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Oktoberfest season hits Tampa Bay with lots of ways to get your oompah on

L-R: Jonathon Alderman, 34, of Lakeland, winces as he sets a new record for the stein hoist at the Oktoberfest Tampa event on October 13, 2013 at the Curtis Hixon Park in Tampa. Alderman held the filled liter glass of beer for 25:05, beating his old record by two minutes. Alderman has won this event at Oktoberfest Tampa for the last two years. The waterfront park was transformed into a giant beer garden with live music, German food, and activities for kids and adults.
Published Oct. 7, 2015

Thousands of people are expected to hoist large steins of beer at Tampa's Oktoberfest in Curtis Hixon Park this weekend. There are now nonstop Lufthansa flights between Frankfurt and Tampa. And people are beating down the doors to get into the new Hofbrauhaus in St. Petersburg.

Ein Prosit, ein Prosit (the German toast goes), what's up with Oktoberfest fever in Tampa Bay?

The Germans had us at beer, but the goofy games like stein races and costumes with curve-hugging bodices don't hurt either.

Tarpon Springs is only in its third year of hosting an Oktoberfest weekend and organizer Dan Jenkins expects more than 5,000 people Oct. 15 through 18.

"Oktoberfest itself is the world's largest festival," said Jenkins, who owns Tarpon Tavern, "but I think the big draw is the sense of community and, of course, the really tall beers."

Tampa's waterfront park on Ashley Drive will be transformed into a giant beer garden this weekend, featuring traditional dancing, food, beer and an expected 10,000 people.

But the most popular element at the Curtis Hixon party is the games, which range from stein races (running an obstacle course without spilling any of the beer in both hands) to Carry the Wench, a race with your date on your back. There's also tug of war, keg stacking and more.

The most amazing feat of strength may be the stein hoisting competition, and Lakeland's Jonathon Alderman, a PVC factory supervisor, is the reigning champ. He's held a glass full of beer, which weighs about 7 pounds, straight out and parallel to the ground without bending his elbow the longest time for four years in a row in Tampa. And he fully expects to win again this year, if only as a wedding present.

Alderman, 36, proposed to preschool teacher Tabitha Haynes, 25, a few moments after his fourth win at last year's contest after hoisting the stein for 16 minutes and 8 seconds. (His personal best is 25 minutes 8 seconds set at 2013's Oktoberfest.)

He caught her off guard, he said, "because she made it abundantly clear she did not want a public proposal."

"The whole time my buddy's videotaping me and she gets suspicious, saying 'What is he doing?' and I got on one knee."

She told him yes.

And even though it crossed his mind, he didn't even suggest they hold the nuptials at Oktoberfest, though they did plan the wedding, set for later this month, around it.

The German tradition of Oktoberfest, founded in Munich 182 years ago, draws more than 6 million people and is firmly entrenched in popular culture now, and a point of pride for German expatriates.

Pinellas County's German American Society has been holding its popular Oktoberfest celebration over three weekends for more than 20 years, and the huge tent set up behind its social club in Pinellas Park draws a mix of young families and retirees who sing along and hit the dance floor between large plates of sausages, dumplings, kraut and pretzels, all washed down with beer in glasses the size of a water bucket.

At the newly opened Hofbrauhaus in St. Petersburg, there's no need to throw a special Oktoberfest party when a long line of people continue to stream in for a daily dose of Munich-style revelry in the noisy beer hall. It's already doing business at a rate of 60 percent above sales projections, Tampa Bay Times food critic Laura Reiley reports. Read her review at tampabay.com/things-to-do.

Oktoberfest events

The Tampa Bay Oktoberfest celebrations began in September and continue through the month. Here are some ways to get your oompah on in the coming weeks and say Prost!

Oktoberfest Tampa: With food, music, games and lots of beer. Entry is $10, $25 for a weekend pass at oktoberfesttampa.com. It runs 4-11 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday at Curtis Hixon Park, 600 N Ashley Drive, Tampa. (813) 397-8722; oktoberfesttampa.com.

Celebrate Oktoberfest: The German American Society of Pinellas features live German music, folk dancers, a variety of imported beers, homemade cuisine and German vendors. $6; 12 and younger free. 5-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. 8098 66th St. N, Pinellas Park. (727) 238-8201; germantampa.com.

Brandon Oktoberfest: With German food and music, carnival games, bounce houses, pony rides, rock climbing, a giant slide and a bake sale at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 2913 John Moore Road, Brandon. (813) 689-1787. noon-4 p.m. Saturday. Free (food/carnival activities additional).

Oktoberfest Beer Dinner: There's a four-course dinner today through Saturday at Dunedin's Kelly's for Just About Anything paired with five distinctively styled beers. $40, 319 Main St., Dunedin. (727) 736-5284. 5-10:30 p.m. today-Saturday

Tarpon Springs Oktoberfest (Oct. 15-18): Now in its third year, this biergarten in downtown Tarpon Springs drew 5,000 people last year. The Bavarian block party will have food vendors, arts and crafts, music, dancing, games, keg tappings and contests for costumes, stein holding, best beard and best chicken dance. Free admission. Orange Street between Safford and N Pinellas avenues, Tarpon Springs. (727) 946-5610; floridaoktoberfest.com.

Tierra Verde Oktoberfest (Oct. 17): There will be games, beer, food, a children's activity area, art market and food trucks. Benefits Tampa Bay Watch and Southeastern Guide Dogs. Free admission. Set up in downtown Tierra Verde, 1110 Pinellas Bayway S, St. Petersburg. (727) 864-4124; tierraverdebusinesspartnership.com.

Oktoberfest and Family Fall Festival (Oct. 15-18): The Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School in Dunedin holds this family festival with midway rides, games, food, an over-sized flea market, Oktoberfest tent (6-10 p.m. Oct. 15), live entertainment, sports viewing in the Seadog Brewing Co. Sports Tent and raffles. Free (food, ride and game tickets extra) at 750 San Salvador Drive, Dunedin. (727) 733-3776; ollfallfestival.com.

Upper Tampa Bay Chamber Oktoberfest (Oct. 23-25): A huge Munich-style tent will be erected at Tampa Bay Downs for this popular celebration with music, German food, beer, a midway carnival and games for kids and hourly competitions including stein holding, log sawing, barrel rolling and keg tossing. Tampa Bay Downs, 11225 Race Track Road, Tampa. $5, 12 and younger free. (813) 855-4233; utbChamber.com.

Dunedin Dogtoberfest (Nov. 14) This one makes the list because it features the annual "Running of the Wieners," in Dunedin's Highlander Park, 1920 Pinehurst Road. So bring your pooch to the annual dog-themed Oktoberfest with a doggie costume contest, a blessing of the animals and the "My Pet's Got Talent" competition. Free; $5 parking. (727) 786-1330; dogtoberfest.info.

Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at swynne@tampabay.com. Follow @SharonKWn.

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