Picture this: a foggy October 31st, a historic courtyard, a guy on stilts dressed as an elf. Sitting around a well-stoked bonfire with an aquavit cocktail and a companion dressed in Viking horns, you can’t help but feel the Scandinavian warmth. Add to that the ghostly glow of the Turnblad Mansion’s backlit windows, and you’ve got an experience unlikely to be duplicated on Halloween or any night. Museum parties are becoming ever more common in the Twin Cities, and the American Swedish Institute’s “Cocktails at the Castle” series is one of the best.
Last night’s party, “Loki’s Halloween Bash,” was fun, but fell short of ASI’s standards in a few key ways. The premise of the night was “a journey through Nine Worlds of Norse Mythology.” Sounds great, but with that kind of setup, one expects a little more distinction between the worlds. Nidavellir ain’t Asgard ain’t Vanaheim – and I shouldn’t have any confusion about that. Each world featured a themed activity, but it took a working knowledge of Norse Mythology to figure out exactly what the theme was. From what I gathered last night: Nidavellir = realm of arts and crafts, Asgard = realm of coat check, Vanaheim = realm of silent dance party.
The standout among worlds was Niflheim, the Norse Underworld. Credit is due to the performer at Niflheim’s entrance playing the goddess Hel. Her brief, spooky-friendly introduction to the realm was informative (did you know that Vikings who died dishonorable deaths were banished to Niflheim? Very Klingon…), and did just enough to set the Halloween tone. The highlighted activity of the Underworld was watching creepy Swedish Horror Shorts, presented by the Film Society of Minneapolis / St. Paul – underworldly indeed!
Food and drinks, presented by FIKA, were reasonably priced and seasonal. The standout was a tasty acorn squash stuffed with wild rice. In addition to specialty food and cocktails, two shots were served: the “Silk Road,” made with toasted sesame-infused aquavit, and the “Midnight Movie,” made with buttered popcorn-infused rum. Strange flavor combinations can be a delicious surprise, but chocolate covered bacon these shots were not. My sister and I ordered one of each, and since we couldn’t pass to the next world (Alfheim? Svartalfheim? Hard to say…) until we finished them, we spent a good deal of time watching other bar goers’ impolite faces as they sipped the bizarre shots.
What’s made past ASI events so great is the element of surprise. As guests explore the many twists and turns of the Turnblad Mansion, they might encounter a pair of swordfighters or an interactive polka band. Last night, we mostly encountered excessive lines: palm reading, a photo booth, and scary storytelling all sounded great, but we abandoned the wait – or were turned away – at all three. The elements of a good party (theme! activities! music by Crimes and Strange Names!) were there, but Loki’s Halloween Bash suffered from poor crowd control and half-hearted execution. ASI has turned out stellar events in the past, but this bash failed to enchant.