) and my wife and I would have loved to sit and listen for awhile, but it was standing room only in there.