May 10, 2017

An evening at the Bier Garten, the latest stop on the city's bar trivia circuit: Foiled (again) by millennials

Doc’s report:

In the year and a half since our report on Coonan’s Irish Hub, in which we noted the growing trend of bar trivia, I’ve played trivia on every night of the week, at Coonan’s, the Rathskeller, Bell Bar, Jake’s Corner Lounge, the Spinning Wheel, Tri-City Brewing, Scotty’s Sandbar, Tavern 101, Bottomz Up and Chet’s Corner Bar.

I’ve won often enough to keep me in business, and I’ve lost often enough to keep me humble.

In the process, I’ve learned a lot about bars, their patrons and games -- and, as usual, absolutely nothing about myself.

They say that sports don’t build character, they reveal it. That’s true of bar trivia: The game reveals the culture of the bar and the character of its patrons. From the serious young college grads at Tavern 101 to the rowdy blue-collar crowd at the Bell to the late-night hard-drinking partying South Enders at Chet’s, each venue has its identifying interests and rhythm.

A good host knows that when choosing the questions for a game. At one place, you’ll get more sports and movie questions; at another, more history and politics; at some, more current pop culture. The players’ interests shape the game, which reflects the culture of the bar.

But some things are true wherever you go. One is that you get what you play for.

Some trivia mavens, like the Wildcats at Coonan’s, who have been friends since high school at Handy 40 years ago, play for fun. And the Wildcats have more fun than anyone else. They tell inside jokes and wear custom team T-shirts.

Some play for money. A group of 30-something generalists formed a team called Jim, pool their winnings all year and take a trip. They win more money than anyone else. Last year, they went to Boston and saw the Tigers play the Red Sox.

The unhappiest teams play to display their knowledge publicly. They might reach that goal, but they also tend to fight among themselves and spend too much time between rounds
Behind the bar at the Bier Garten
Googling on their phones. They violate a cardinal rule of bar trivia: no repercussions. It’s a guessing game; you get to guess. I’ve known more than one team that disbanded because of infighting among arrogant team members over, well, trivial matters.

And some play for no reason other than the simple joy of achieving a common goal with others. Those teams have the most important component of a winning team: diversity. A team of high school friends can have a weakness: Everyone knows the same things -- and little else.

My best performing teams comprise a generalist, an artist, a scientist and people from three generations. I already know who kills Desdemona (Othello). I need help with the name of the tiger in Disney’s “Aladdin” (Rajah).

I don’t know anything about Pixar, hair bands of the ’80s, cartoon theme songs, the ubiquitous Harry Potter or video games. I’m glad my millennial and Gen-X teammates do know these things. I just wish I found this stuff more entertaining, interesting or useful. But I admire the enthusiasm of young people for current pop culture and their facility with the technology that provides it.

An evening in the Bier Garten of trivial delights

With that experience playing trivia at Bay City’s bars as context, I arrived at the Bier Garten on a recent Wednesday evening, in response to an invitation during a visit two days earlier
Jenny at work
from our charming bartender, Jenny, to play on her team.

The earlier visit predisposed me to have a good time at trivia. The Bier Garten has a welcoming ambience with its wrought iron furniture on a large wooden deck, deep-fried cauliflower appetizer, and a notebook of drinks that features the Three Wise Men. That’s Johnny, Jim and Jack, as in Johnny Walker, Jim Beam and Jack Daniels. After that one, you’ll need more than myrhh and frankincense to bring you around.

Joining Jenny and me at the bar on our makeshift team were Jenny’s fellow bartender Sarah and Scott, a Family Video manager visiting from Grayling. We had it all: complementary backgrounds, a winning attitude, age diversity (with me anchoring all the decades before 1980), and a name right off Jenny’s T-shirt: “Living the Dream.”

And on first blush, our three six-person teams of competitors didn’t look too imposing, nor did their names: Cock and Bull, the Table Hoppers and the Fantastic 5.

But first impressions can be deceiving, and, after 40 questions in eight brisk categories, we trailed by a few points. We each had our moment in the spotlight. Scott from Family Video
Sign on the Bier Garten patio
identified Courtney Cox as the actress who got her start in a Bruce Springsteen video. Jenny and Sarah knew the movies in the “Two’s Company” movie category (“E.T.,” “Up,” “It”). And I pulled out the name of the inventor of movable type (Gutenberg) and the fastest animal (the peregrine falcon: 242 m.p.h. diving speed).

But a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I was it link on the last category, as our DJ hosts Mike and Todd distributed a sheet with a print-out of 15 computer screens displaying video games, challenging us to identify them. Scott, Jenny and Sarah got 12 right and, with my contribution, our total was 12.

We lost by five points. Cock and Bull had too many millennial ringers.

So now I have the joys of playing Galaga, Snakes and Ladders, Frogger, Centipede, Tron and Dragon Slayer to look forward to. I say, that’s why we play 'em: to learn, to identify our areas for personal growth.

Bonus quiz: Michigan craft beers

Visitors to this blog might find the following trivia quiz amusing, not to say informative. It’s from a March 12 game of trivia at the Bell Bar. 

Name the Michigan breweries that offer the following craft beers:

  • Hopslam Ale
  • Huma Lupa Licious
  • Sour artisan ales brewed in Ann Arbor, Dexter and Detroit
  • Angler’s Ale
  • Pie-inspired beers
Answers: 1. Bell’s. 2. Short’s. 3. Jolly Pumpkin. 4. Arcadia Brewing. 5. Right Brain Brewery.

See you at the arcade.

See the hairy guy's report on the Bier Garten: Not much of Germany, but a brick from a break-in, a burger with olives and a bell with a past

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