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DoubleTree harshes CONvergence's buzz, banning outside alcohol from room parties

A party at CON.

A party at CON. Image courtesy event organizers

Minnesota’s annual sci-fi/fantasy gathering CONvergence is going to be a bit more sober this year.

The Hilton’s DoubleTree Hotel in Bloomington, where the event has taken place for the past two decades, has adjusted its alcohol policy, banning party rooms from serving any food or drink... unless the parties hire a hotel bartender.

DoubleTree’s reasoning is that alcohol distribution “jeopardizes the hotel’s liquor license and exposes the hotel to liability if anything were to happen,” a release from the CON’s board states. (We left a message with DoubleTree’s general manager, but didn’t hear back by press time.)

“The hotel has taken the position that room parties cannot serve alcohol unless they hire a bartender from the hotel,” says Jonathan Palmer, director of communications and external relations with CON. “We do not agree with the position, but have accepted it in order to continue our negotiations and ultimately to ensure we could hold the convention.”

There are two types of rooms at the DoubleTree. The rooms in the towers are more private, but the cabana rooms surrounding the pool and garden court on levels one and two are typically designated party rooms, and the folks who rent those rooms decorate them with a theme of their choosing. Past efforts have included tributes to the Starship Enterprise, Harry Potter, and the popular House of Toast room, where hosts give out toast with different types of toppings.

“[Food and drink in the party rooms] traditionally is done on a donation basis,” says John Heimbuch, a theater artist and steampunk musician who is an invited participant at CON.

“It's common courtesy to tip or make a donation of, say, $1 per drink, but I don't know if that counts as selling drinks,” says regular CON-goer Heather Baldwin. “Apparently, after 19 years, the hotel decided suddenly that it does.” Donations usually go toward the decorations and any entertainment a room provides. “I don't think people make much of a profit,” she says.

While Baldwin doesn’t recall hearing about any fights or criminal activities at the parties, “sometimes there would be people who drank too much and threw up somewhere, or maybe passed out. I suspect that the hotel got fed up with that,” she says, adding that most CON-goers are very respectful.

Former CON toastmaster Chris Pederson, who will be attending the event in a nine-foot Groot costume, thinks it all comes down to money. “The sci-fi cons are drinking each others' alcohol instead of running up $100 bar tabs,” he says.

Unsurprisingly, the convention is moving to a different hotel next year: the Hyatt Regency in downtown Minneapolis.

While the short-notice news is a bummer for some people, for others it’s not really that big of a deal.

“I was never much of a drinker myself in previous years, because giving a good panel presentation was always harder for me if I am even a little buzzed,” says sci-fi writer and former guest of honor Bryan Thao Worra. “Also, I often had to drive folks home late at night who weren't staying at the hotel. I don't think the prohibition will make that much of an impact on my personal experience at CONvergence, but I get where the others are coming from."

CONvergence has been going strong since 1999. This year’s four-day conference, which kicked off Thursday and runs through Sunday, will feature local and national guests, including James Kakalios, Paul Cornell, Wesley Chu, and Marina Sirtis. The schedule also includes panels, live music, costume contests, an art show, and film screenings.

Find tickets and more info on CONvergence at www.convergence-con.org.