The Real-Life Catalina Wine Mixer Is The Drunkest Party This Side Of Mardi Gras

I was at the Catalina Wine Mixer for roughly 10 hours. I was drunk for eight of those hours, and just buzzed for the other two. I mention this because I’m dead certain that my 80% drunk ratio skews near the very bottom of the “drunk people at the Catalina Wine Mixer scale.” Literally everyone else I met was wasted. Staggering. I’ve never seen so many people in one place whose eyes didn’t track when they talked.

That’s not a complaint, mind you. Because no one I met was belligerent. They weren’t rage drunk. They were MISQUOTING STEP BROTHERS LINES AT A MILLION DECIBELS drunk, which is actually pretty fun to be around.

Of all the loudly spoken, typically jumbled lines, one ruled supreme, for obvious reasons.

A quick tally:

  • “It’s the Catalina Wine fucking Mixer!” — overheard 753 times; never used in the movie.
  • “It’s the Catalina fucking Wine Mixer!” — overheard 3,482 times; used once in the movie.
  • “It’s the fucking Catalina Wine Mixer!” — overheard infinity times, including 12 times in a single minute by a middle-aged woman in a tiara who kept stepping on my foot; used in the movie multiple times.
  • “It’s the Catalina Wine Mixer fucking mixer!” — overheard once, by a guy who was so sure he’d nailed it that he tried to grab the mic from Dan Finnerty of the Dan Band to repeat himself to the whole crowd; Finnerty serenaded him with, “please don’t touch my shit, it’s flu season.”

If you don’t know the movie Step Brothers, I’m gonna punch you square in the face. If you don’t know about Catalina Island, here’s a quick primer: for years it’s been almost completely controlled by the Wrigley family, under the name The Santa Catalina Island Company. They own many of the hotels, most of the restaurants, and virtually all of the activities (so many activities!). Not surprisingly, the Wine Mixer is their event.

Since The Santa Catalina Island Company essentially curates everything and there are droves of people racing to spend vacation-fund money, the restaurants are top notch, the bars feature live music, and the locally churned ice cream is plentiful. This could be a “corporation owning a city and being weird and conspiratorial”-type of story, except Catalina is really nice and the Santa Catalina company does cool-ass stuff like throw parties based off of Will Ferrell movies.

Observations from your correspondent:

  • Even without the mixer, Catalina is a great call for a weekend-long escape from the California mainland. It’s quaint, mellow, and sunny — feeling less like L.A. and more like the Amalfi Coast. The hills are craggy and old men sit on benches along the docks, watching the private yachts weigh anchor. Best of all, it’s an incredibly easy trip from the mainland, a touch more than an hour in the Catalina Express from Long Beach.
  • When I first read about the real Catalina Wine Mixer, on this site, I figured it would be a legit wine fest hoping to get a boost from its movie referencing name. I was dead wrong. Wine is a side note, this is a mini-Mardi Gras, centered around an eight-year-old cult comedy. This is the Lebowski Fest without the underpinnings of philosophy and double the alcohol. Everything about the mixer is made to mirror the climactic scene in the movie. Right down to the helicopter ice sculpture.
  • The Dan Band — famous for stealing scenes in Old School, The Hangover, and Starsky & Hutch — were the closers of the weekend and proved to be absolutely amazing live. Dan Finnerty made up songs, did a solid hour of hilarious crowd work, and played all the band’s movie classics. Surprisingly, the crowd work was the highlight. Many comics these days tell drunk people to “shut the fuck up” and get applause for it. Finnerty validates them, while poking gentle fun. When the only bad-vibes person I saw all weekend threw a lime wedge at the singer, he calmly played it off and turned the whole situation on its head in the smoothest way possible. By the end of the concert, the guy who threw the lime seemed deeply remorseful. That’s a pro, is what I’m saying.
  • This is a whopping generalization, but the sort of people who go to Catalina Island just to yell movie quotes and get wasted and wear costumes are, generally, my kind of people. On the boat ride over, my girlfriend and I met a woman who gave us VIP passes, fed us, hosted us in her Cabana, and charged our dying phones on some ridiculous battery pack from the future that she was lugging around. That’s the sort of quality I want to hang around.
  • The crowd was a pretty solid sidecut of society. It was diverse on every single level. The only defining characteristic: I literally never met anyone who wasn’t drinking. Have I emphasized this enough?

Since I was passed out for the whole ferry ride home, it’s tough to tag this story with some clever ending that references the first few sentences. It’s hard to wrap everything up neatly. I wish there was a simple phrase that could explain the overall pleasure I took in everything — the way it felt at once ridiculous and slightly magical.

Ah yes….here it is:

Getting There and Away


Take the Catalina Express from Long Beach, San Pedro and Dana Point. Or you can hop on a helicopter or sail your own boat like Dale and Brennan (without the wreck, preferably).

Where to eat:

I used to cover this beat as a food critic and Bluewater Grill and Avalon Grille are my favorites. I won’t tell you where to get sweets or drink, you’ll have lots of options and exploring is half the fun.

Where to sleep:

Pavilion Hotel is ideally situated and has a fantastic vibe. If you book a room there for a weekend, you’ll be right in the thick of things.

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