It doesn’t take much of a stretch to imagine that most of Sausalito’s 7000 or so residents probably didn’t attend San Francisco’s Folsom Street Fair. But luckily for them, Sausalito provided it’s own, much tamer event.

The 32nd annual Sausalito Chili Cook-Off took place Sunday, and saw 16 different competitors each vying for the coveted first place. At least that was the theory. In reality, the Cook-Off was a mix of actual teams competing, and various community groups that, while still making chili, were really just there to promote their own agenda.

Smaller than expected, but the setting was beatiful

For example, three different candidates for Sausalito City Council were there, each competing with their own chili, but more importantly, each was also shaking hands and meeting potential voters. “You want the pin, you gotta shake the man’s hand,” the staffer and Councilman Herb Weiner’s booth told me.” Weiner’s pins, which cleverly read “I like Herb” were some of the most popular. His chili, on the other hand, was merely ok.

Not surprisingly, the "I like Herb" pins were popular

Merely ok, though, meant that his chili was actually better than a lot of the competition’s. For a chili-cookoff, the chili was the biggest disappointment. ¬†Competitors were allowed to start cooking at 8:00 a.m., but even so, when the tasting started at 11:30, many chili’s seemed undercooked and under-flavored. Some had beans that were still raw, many other lacked the necessary spices and thickness that should separate chile from meat soup.

Ten dollars got you a wrist band good for unlimited chile, as well as a bag of beans used to vote for the chili you thought was best. But more importantly, the beans could be bartered for alcohol at several of the booths. Perhaps it was the team’s way of trying to win despite lousy chili, but whatever the reason, it worked. I was able to trade my beans for two shots and several small margaritas. Ethical? Perhaps not, but it made the festival a lot better.

These beans could be used to vote for your favorite chile. But more importantly, they could be bartered for alcohol

Those booths that didn’t barter beans for alcohol tried other methods. One booth, by Bay Cities Refuse, looked like the back of a garbage truck, complete with working tail lights and horn. Another, Rock Till You Drop, featured middle-aged women dancing along to songs from Grease. At least more people watched them than the band.

These woman chose to put their time into learning inane dance routines, rather than cooking chili.

In truth, without alcohol, there would have been little point to attending. For one, it was hot–which would normally be ideal for an outdoor festival–but eating hot and spicy chili in the hot and burning sun is not the funnest thing. Even worse, most of the tables set up didn’t have umbrellas, so shade was in short supply. Luckily, if you’d already voted with all your beans and still didn’t have enough alcohol, beer was a very-reasonable-for-sausalito $5.00.

For those poor people who needed to remain sober, sodas were only $1.00.

All in all, though the festival was smaller than the giant banner hanging over Bridgeway would lead you to believe. According to one competitor, two years ago, there were twice as many booths.

Still, though, $10 for unlimited chili, some free booze and decent music is not bad. In Sausalito, you could do a lot worse.