The problem with Type A Washingtonians isn't just that they can't relax. Far too frequently, they won't let anyone else relax, either. Everything becomes a competition and a chance to show off — even pastimes that are supposed to be fun.
Take trivia. Instead of being something a pub does to bring in customers on a slow night, it's become an intense battleground where a handful of companies host games at dozens of bars and post weekly leader boards tracking average scores. If you can't remember the capital of Albania or the top speed of a Metro train, you're letting your team down. The thing is, we don't need more pressure. In today's Go!-Go!-Go! environment, it's even more important to relax, talk to our friends and chill out over a few drinks.
And the perfect bar game for that? Bingo.
No, not drag bingo, which is entertaining but can feel more like watching a performance. And not the kind of ultracompetitive bingo where people have 12 cards spread out in front of them at a time. Just regular old bingo, the kind played at Kingfisher, a basement bar near Logan Circle, on Monday nights. Everyone who walks through the door gets a large stack of tear-off bingo cards — six pieces of paper each printed with six different cards — and a marker-sized ink dauber. Old films, such as "Clueless" and "Crocodile Dundee 2," play silently on flat-screen TVs. Bartenders hand out free baskets of fresh popcorn. On a recent visit, almost every seat — bar stools and tables — was full.
Pulling the balls and reading the numbers is Julia Crantz, who has been hosting games organized by the social sports group D.C. Fray for almost a year. "It's supposed to be fun and feel like home," she says. "It's nice to have outlets to meet people, and if I'm having fun, other people are having fun."
Her banter between balls and rounds is peppered with jokes, which range from the corny ("the next number isn't after, it's B-4!") to risque puns that can't be printed in a family newspaper. (What we can say is that when she calls one particular square, everyone who has it on their bingo card lines up for a free shot.)
There's something relaxing and almost soothing about playing bingo: You're chatting with friends. You hear a number. You quickly look down at your card to see if you've got it. You stamp over the number. You go back to talking. Repeat. You don't have to worry about how much knowledge you retained from "It's Academic" or how long you've practiced throwing darts or shooting pool. Your odds of winning are determined by dumb luck.
As the evening progresses through six games, Crantz switches the format to make things interesting: Instead of the usual five-in-a-row bingo, winners have to make a design like the D.C. flag (three dots over two full horizontal rows); stamp all eight boxes surrounding the free space; or just hit the four corners.
The first to call "Bingo" gets the best prizes, including T-shirts or logo sunglasses, but Crantz keeps calling numbers until runners-up — dubbed "Sloppy Seconds" and "Thirsty Thirds" — go up to claim their rewards, which might include drink tokens, chips and guac from Chipotle or sponsored sweatbands. In case of a tie, the outcome is determined by a game of rock-paper-scissors, which is about as competitive as it gets all night.
"There's so much pretension in D.C." when it comes to trivia nights and other bar events, Crantz says. But bingo, she says, is the great equalizer, because there's no reason to stress about winning: "Either you have O-69 on your card, or you don't."
Bar bingo at Kingfisher, Monday from 8 to 10 p.m. 1414 14th St. NW. Free. D.C. Fray also hosts bingo at Union Market on Thursday from 7 to 9 p.m. and at O'Sullivan's Irish Pub in Clarendon on Sunday from 6 to 8 p.m.