Hidden gems of the Bristol Renaissance Faire
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With Summerfest crowds currently knee-deep in plastic cups and lobster-like skin peels, it’s clear that summer has truly hit high gear in Milwaukee. But once the music dies down and the city returns to normal, there’s only so much left to do: swelter on the couch, hug the air conditioner like it was a Cabbage Patch Kid in 1986, or light out for some distractions past the city limits. Happily, the first weekend of July offers the opening blares from the trumpets of the Bristol Renaissance Faire. The Faire runs through Labor Day weekend and is well known for giant turkey legs, jousts featuring a decent mix of horse riding and WWE trash talking, and costumes on both employees and attendees that boggle the mind. Still, there are plenty of lesser known—but still awesome—things to enjoy between the sword fights and fire-eaters. The A.V. Club donned a Cloak of Invisibility +4 to seek out the hidden gems.
Arms and Armor booth
The one place to “try before you buy” on site is located in the Military Encampment. Everyone jokes about picking up a sweet broadsword from the Faire, but this booth is the one place you can actually pick up and hold weapons in your hands. No swinging around or Highlander reenactments, but holding a sword or an axe without having to memorize some Shakespeare (or head into one of the scary aisles at Gander Mountain) is a rare thing worth a trip to the Illinois border.
The media stores
Travel back to an era before Sir Malcolm Barnes and Sir Gregory Noble joined forced to provide peasants with a place they could stand around and browse books in between floggings. The Ren Faire bookstore features everything from tomes on period dress and history to that Game Of Thrones thing people keep talking about. The music and movie store, meanwhile, offers quaint reproductions of “CDs” and “DVDs” of films and music from a bygone age.
Jane the Phoole
Sure, her majesty gets all the press, but the Phoole at the fair is serious business. She’s been around for 20 years, has taught dozens of performers, and has travelled the world as a professional jester. She juggles, sword fights, and trades quips like a walking Joss Whedon dispenser. When not extracting belly laughs from Faire spectators, she’s also engaged in some podcasting sorcery.
The Danse Macabre
For moody kids who hate all the sunlight and fresh air, this reenactment of a medieval ritual is right up their gloomy alley. Dancers dressed as folks from all walks of life surround a leader made up as the Grim Reaper himself. One by one, the dancers disappear until the Reaper is alone and silently gestures to the bemused onlookers. Everyone dies, from the king of the Faire to the lowly street sweeper. If death actually occurs at the Faire, it’s likely from too many gargantuan food options.
The hookah bar
New this year to the Ren Faire is a coffee house featuring several different mixes. Coffee was something of an exotic, imported beverage at the time, so expect a lot of whispered astonishment from historical sticklers and proclamations of witchcraft upon ordering a second shot of espresso. The Faire also presents a hookah bar this year. Several flavorful tobaccos are offered, from mellow fruits to harsh leaves. Combining the experiences allows everyone in the group a chance to feel like world travelers fresh off an exploratory vessel, instead of project managers wearing socks and sandals.
Sure, the Faire has sold wooden swords and shields for years, but with the advent of boffer LARPs, it was only a matter of time before the dream of whomping on a sibling with pretend weapons came true. It’s a small rental fee to pick up a weapon and wail on a waiting opponent, or a simple matter of signing up for a large tournament or event. One of the most popular is modeled after the movie 300, where a small force takes on wave after wave of attackers from all sides. (Impossible foam abs sold separately.)