Ev­er­more reimag­ines the theme park

Lodi News-Sentinel - - PANORAMA:WEEKENDER - By Todd Martens

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.

BRIAN VAN DER BRUG/ LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES

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.

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