Q: Does it Matter if Pub Quizzes Go Corporate? A: It's Complicated Barroom trivia nights have spawned national chains. Does that mean the end of the wacky local quizmaster?

Page 1 of 4

Most pub quizzes begin with the rules. But on a recent Wednesday at Hard Times Cafe in Clarendon, there’s a phone number, too: Contestants can use it to settle any concerns or disputes. It’s not the bar’s number. It’s more like a corporate hotline.

The option of a long-distance conflict-resolution specialist is the first indication that this is not your typical barroom trivia night. Sure, there is a pair of wiseacre quizmasters with a laptop and microphone. And yeah, there’s a room full of 20- and 30-somethings swilling craft beers and eating greasy food. But tonight’s event isn’t a homegrown quiz, with idiosyncratic questions penned by the hosts. This is pub quiz gone Walmart.

Twenty-seven teams are competing in Geeks Who Drink’s first night in Arlington. Despite its name, the quiz is a pretty snug fit for the fratty atmosphere. “What sitcom allowed America to watch Alyssa Milano become a hottie in real time?” goes one question. In the same round: “In what movie does Johnny Depp care for his retarded brother...”—half the room bristles. The MC is embarrassed: “Intellectually challenged,” she later corrects herself.

Things aren’t running Walmart-smooth quite yet.

Geeks Who Drink runs more than 100 trivia nights around the country. The Colorado firm’s business plan aims to bring economies of scale to a quintessentially local activity. It has four full-time staffers. Question-writing is centralized. Its part-time quizmasters typically have to audition, although in Clarendon, hosts are also employees of the bar. And where the trivia nights that have become a social fixture for younger Washingtonians generally require participants to call upon all of their wonky, ambitious, ex-student-council president knowledge, this one is...sort of intellectually challenged.

advertisement

But it may well be the future. With the launch of quizzes at Hard Times Cafe locations in Clarendon, Fairfax, and Springfield, Geeks Who Drink is trying to move into the D.C. market, where it’ll compete with other national pub quiz companies like Brainstormer, Stump!, and PubStumpers as well as two locals with growing footprints, Trivia Kings and District Trivia. Welcome to the pub-quiz wars.

This being its first run, tonight’s Geeks Who Drink quiz doesn’t go that smoothly. It’s certainly fast-paced: Eight rounds in two hours. The questions—heavy on pop culture, and for the most part not too difficult—do feature a few head-scratchers. But we’re also awarded an extra point for returning our Geeks Who Drink pencil—the pub-quiz equivalent of writing your name atop the SAT. Hyper-competitive Washington, it ain’t.

One pub-quiz staple that is replicated at Geeks Who Drink is the tradition of wacky, pretentious team names. Well, sort of. One group is “Is it too tsunami to talk about this?” Another is “Wish we were at the Caps game.” My squad calls itself “Studs Terkel”—after the Chicago historian who wrote the book Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression—mostly because we can’t come up with anything wittier. Perhaps, less consciously, it’s because we think we’re too smart to be here. It’s a close game, and we miss enough questions across eight rounds to assume we’ve lost. In the end, we do win, which means, in retrospect, that we have a good time. (There are a lot of reasons to play pub quiz, but the most important is winning, if only because it means free drinks.) Later, I check the play-by-play on Geeks Who Drinks’ website: “All in all the hump date treat we call GWD night at Hard Times was a success!” The revolution has been recapped.

Still, it feels like a pyrrhic victory—an exceedingly low-stakes pyrrhic victory—if only because the hosts don’t seem especially invested in their questions. In the music round, we’re asked to identify songs involving the word “pretty,” like “Pretty Woman” by Roy Orbison. By the time the answers are read aloud, the quizmasters have changed his name: Ray Orbison.


In economic terms, pub quizzes exist for one reason: To populate bars during the work week with people who otherwise would not be there. There are dozens of pub quizzes in the D.C. area—easily more than 100—and most are run either by the pubs themselves or by independent quizmasters who write their own questions, run their own promotion, and work out their own arrangements with bars. All of that work can be time-consuming, although the pay is sometimes good (and the drinks are always free).

Companies like Geeks Who Drink and Brainstormer, by contrast, are quiz factories: They generate and fact-check questions for quizzes across the country, sometimes soliciting freelance contributions; they usually handle some promotion; and they sometimes provide quizmasters. They’ve got a few selling points: value (they can be cheaper than indie quizmasters), consistency (since they’re, you know, corporate), and experience (not all questions and quizmasters are created equal). Usually, all the quizzes one company generates on a given night are identical or similar, although they sometimes can be tweaked by MCs.

Our Readers Say

While the Looking Glass shout-out is appreciated, I think you are too quick to dismiss Wonderland. These are easily the two best quizzes in town and quite complementary to each other. The variability of the hosts makes it extremely hard to win consistently, which is important when there are regulars. And that's why I love both bars - the fact that there are teams that have been going for years. I'm surprised you never interviewed any of the regulars.
I recently started a trivia at a bar here in DC and Id been going regularly to a few different trivia nights including some of the ones mentioned here. I also feel like Wonderland is oddly absent from the article especially given how many other trivia hosts play there regularly. Hosting there helped me decide I wanted to do this weekly and the MCs were super helpful in assisting for the first few weeks and providing help with editing. Now that I host its the only trivia night I still go to.
I have to say that this article was fairly on the money in mentioning most of the big spots in the general DC area. Looking Glass (Dalton), Fadó (Brainstormer), Wonderland (Volunteers), and Trivia Kings’ biggest (both Union Jack’s and maybe a few others), are all among the biggest and the best. Having played many spots around the area it’s a little unfair to leave out Ireland’s Four Courts (Brainstormer), Ireland’s Four P’s in Falls Church (Amy), McGinty’s in Silver Spring (In House), and perhaps The Tombs (Independent) which are all huge, long established, and very well liked. That being said though, and Wonderland & Argonaut are classic examples, size isn’t everything. There are dozens of other pub quiz nights all over the city that could make a case for best of the city that are always at full occupancy with similar levels of satisfaction. Another surprise you didn’t mention is how competitive, on a business/corporate level, pub quizzes are in the greater Baltimore area, with four very large business with almost 20 locations each, all competing against each other. While Trivia Kings and District Trivia may be the local DC players, they are still catching up with the “wars” up I-95.
Sounds like GeeksWhoDrink should have had a Washington Capitals trivia night ready to roll for such an occation... C-A-P-S! Caps! Caps! Caps!
Dude! Am I the only one noticing how there is a Geeks Who Drink web banner advertisement at the top of this article?
Oh god, I'm all for creative business ventures, but that Hard Times trivia sounds absolutely miserable. My team has followed a local host to two different bars, in part because of his charisma, but also because he's able to read the crowd and design the questions to challenge and appeal to that audience.

I've done a few Trivia Kings quizzes as well, and it's the same deal. Clarendon has a different crowd than Dupont and Petworth. (I can't even picture a nationwide model.) General knowledge is fine and good, but the charm of a really excellent pub quiz is banter, trivia and a host that provides something more.
studs terkel...eat a bag of dicks.
Imma let you finish . . . but the Argonaut on H St. has the best & smartest trivia night anywhere in the city.
This sounds like too much of a puff piece for Looking Glass, the author's "favorite quiz". I wouldn't be surprised to find that the author did not even bother to attend the various bars that use these larger services, and only attending one night or one location is not enough to gain a perspective on the larger phenomenon. Like it or not, these "factories" of trivia have simply grown because they have been successful, arguably due to providing an overall superior product -- just like other successful industry businesses.
I use Brainstormer questions as an "indie quizmaster" in Old Town. Having been on the other side of the mic as a competitor, it wouldn't be fun if it were easy like Geeks Who Drink apparently is. As fun as a round devoted to Arrested Development might be, it sounds like a load of horseshit. What's the point in asking questions that everyone knows? Trivia wasn't meant to have everyone win; it's not for the frat guys and drunkards. It's for highly-knowledgeable and socially-maladjusted fucks like me. And when you have to put "Geeks" in the title, you're trying too hard.

True story: someone whinged to me after trivia a few weeks ago that the questions were too difficult and rigged toward "old people", since there was one team that had a seven-week winning streak and they just happen to be middle-aged. I explained to him that I don't write the questions, because the Brainstormer-branded answer sheets and pencils everyone was using weren't enough of a clue for him. He threatened to go to Union Jack's, as their answers "are geared to a younger crowd". I don't even work for the bar where I announce, so I couldn't give a fuck if he left, I don't write the questions, although sometimes I'll make up my own bonus questions for a little more fun, and as someone who knows everything not worth knowing (unless there are hockey tickets at stake), I take offense to the notion that people in their thirties can only be good at trivia if the questions are geared toward pop culture. Read a fucking book sometime.
One major problem with this article is that it is based on the assumption that trivia geared towards fratty guys is a good thing. Corporate bar trivia in DC could easily be renamed "stuff white guys like". For women and people of color, independent trivia remains our outlet for teams and hosts that reflect things we are interested in and the media we consume. This writer may have found the questions at Wonderland too obscure but it is the only place in DC where I have seen a good number of female hosts and teams. For ladies who love trivia and don't want to just be a token player on a team of guys, independent trivia remains the best option.
Looking Glass is in Park View~!!!!!JHUISDga svhm
I began a weekly team in February 2008 with a co-worker, and since that time, he and I have seen team go through several major "eras" with maybe 10-15 people who were once regulars having come and gone. We're still going strong. And while I've moonlighted at other pub quizzes and enjoyed them, Fado, with it's competitive questions, strong (and generally funny) crowd, and intelligent and sharp-tongued host, Allison, will always be my quiz comfort zone.
Trivia, hey, that's cool.
So... suck a dick?
Think and Drink started in 1973 in Grand Forks ND and they recieved copyright #A523218 April 1st 1974. It spread throughout the midwest even with some locations in CA

Leave a Comment

Note: HTML tags are not allowed in comments.
Comments Shown. Turn Comments Off.
...