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?

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With several partners—none of whom work for the company full-time—Gélinas put together Trivia Kings. Like most quiz companies, it charges a flat fee to bars: In this case, it’s a sliding scale depending on the specs (the introductory rate is $80 per week). Quizmasters are paid by the night. They have proprietary scoring software, which helps them get through 10 rounds (10 rounds!) in two hours, as well as keep comprehensive stats on the website.

Trivia Kings has big expansion plans: In a year, after they’ve rolled out a new content management system containing 20,000 questions, Gélinas hopes to have reached 100 bars across the country. Just in this region, he says, “our goal is to have the best bar in every single neighborhood from Baltimore to Richmond.”

(Gélinas says he’s asked Hirshorn to use his scoring software—for free, in fact, in exchange for Looking Glass displaying the Trivia Kings brand.)

That means going after competitors; Gélinas brags about already replacing PubStumpers at several bars. Geeks Who Drink isn’t doing the full-court press on D.C. yet (Hard Times Cafe came to them after dropping PubStumpers) but they’ve done it in other metropolises. “A lot of the time, we’ll pick a city that we want to go into, and meet with bar owners and basically hustle it,” Dicker says.

Trivia Kings, meanwhile, isn’t even shy about going after indies. “We do that a lot, and it’s been very successful,” Gélinas says. “A lot of these independent-run places have hosts that are really passionate about what they do and bars that support them. But there’s pressure to maintain and maintain, and high expectations—because of that, that’s why you’ll find there’s a very cyclical nature to pub quizzes in general.” In other words: Trivia Kings means you don’t have to worry if your quizmaster gets swine flu.


Gélinas is intense, and so is his quiz. The Trivia Kings website somehow makes room for a medieval motif and a Rockwellian Uncle Sam. It contains rules like “No Cheating,” “No Changes,” “No Yelling,” “No Peeking,” “No Easy-Money,” and “Tip Full Price”—with a paragraph-long explanation for each. The site also lists selections from its quiz’s playlists: “Not only has the best music from across the genre spectrum been compiled, but we have taken a lot of work researching lesser known independent artists still growing in the music scene.” That includes cool bands like Phoenix, The xx—and Starship. Research!

Passion aside, Gélinas at least knows that expansion isn’t easy, even if Trivia Kings is growing at a steady clip. “We lose one-quarter of every bar we start,” he says. It could be any number of culprits: bad planning, bad marketing, bad hosting, a bad venue, a bad night. “We’ve lost six locations. It just kills me every time, man. It kills me every time.”

Certainly, starting a new quiz—finding that perfect calibration of host, space, and crowd—isn’t a perfect science.

On the theory that one should review a pub quiz like it’s a restaurant, I return to the Hard Times Cafe in Clarendon one week later, hoping to give Geeks Who Drink a second shot. One half of the bar’s second floor—where the quizmasters have set up shop—is packed with Capitals fans watching Game 1 of the team’s playoff series. The far end of the floor is reserved for a consulting firm’s happy hour. One of the hosts announces over the P.A. that the quiz is getting ready to start.

She is summarily booed.

I ask what’s going on, and I’m told they’ve decided to cancel the quiz this week, which was to be its second ever.

“We’re fearful for our lives,” a quizmaster tells me, laughing a little nervously. “I feel like doing it right now would be a suicide mission.”

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

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