Evermore reimagines the theme park
PLEASANT GROVE, Utah — The future of theme parks might just be in a Salt Lake City suburb. This is where you will find Evermore, where one of its star attractions is not a stateof-the-art coaster nor a thrill ride populated with scenes from a recent superhero movie. Instead, it is a tavern called the Crooked Lantern.
To get to the Crooked Lantern, one of the oddest and liveliest bars west of the Mississippi, you must dodge the druids near the town border, walk past the aviary without being distracted by the woman with a baby dragon and hang a left at the gaggle of buzzing faeries.
They’ll want to chat — faeries are a chipper lot — but it’s best to get inside the pub’s doors before one gets led astray. Faeries lie. Everyone here seems to know that, especially the ghosts. And everyone is welcome.
This is evident by the troll-like figure awaiting a chess player in the corner. That’s not an insult — he may very well be a troll, the sort who lives under a mystical bridge rather than the more modern breed found on social media.
Whether you are a regular or entering the Crooked Lantern for the first time, expect to receive a friendly and loud greeting, likely from the bartender Suds McBride. Crowds are attracted to Suds, who walks atop the bar and likes to tell guests about the time he was swallowed whole by a fish — the 4- or 5-foot monster that lies dead, intestines out, in the back of the bar.
On this particular Friday night, Suds had an announcement to make: “My tavern is not for getting drunk and forgetting everything,” he shouted. “My tavern is a place for good memories!”
Just don’t tell that to the hunters — they’re the stoic ones in all-black, ready to warn you of your impending doom.
Your journey through Evermore, where the emphasis is on play and human interaction, has only just begun.
Imagine a Renaissance fair, if it consisted of permanent buildings built across a dozen acres and possessed a Disneyland-like attention to detail. Or a game of “Dungeons & Dragons,” only there are no dice and maps. Or picture walking down Disneyland’s Main Street U.S.A., but instead of Mickey Mouse posing for photo ops, he asks for help finding Minnie and suggests you go talk to Goofy.
To set foot in Evermore, a quirky old-English town with crooked roads, dizzying catacombs and a bustling population of fantastical creatures, is to not just enter a theater but to become one of its central characters. There are no rides — at least not yet. Instead, there are game-like quests to seek out and lots of role play. It’s the sort of alternate reality envisioned by video games and teased — or warned — by TV’s “Westworld,” and it’s going to forever change how we view theme parks.
Evermore is the dream of Ken Bretschneider, a tech-industry innovator who co-founded the virtual reality company The Void. The latter’s “Star Wars” adventures can be found at Downtown Disney and the Glendale Galleria, among other locales. Before The Void, Bretschneider was behind the web security company DigiCert, and when Bretschneider ran the latter he treated his employees and their families to a yearly retreat to Disneyland.
While it was Disneyland that shaped how Bretschneider viewed entertainment, it was Halloween parties that inspired Evermore.
“Every year I’ve done a big Halloween experience at my house,” Bretschneider says inside Evermore’s Crooked Lantern, sitting at the long, wooden communal table an hour after park closing at 1 a.m. Gone is Suds, and any sign of a goblin or a cynical hunter, the latter a woman who sized up wannabe heroes with a scoff. “That was the crux of me wanting to do this thing.”
While Evermore is far from completion, Bretschneider opened the park for October to let guests take part in a Halloween-themed narrative that shifted not just nightly but hourly. More than 20,000 visitors showed up during the first three weeks. Later this month Evermore, which will operate seasonally, debuts a Dickensian-inspired holiday program.
Performer “Suds McBride” chats with guests from atop the bar inside the Crooked Lantern Tavern at Evermore Park in Pleasant Grove, Utah, on Oct. 20.