Brier Patch packs ‘em in
BY JOE PAVIA
The Patch is the place to be at the Brier, as evidenced from this shot at the 2015 event in Calgary. (Lyle Aspinall, Postmedia Network)
The Patch is as important as the curling.
The legendary Patch is where fans and the curling stars go have fun at the Tim Hortons Brier. It’s reputation for fun is well earned. What’s in this legend?
There are bars serving beer, spirits, wine, coolers and cider. There is a huge stage for live daily entertainment. A camera crew shoots a live closed circuit feed on giant screens when the curling is over. Energetic emcee Stuart Brown inflicts crazy stunts on fans and concocts outlandish contests much to the delight of the crowd..
His best contest sees four women donate their bras. Four shirtless men perform a fashion show wearing the bras accompanied by the Right Said Fred song I’m Too Sexy. The contestant who elicits the most fan reaction wins the better prize. Says Brown, “How’s that for being a little weird. That’s the best way to fly.”
Typical was the master of ceremonies’ interaction with Christine Lamothe, 40 of Ottawa and Andrea Gaunce, 38, from Saskatchewan at the end of the afternoon draw. Each wore, as Gaunce described, “some very stylish shirts that have strategically placed curling houses on them.” The crowd ate it up.
“The Patch is awesome. It’s so much fun,” said Gaunce. ”We are dancing machines, the music is good, the entertainment’s great and the people are great and the curlers have been terrific.”
Located in the Aberdeen Pavilion, the venue is licensed for 2,800 bodies according to Curling Canada beverage manager Ken Lauzon. His initial beer order was 40,000 cans of tall boys (You purchase tokens which you redeem for beverages). Barley sandwiches are 60% of sales volume.
Lauzon says the heritage nature of the building provides some challenges. Most Patches have food service outlets in them but food service isn’t allowed inside the Aberdeen because of a lack of HVAC. Creatively, they have made a six-unit licensed food truck court outside the south doors.
The Patch began in Brandon, Man., in 1982 and has been a feature of all big Curling Canada events since then. It is different in each city. The smallest Brier Patch was in Kamloops with the biggest in Calgary and Edmonton with 6,000 people capacity.
Roger Powell, the manager of entertainment and production explains the magic of the Patch.
“We got no big name bands here,” he said. “I think it’s more of the event than the act. It’s the environment. They know they are going to have a good time. They know it’s going to be safe and fun.”
“The biggest partiers I have ever seen are curling fans,” he said. “They have a great time regardless of what age they are. They are here to have fun.”
Brown, Powell and Lauzon also agree on how peaceful the crowd is. They have never seen a fight in the Patch.
“Up until lately, we never had a security force. They’ve never had a fight in the Patch. You get 2,000 people drunk and you don’t have a fight., observed Powell.
Lauzon went on.
“Everybody is here in a celebrity mood,” he said. “It’s not your average night club or tavern where some people have their daily issues and bring them into that environment. People are here to celebrate the game first and foremost, then come and have a few beers and be social at the event.”
Volunteer bartender Claire Zahab sums it up best.
“I am enjoying this. You get to see all the players. You get to see all the people here cheering them on during the game after the game. You gotta love it.”
The Patch is open every day at 11 a.m. It is open to the public. There is no cover charge
The volunteer bar director found out that a young woman volunteer missed her first shift. The director found out the 23-year-old had died suddenly. The volunteer bar staff has agreed to pool any tip money they receive and donated to a charity on her behalf.
Powell told Postmedia that a Patch patron found a wallet containing $2,000 in cash Saturday night and turned it in.
Best of the day
The strong attendance — standing at a combined 23,052 — after Sunday afternoon’s fourth draw.
Worst of the day
The packed parking garage, which is probably caused by the best of the day.
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Joe has been involved with the curling world for decades as a player, organizer and curling commentator. He’s the weekly curling columnist for the Ottawa Sun where his Wednesday column is eagerly anticipated and is indeed available across the country.