By Steve Dollar
Robert Redford’s abiding institution—the Sundance Film Festival—shakes Hollywood players loose from their Oscar mania and gives scores of unknown independent filmmakers their moment to capture the world’s attention. Or, at least, a few hundred souls who have mushed through the snow to discover the next Richard Linklater or Steven Soderbergh.
Park City, Utah, the Gold Rush mining town that has boomed as a ski resort, already is a destination (just 45 minutes west of Salt Lake City). During the fest, which runs from January 17-27, it becomes a bustling hive for moviegoers, movie stars of every scale, the media and all the attendant agents, publicists, camera operators, caterers, film curators, corporate honchos, party DJs and limelight snobs, few of whom are easily recognizable in their parkas and hoodies, bumbling along MainStreet. That’s your first destination, though, for people watching—Park City’s central business artery, where boutiques and sushi bars are appropriated as party sites and pop-up venues. If someone “just happened” to visit during Sundance, they could enjoy a pretty full day hanging out along the strip. Here’s a few spots to check out there, and elsewhere.
High West Distillery (703 Park Avenue; 435-649-8300)—Wonder of wonders: Here in the heart of teetotaling Mormon Country sits one of America’s most distinctive suppliers of small-batch spirits. While in Park City, a thirsty soul can take the “eat local” credo of the Slow Food movement to its next level. Drinking local during Sundance mandates a visit to this historic saloon, where High West distills its hooch in a 250-gallon copper pot still. Take a tour (reservations advised), and sample some specialties of the house, like the 21-year-old Rocky Mountain Rye—only sold onsite—and Campfire, a straight bourbon whiskey.
The Egyptian Theatre (328 Main St.; 435-649-9371)—Opened in 1926 on the site of the historic Opera House (which burned down in 1898) and a subsequent theater that collapsed after an epic snowfall, this vintage venue has tons of charm—thanks to its ornate design, inspired by the popular obsession with King Tut that flourished in the 1920s. It’s worth trying for a waitlist admission to see a Sundance movie here, and beer and wine are sold along with popcorn—in case you need to warm up.
Pub Crawl—Main Street is lined with saloons, including those that play up the Old West theme. One thing to watch out for is a local custom of charging outsiders what amounts to a cover charge for the privilege of patronizing the establishment. When in doubt, try the
Wasatch Brew Pub and Brewery (250 Main St. (435-649-0900), home to Park City’s first brewery since Prohibition. Celebrate freedom of expression with a 1st Amendment Lager and a burger, which industry insiders say is one of the best in town.
New Frontier at The Yard (1251 Kearns Blvd.)—One of the few festival attractions that’s free and open to the public, this events facility turns into an art warehouse as it hosts programs and installations from Sundance’s New Frontier sidebar, which focuses on more experimental work beyond the limits of traditional cinema. It’s open from noon until 8 p.m. most days, but check the website for more details:
Blind Dog (1251 Kearns Blvd. at The Yard; (435) 655-0800)—Seasoned festivalgoers know there’s rarely time to eat a proper meal at Sundance. This army marches on power bars and party cocktails. If there is, however, this Park City standby is the spot, and it’s a few steps away from the New Frontier site. It’s a bit splurgy, though not by New York or Los Angeles standards. Creative sushi, steaks and seafood, with exceptional appetizers. Try to grab a seat at the main bar for faster service.
Steve Dollar writes about film and other pop-cultural topics for the Wall Street Journal and other publications.