What follows is an unfettered look inside the 2011 Stumptown Christmas Party, set at the Ace Hotel in downtown Portland, Oregon. Both founding members of Sprudge.com were in attendance, accompanied by their respective Plus Ones. All illustrations and observations are original. This piece does not represent the official opinion of Stumptown Coffee Roasters, a longstanding sponsor of Sprudge.com, who are very cool for letting us research and publish the following.

Notes on the Intersection of History and Bacchanalia

If you’re from the Pacific Northwest and involved in specialty coffee, you are likely already familiar with the annual Stumptown Christmas Party. It is, quite literally, a bacchanalia: a wild and festive ritual whose myths and apocrypha grow year after year. So when attending the Stumptown Christmas Party, or later discussing it, you will encounter knowing dialogues that go something like this: “You know, this year’s party was a lot tamer,” or “This is nothing – you should have been here last year,” or “I was at the party in 2005, and I can’t believe I survived it, and I actually have no independent memory of being there at all,” etc. The problem with exchanges like these is that they exist in a kind of false historical vortex. It’s the same quirk in human logic that results in generic aphorisms, things like “If you remember the 1960s, you weren’t really there,” which is a pop culture plasticine way of saying “You kids, you think you’re wild? This is nothing.”

Human beings have been doing this to each other since forever, at least since the origin of culture (“This cave drawing party is pretty lame, were you at the first one?”) and though there is of course some grandstanding that goes into the psychology behind it, statements like these serve more than just egotistical purposes. In their own way they are an invitation to cut loose, just as loose as you can while staying upright, because after all, no amount of excess could ever top that of Christmas past. The false historical vortex functions as a kind of shared privilege: “I came, I survived, but let me tell you about this thing you weren’t at – next year you’ll get to say the same.”

Human nature or no, the whole practice is disingenuous. Plenty of people remember the 1960s, some with a haunting modality they’d much rather forget. No single party can ever be better than any other party, because there’s just about a thousand variables to take into account, and like, who are you to tell someone how to valuate their night? Who are you jump someone else’s narrative train? We play these memory games and they are matchstick houses, meant by design to blow over and be rebuilt with scary alacrity. In another 5 years they’ll talk about the 2011 Stumptown Christmas Party as if it were the ne plus ultra apogee of debauched carousal and saturnalia, an evening whose very excess no future event could ever possibly hope to shadow. What if 2005 was just the wildest night of YOUR life? What if that same thing happened in 2011, and felt every bit as valid, every bit as fuzzily memorable? Bacchanalia is in the eye of the beholder.

Notes on Sartorial Concerns

Your Correspondent assumed this evening would present itself as symptomatic of the “Reverse Peacock Effect”, wherein the women would outdress the men, thus nimbly subverting the ornithological paradigm. This proved not to be the case. For the record: Your Correspondent’s outfit consisted of flannel and jeans, and to be fair, it was a nice flannel and a nice pair of jeans, but still woefully inappropriate for the formal evening ahead. Worse, YC’s original choice of under-flannel t-shirt came by way of a competing coffee company; this attempt at semi-irony was vetoed by YC’s Plus One, whose own sartorial concerns were stunning.

It’s not as though the ladies of Stumptown were somehow lacking, or that they failed in their respective efforts “bring it” w/r/t popular parlance. Highlights included a red flower dress matched with black heels, pearls, and white arm-length formal gloves; (described from the ground up) red kitten heels, green floor-length coat with fur collar, black handbag and pearl earrings; a red / green / white Tartan plaid dress, window pane tights, and black bow-tied shoes; and a strapless aubergine chic thing, paired with tight flapper curls.

But the men stood out more, perhaps for the very fact that the aforementioned jeans-and-flannel norm had been shucked for the evening in favor of something a bit more deliberate, more formal, more…special. Beards, though still omnipresent, have been considerably trimmed down this season. The overarching trope is “Slacker Country Club.” To whit: An all-black suit coat / shirt / tight slacks / dress shoes ensemble, subtly matched with a Cobalt-blue tie. An intentionally bald 20-something wearing an intricately printed Western shirt. Homburg hat, Aztec pendant bolo tie, slacks and a maroon vest. Another man sports a houndstooth-checked hunting coat, flannel tie and bowler hat. Yet another is clad in a red cummerbund, ruffled white tux shirt, and a plain black bow tie. YC spies several tight tight tight (tight!) jeans and half-buttoned collared shirts. There are plenty of suits, some classic, some eye-catching – one sharp 3-piece outfit consists of a picnic table red gingham button-up, tan vest and blue blazer. Someone else wears a black sport coat coupled with a black turtleneck, a la Steve Jobs (RIP).

It goes on. There is a graciously attenuated pre-pubescent young man in yet-another bowler hat, checked shirt, cuffed jeans and print tie (Plus One develops an instant crush on him, for which should could not possibly be faulted). Arguably the most bespoke gentleman in attendance is a high-ranking Stumptown employee, stunning in his tan gabardine suit accented by a blue, white, red and green plaid bowtie. Another top Stump comes dressed a bit simpler, in Swarovski-studded jeans a red bandana (Plus One wonders, “Do you think he bedazzled them himself?”). Omnipresent are custom-designed Stumptown “lucky horseshoe” pins, an accessory that seems to designate entry into some sort of Stumptown inner sanctum, and is hotly desired (then later acquired with some subterfuge) by YC and Plus One.

Notes on Deglutition

Have you ever experienced the joy of a fully-stocked raw bar? It’s a glorious sight, the ocean’s bevy drawn before you as if by some discerning, curatorial omninet, replete with tiny forks and mignonette and horseradish-proxy cocktail sauce. I want to go to there: a dream land of heavenly oxymoronic jumbo shrimp, crab claws crying out for vivisection, and oysters of distinct varietal, each a perfect little cup of oceanic protein, every bit as tied to their terroir and careful harvest as the coffee that unites us all in the first place. YC’s consumption at the Stumptown Christmas Party raw bar was considerable, and would have been indulged further were it not for the dignity-tempering presence of Plus One.

Owing perhaps to the tremendous amount of babies in attendance, the complimentary alcohol on hand is of a rather low proof. Free local beer, free red and white, and free sparkling wine are all offered; YC hears whispers of years past, in which a “Tequila Room” and a “Whiskey Room” were present in the upstairs quarters of the Ace Hotel. May God retroactively have mercy on all of your souls.

There is also an enormous carving station on hand, prepared by the staff of Clyde Common, the restaurant whose misfortune it is to be attached to the Ace Hotel. (“Misfortune”, that’s kind of snarky. YC is sure that, for the most part, the staff at Clyde Common were glad to pitch in late hours and extra labor to furnish the needs of Stumptown et al. [YC is afraid to say the same cannot be said for the staff of the Ace Hotel itself, of whom a staff member bit YC’s head off for inquiring about a rather messy looking late-evening spill on the main floor of the hotel. YC knows “it was a spill” – the inquiry was born out of journalistic curiosity, and one sympathizes that it was late and all, and the world itself is an aggravating sphere, but you still didn’t need to snap.] At least their late-night supplemental party marching orders made no demands on personal demeanor; one server, charged with replenishing the dessert course [more on that later], sported the single largest bull ring nose accessory YC has ever seen, and YC is a life-long West coast resident, and has been to outdoor festivals.) The carving station included ham, goose, prime rib, steak, and all other manner of roast beast, the service of which prompted a clustered mass feeding frenzy that resembled nothing so much as an ill-designed abattoir, bringing the whole mastication ritual full circle.

There is an enormous ice art rendered bantam rooster next to the raw bar, and it is beginning to melt, all droopy giblets and dulled talons. Someone from the staff hollers “2 HAMS, ALL DAY”, and YC hears word that “the creamed spinach is fantastic”, but is unable to ascertain the veracity of this statement due to said cream spinach’s placement across the room from the raw bar. Fondue lovers rove the room. Chaos reigns.

Notes on Gustatory Diversions

The Stumptown Christmas Party presented its patrons with all manner of joys and entertainments, not the least of which being the ample opportunities for people watching covered in the above “Notes on Sartorial Concerns.” But it is not enough to simply look around at this sort of event. Be it for journalistic duty or personal agency, in order to truly experience the evening one must engage, revel, and find peace with the fray.

8:36 PM – There is already a massive line for the “tattoo room”, a Stumptown Christmas Party tradition that dates back through several cycles. There are 17 people in line early to sign up for the 9pm start date; the line fails to ameliorate as the night wears on, and YC is unable to gain access to the tattoo room itself. YC assures you this journalistic failure has haunted him for weeks.

Someone hoots, “Let’s get a bro tat!” – – and then such-and-such (who works for Stumptown, and is already sporting a burlesque-esque chest piece tattoo, leading YC to wonder as to whether or not he ought to give up his place in line to accommodate the comparatively un-inked) is flirting shamelessly with Plus One, clumsily sipping champagne and ignoring YC — so let’s not get a bro tat, bro, let’s move on instead.

There is a mechanical bull occupying the whole of the Ace Hotel lobby. The bull sits stoically ensconced in a red, white and blue canvas bubble of air, and is attended by two dudes wearing “Event Staff” t-shirts and ten gallon cowboy hats. Small children seem to take the most interest in the bull; the first rider is the aforementioned well-dressed pre-teen gentleman, who lasts but a few bucks before being tossed, cuffed jeans and all, onto the awaiting patriotic protective bubble. Later in the evening YC witnesses a full-grown adult riding the brahmin, appropriately dressed in a red flannel Pendleton vest – he lasts a full 60 seconds, which must be something of a heroic feat judging by the reaction of the crowd and “Event Staff.” Stumptown’s founder is in attendance for this feat, though he himself defers his opportunity to ride. As of 12:23 PM the bull is still in full force, its All-American air bubble inflated to the max.

There is also a karaoke room upstairs, an entire Ace Hotel suite given over to our yodelings. YC personally witnesses a high-ranking Stumptown staff member absolutely possess his rendition of “Ring of Fire”, particularly the baritone verses. Stumptown’s founder treats the room to his interpretation of the timeless Usher classic “Nice and Slow”, during which the room is gripped by something like comic awe; it’s as if we’re watching Usher himself brew a Chemex. Yet another Stumptown staffer sings an epic, garment-moistening white soul transfixation of a song name whose name is lost in YC’s notes, so flabbergasting was the performance. [YC sings too, but let’s keep moving.]

The entire 4th floor hallway smells like weed. There is a fake snow machine dumping erstwhile flakelettes across the floor-to-ceiling windows in the ground floor main hall, where the rooster ice carving continues to melt, and the DJ spins “Ill Communication” into “Very Superstitious”. Several musical groups perform, including a rather famous doom drone rock outfit called Yob, and the Murder City Devils, who were Kind Of A Big Deal during YC’s early-to-mid 2000s Seattle days, and whose lead singer is now employed by Stumptown. YC and Plus One are photographed together in the mezzanine photo station, and then again in the $4 photobooth on the Ace Hotel’s lobby, directly next to the rutting, rotating auto-bull. Alcohol service continues and conviviality abounds, save for the previously mentioned Ace Hotel staff member, who went Diva Supernova all over YC right around this point in the evening.

A Note on Family

People often toss around the term “family” at work-related events like the Stumptown Christmas Party. YC feels that this use of the term “family” is enormously misused, if well-meaning. Families (well, most families) are fraught with conflict, with secrets and underlying ennui and things that cannot be said. Colleagues, however – especially drunken, festive colleagues – perhaps this is what we wish our families were like.

A Second Note on Deglutition, Leading to Conclusion

There was this kind of perfectly delicious, evocative moment that happened towards the end of the night, the notes for which practically jumped off the notebook while YC was typing all this up. It works as a way to end this piece, though to be fair, the night did not end here, and in no way does this piece seek to speak to the experiences of all present.

Caveat now clearly offered, it’s getting late at the 2011 Stumptown Christmas Party (which was never abbreviated in this piece, so that the reader would be forced to fully appreciate the titular noun’s linguistic and cultural grandeur), and dessert and coffee have now been served. YC makes his way towards the coffee station so as to acquire a nice mug of something, both for himself and for Plus One.

Not to be glib, but the cream and sugar attending that attend this coffee service are woefully tone deaf, and have gone unused. Worse still, the “Regular” coffee carafe is empty, and people are being reduced to decaf. Therein lies the delicious moment: 15 or so confirmed coffee drinkers, all of us Stumptown staffers or hangers on, are fretting table side for, dear God, we’d take whatever you brought us at this moment, so long as it were caffeinated and brought with it the promise of fortitude for the wee hours. YC is standing there, and everyone else is standing there, and there is no coffee at the fucking Stumptown Christmas Party, and everyone gets the irony.

We look at each other, exchanging knowing, silent moments of camaraderie, until finally a staff member emerges with a fresh carafe of we-don’t-ask, which is instantaneously pounced upon. YC pours a cup for himself and Plus One, then clears to escape the scrum.

And although YC really does think that the term “family” is employed at parties like this with egregious aplomb, and although YC (and Plus One, for what it’s worth) feel we commit a gross bastardization of the very notion of family by doing this, this business about the lack of coffee seems to speak to something bigger. The moment is a shibboleth, a custom that distinguishes us as a particular class of people; namely, a dozen or so coffee types very much desirous of a cup with dessert at the goddamn Stumptown Christmas Party, where the lack of such a thing is baldly absurd.

And maybe that’s all we want when we talk about “family”, or family, or whatever you want to do with the syntax. Maybe that’s what we feel when we’re together with our colleagues, our peers, our friends. When we say “family” in this context, what we’re really wishing and working and praying and building toward is that shared moment, where the irony is delicious, and better still, we all get it.