Post-pandemic, trivia nights thrive at Long Island restaurants
At a recent trivia night hosted by The Main Event in Farmingdale, participants were asked a number of questions, one of which—You don’t have to refrigerate pasteurized milk, true or false?—represented a high point for the evening. Why? Was it because:
A) Three of the 16 competing teams answered True, which means that there are at least three domiciles in the Farmingdale area in which you should never under any circumstances ask for a glass of milk?
B) Things had become tense after a tipster informed the quizmaster that one of the teams was using a smartphone, which is cheating, even though it didn’t seem to be helping their scores and, in any event, ceased after the host did a bit of “microphone shaming”?
C) Two teams, the Deutsch Bags and the Glizzy Goblins, were locked in a tight battle for first place, although nipping at their heels was Friendship is the Best Ship, a group of women who’ve been faithfully attending Main Event’s trivia nights forever, still fondly recalling the time a few years back when they knew that cotton candy was invented by a dentist?
It was, of course, D), all of the above, and also because E) a woman sipping a Grey Goose pear martini was still congratulating herself for knowing that Ed Sheeran has a daughter named Lyra Antarctica; F) someone else had no idea that a wolf and coyote can mate, much less that their offspring have a name (coywolf); and most definitely because G) more and more bars and restaurants are turning to trivia games, a decades-old way to lure in patrons on quiet nights. They are especially popular now, post-pandemic, providing a powerful incentive for Long Islanders to flee their sofas and congregate, filling many stools that otherwise might go unused midweek.
Much of the merriment, and no small amount of the mayhem, on this particular Tuesday were traceable to the multiple-choice madness of a 34-year-old dervish named Chris Geymayr. “We have 30 shows a week all over the Island, from Riverhead to Valley Stream, and every town in between,” said the West Babylon resident, introducing his company Tango Time Trivia via microphone to the 50 or so trivia buffs at The Main Event.
Geymayr’s voice is deejay-level but carries a pleasing ambivalence: Everything he says sounds like it matters a lot yet not at all, whether he’s explaining how to wager points on questions, warning players not to shout out answers, asking what farm animal Mariah Carey’s fan base is named for (the lamb), discussing his beloved Tango Time business partner (Natalie Geymayr-Hernandez, his 38-year-old sister), revealing the name’s origin (his “social media famous” 13-year-old pit bull Tango, who balances beer bottles on his head, wins long-jump competitions wearing a Superman cape, has appeared on Animal Planet, and has nearly 300,000 followers on TikTok), musing on his ADHD (“I view it as a superpower”) or delineating the peculiar weekly demands of a start-up trivia business (writing 200-plus questions, working five to seven evenings, sleeping four hours a night).
It is an exhausting regimen for the brother-sister team, but one that has allowed them to take Tango Time from nothing to something in less than three years, something that entertains hundreds of Long Islanders every week, many of whom are clearly hooked. Indeed, the company’s growth potential these days is limited not by the number of venues interested in hosting trivia games or how many locals are interested in playing them, but by that bane of hospitality concerns everywhere, the difficulty of finding staff—more part-time emcees, in this case. Still, it’s a good problem to have, as Geymayr well knows.
It’s a good problem for us as well. To follow Geymayr around for just a few days is to watch an island slowly coming out of its shell in real time, casting off the isolating carapace of the last few years, an island willing to test its knowledge of unimportant or arcane information for prizes of minimal value, guzzle high-quality local beers and consume obscene amounts of nachos—all for the chance to rediscover the odd pleasure that is communing in crowded rooms with friends and strangers.
About those nachos. In the course of reporting this article, I ate or attempted to eat: a plate of Extreme Nachos, proving that extremism in the defense of a heavy ladling of chili is no vice; a World Cup Sampler, which is what happens when Extreme Nachos share a plate with Buffalo fingers, onion rings and mozzarella sticks; and a stack of tortilla chips “smothered” with grilled barbecue chicken that answers to the name Tapchos. I also swallowed a Bavarian pretzel prepared in a toaster oven, mac-and-cheese bites with bits of bacon, and broccoli balls, even as I matched wits with a Crispy Dragon made of lightly fried wontons and ignored reservations about menu items containing Maytag aioli and Grandma Bonanno’s red sauce. In each and every case, my verdict was the same: excellent.
Some will no doubt find this shocking, particularly those not conversant with the latest developments in psycho-gastronomy, a field of endeavor that I invented yesterday, and one that should study the impact of atmosphere on perceptions of taste. My emerging research suggests that food tastes better, infinitely so, when one is having a blast.
Caitlin Meehan likes The Main Event’s nachos too, and lots more. “Today I had a burger, and next week I’ll get the ravioli,” she said, looking over at Kristen Burns. “She gets the same thing every week, a chicken wrap with fries.” Meehan, a project manager for a life insurance company, and Burns, who does medical billing, are both proud members of team Friendship is the Best Ship (Burns was the one who knew about the dentist and cotton candy) and have been regular trivia night attendees since before Tango Time even existed.
“It’s a standing appointment we have,” said Meehan of the team, a group of girlfriends who have known each other since high school. “We get together and talk about our week so far, drink and keep our brains active.” Trivia has helped make this food-fun-friends bond a strong and enduring one, she added, estimating that her team had missed only a handful of Tuesdays.
“This is the one time we can kind of all come together and hang out,” said Alexa Ferrantino. Now it was Wednesday, and Geymayr’s Tango Time had decamped to the Tap Room in Massapequa Park for a mostly younger demographic of trivia lovers, including Ferrantino’s team WaterGun, a table of recent university grads who attended two different high schools—Plainedge and Seaford—before fanning out to colleges across the country. As they drank pumpkin ales and IPAs from near and far, competing furiously for a prize roughly equivalent to a round of drinks, it slowly became clear that while their dispersal after high school hadn’t made it easy to keep up with friends, it was a boon to trivia success, where categories run the gamut from United States geography to song lyrics. “We all have different backgrounds as far as things we studied and media we consume,” as Ferrantino put it.
At a nearby table sat a group of women of a certain age, which is to say they weren’t young enough to know what black-haired Disney prince Ariel changes her life for in “The Little Mermaid” but could name Lenny Kravitz’s third studio album without a moment’s hesitation. “I’m checking out the young men. They’re cute!” said one before joking that the comment be stricken from the record. Meanwhile, a teammate eyed the WaterGuns.
“People don’t trust themselves these days,” said the woman, whose affection for minutiae goes back to the earliest editions of Trivial Pursuit. “They have to check their phones to see if they’re right. There wasn’t always Google, you know.” Nonetheless, she admitted she’d gradually become a Wednesday regular after first hearing about the Tap Room’s trivia night on Facebook a few months back and had come to enjoy the games, as well as congregating in restaurants again post-pandemic, she said, before being interrupted by Geymayr over the microphone.
Due to its underdeveloped sense of smell, the great horned owl is one of the few birds of prey known to attack what North American mammal?
“Skunk,” said the woman with disgust, momentarily forgetting not to shout things out.
On another Wednesday, at another bar, Loretta Murray found herself on the same page pandemic-wise. “We used to have restaurant night and other things, but with COVID, we had to stop,” said the Bohemia resident with a pained look. “So this is like a reawakening.”
The bar was Oyster Bay Brewing Company in Oyster Bay, and the trivia night was a special monthly one for Tango Time, not only because of the crowd—who was from the Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf—but its size, more than 100 that night. Building an evening for the deaf and hard of hearing presents extra challenges for Geymayr, who must load questions on PowerPoint slides and project them on the bar’s TVs, work with American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters to ensure that players know the rules and modify his approach in other ways, like speaking more slowly and flicking the lights on and off when time’s up for a question.
But Tango Time is as much about doing good as doing well, he said. “We love this company so much because it gives us the opportunity to be the reason that people go out every week and see friends or family, make new friends and create new memories. That feeling is significantly amplified when it’s for a uniquely great community that truly deserves it.”
The brewery, which has done well by its stellar lagers, porters, ales and stouts over the past decade, clearly enjoys doing good too, and views the monthly events as more opportunity than challenge. “The only challenge I could see is if someone didn’t put enough effort into it,” said bartender Carlos Morales. “We did the little bit that we had to do to learn a few phrases and this and that”—Morales’ limited ASL vocabulary includes hello, I’m sorry, wine and beer—“and now we can include a different demographic and have them still have fun and enjoy a public activity that they may or may not be used to.”
As such, the brewery has become a terrific gathering place for the hearing, hard of hearing, deaf and deaf-blind, said Murray, who lost her hearing as an adult. She’s a self-described trivia nut who is as drawn by the games themselves as what they represent: “equal access for people to have fun and enjoy themselves at a night out, just like a hearing person can. It’s a really wonderful happening.”
It had already been a long week of wonderful happenings for Chris Geymayr, but there he was again on Thursday at the St. James Brewery tasting room in St. James, still in possession of his Monday enthusiasm, presiding over what appeared at first to be a typical crowd of 40, its liveliness propelled by a selection of housemade Belgian-style ales. But then he asked a question.
What would happen if someone on the moon dropped a bowling ball and a feather at the same time?
The silence was sudden and jarring as each team quietly huddled to decide whether the objects would hit the lunar surface at the same time, different times or never. On one end of the bar sat Kool with a Capital K, a quartet of 20-something guys who had won several past Thursday matches but felt unnerved by the arrival of a new team of PhD math students from Stony Brook at the bar’s other end.
“They’re going to get that one right away,” said Kool member Chris Peverelle, while teammate Henry Kurmel struggled to remember if the formula was mass times height equals velocity and whether that even applied on the moon, and someone else wondered if we were talking about a 10-pound bowling ball or what.
“Don’t stress it,” said Peverelle.
“I’m stressed,” replied Kurmel.
Not far away was another perennial contender, Brewtiful Hoptimism, made up of EMTs and members of the Centereach Fire Department and FDNY, led by Stephanie Schmidt. “S--t’s getting real,” she noted quietly.
Rachel Adams, who opened the St. James tasting room with her husband, Jamie, just a few days before COVID hit in 2020, wore a look of amazement as she surveyed the teams, who played as if the evening’s prize were a new car and not a $25 reduction in their bar tab. “It’s competitive, they want to win,” she said, nodding. “Which is the best part, because if people didn’t take it seriously, it wouldn’t be cool.”
Had Geymayr asked players to name what local beer is made from 137-year-old yeast found in bottles recovered from an ocean liner that sank off the South Shore in 1886, he would have stumped absolutely no one, because the answer is Deep Ascent Pale Ale, a St. James specialty with a smooth, refreshing flavor that made it a trivia night favorite on this Thursday. And the brewery’s backstory is equally compelling. Adams worked for many years in the fashion industry before she became a brewer, and the taproom, with its quartz bar top and sleek, unbusy look, seems pitched to an audience beyond the beer nerd crowd. “They come to be with their friends, they come to laugh,” she said. “It’s multigenerational, and I love that.”
Multigenerational it was. The most junior players at the tasting room were at least 40 years younger than the oldest—students and retirees, firefighters and bankers, beer-crazed and non-. They all had come together under one roof, and all out of a love for useless facts, immediately begging the question of just how useless such facts really are. After all, what Tango Time’s trivia nights prove, if nothing else, is that very different people can easily come to care about the same thing, whether it’s which flower the Welsh once used to predict the weather (marigold), what company hosts a turkey talk-line (Butterball) or whether Libya borders the Mediterranean Sea (yes) or Red Sea (no).
In other words, there are questions to which the evenings themselves provide answers, from whether you should venture out on a Thursday no matter how wintry (possibly), to mingle freely with people you know, sort-of know and don’t know at all (probably), to remind yourself that public gatherings can still be a pleasure (absolutely). Are there risks? Of course. But also rewards, namely the rare chance to see strangers defined by more than their dissimilarities, to see bowling balls and feathers hit the ground together, just like they do on the moon.
Tango Time Trivia hosts trivia, karaoke and bingo nights at dozens of Long Island bars and restaurants each week. For the schedule, visit TTT’s Facebook page or @tangotimetrivia on Instagram.
THE MAIN EVENT: 1815 Broadhollow Rd., Farmingdale; 631-522-1030, themaineventny.com
OYSTER BAY BREWING COMPANY: 36 Audrey Ave., Oyster Bay; 516-802-5546, oysterbaybrewing.com
ST. JAMES BREWERY: 430-13 North Country Rd., St. James; 631-250-9545, saintjamesbrewery.com
TAP ROOM: 1010 Park Blvd., Massapequa Park; 516-590-7030, taproomofny.com