All you can eat: New Railroaders Museum event is third wing showcase in Blair County

Summer is officially here, and Blair County is getting hot – hot wings.

Since the 1990s, Lakemont Park has been entertaining crowds with its popular Wing-Offs, featuring a multitude of wings in all flavors from restaurants all over the area.

But this year, there will be two more choices for wing lovers: the 21st District American Legion Wing Festival at Legion Park in Hollidaysburg and Wingday Wednesdays at the Railroaders Memorial Museum in Altoona.

The 21st District American Legion Wing Festival moves into its second year in 2013, following a successful debut last year after the Legion broke away from its former partnership with Lakemont Park. The Wing Festival returns on July 11 and will be held each Thursday through Aug. 15.

“Last year, we had a very good turnout,” said Al Wertz, past district commander and current deputy commander. “The community really supported us. We were getting people from Carrolltown, Ebensburg, Bedford, Huntingdon [and] of course, Holllidaysburg and Altoona … all the surrounding communities.”

The Wing Festival will be held from 5 to 9 p.m. and will feature four restaurants each week (vendors will vary), as well as alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.

Wertz points out that the alcohol is far from the point of the event.

“This is not, to me, a drinking party,” he said. “It’s a festival held by the American Legion, and we hold family values very high. There is no intoxication. If you are visibly intoxicated, you will be escorted out.”

All proceeds, after expenses, go to children and youth programs of the 21st District – consisting of 14 posts in Blair and Bedford counties.

“The whole idea of this was to take care of our children and youth programs and our … oratorical programs for juniors and seniors in high school,” Wertz said.

To that end, he was very happy with the estimated 1,500 to 1,800 people that turned out each week.

“We were quite successful last year, [but] we had a lot of rainouts,” Wertz said. “We’re in good shape as long as the weather holds.”

For the area’s newest wing event, letting people know they exist is just as important as having good weather.

Wingday Wednesdays at the Railroaders Memorial Museum, which began on June 12, is a collaboration between the museum and three nearby bars. According to Sherry McCarthy, director of marketing at the Railroaders Memorial Museum, the museum was looking for a way to bring people to the venue in addition to its successful Alive@5 concert series.

“Basically, we got together with the three vendors we have – Pellegrine’s Lounge, The Belmar Hotel and Co’BRH’s Lounge – and we figured that would be a perfect add-on,” she said.

It was a natural fit, said Robin Pellegrine, manager at Pellegrine’s Lounge.

“I’m real excited about the [event] down there,” Pellegrine said. “Between us, the Belmar and Co’BRH’s, we’re like right down over the hill. So it’s awesome that we’re doing it.”

The bars already cooperate where they can, Pellegrine said.

“It’s kind of like our neighborhood thing,” she said. “We’ve all been trying to help each other out. These are bars that we actually patronize also. And these days, you have to try and help each other out.”

According to McCarthy, the first Wingday Wednesday event drew about 600 to 700 people.

“I think it was a little better than we expected for the first one,” she said. “Of course, we hope to grow with each event.”

Pellegrine said that wing events – her establishment, along with Co’BRH’s and the Belmar, exhibited at the American Legion Wing Festival last year, and plan to participate there again – always require a lot of planning, but that they’ve gotten used to the grind now. In fact, she said all three establishments were looking forward to bigger crowds at the events yet to come.

“We’re hoping to sell at least 60 cases of wings at the next one between the three of us,” Pellegrine said.

Since the first event, the Wingday Wednesday group has decided to also sell hot dogs and “Texas-style” hot dogs, for those who don’t like wings.

Lakemont Park, which declined to comment for this story, has three events left in what they now call The Wing Off and BBQ Bash. Beginning this year, barbecue fare will be provided by Prime Sirloin, while wing vendors will continue to change each week.

Those attending the events will need to pay $5 for admission to the park, but that fee includes an all-day ride and slide pass.

Though the number of wing events in the area has increased from just one to three in the past three years, Wertz says, “This is no type of competition.”

“We are doing this, and we understand that – all the other places in the city – we feel that there’s enough population in the surrounding area to support all the events that are going on,” he continued. “And everyone is enjoying themselves. The American Legion is community-minded, and has no problem with any of the other wing events.”

Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.