It was anarchy in Founding Fathers pub, or so it seemed upon our arrival for the bar’s advertised 7 p.m. start time for trivia. Our three-member team, ready to check out what is rumored to be one of the best trivia nights in Buffalo, could barely squeeze through the door of the narrow building, which was packed with people and presidential memorabilia. The décor would make Sam Eagle proud.
“Some bars have sports themes, we’re a historic bar,” said bar owner and trivia host Michael Driscoll.
The bar stools were all filled and every table was taken, some having been reserved as early as 3 p.m. A frenzy of shouting surrounded Driscoll, a retired social studies teacher, as he fired questions into a microphone. It quickly became clear that Founding Fathers is a place for serious trivia fanatics.
But Founding Fathers is not the only place to test your knowledge. National services like Geeks Who Drink, Stump Trivia and DJ Trivia provide a fun alternative to family game night. Their services are offered most nights of the week at many locations. But to discover unique trivia experiences only offered in Western New York, bars like Founding Fathers are the places to go.
“There are only three destinations at the moment which offer custom quizzes, meaning that someone local makes up the questions to suit the demographics and the region,” said self-proclaimed trivia expert Alex Kirst, naming Conlon’s, Founding Fathers and Gene McCarthy’s.
Kirst, an active member of the Buffalo trivia scene since 2012, is a Gene’s Dreamers team fixture. The team plays weekly at Gene McCarthy’s Trivial Tuesdays.
“Since October 8, 2013, when I started keeping track, Gene’s Dreamers has finished within the top three 38 times, winning 11 times,” said Kirst. “We take competition pretty seriously.”
Back at Founding Fathers, the mayhem died down after Driscoll announced the end of the warm-up round. The written test, made up of 60 questions plus bonuses, would begin shortly. Teammate Dan Giles checked in with Driscoll and we became the 19th team of the night.
Teams are limited to five members. Large groups can be split into multiple teams or paired with newcomers looking to join in the fun.
“The maximum size for a trivia team at many locations is six people, but six people may not necessarily be the best size,” said Kirst. “It’s often easier to argue about an answer with a team of three rather than a team of six. With a full six, it’s harder to balance differing voices and perspectives. Teamwork is imperative.”
Driscoll passed out tests and instructed participants not to look until the start of the 25-minute test period. This was a good time to take advantage of the free popcorn and nachos the bar provides. A picture of Driscoll above the self-serve nacho station mocks, “Do I have to spoon feed you?”
Founding Fathers trivia follows a test format combined with shout-out rounds. Other trivia nights in the area stick to more traditional methods of answering questions, with paper slips or newfangled tablets and game pieces.
“Nothing quite as relaxing after a night of studying as taking a test,” Giles said.
“Even more relaxing is taking a test after a night of grading tests,” replied John Collins, a science teacher at Stanley G. Falk School, sitting at the bar.
Driscoll’s test is not of the typical multiple-choice variety; instead each question has one answer.
Our team may have missed the warm-ups, but we had a wide range of knowledge between us. We made our way swiftly and surely through the 60 questions, not lingering on those we had trouble with. The guys covered geography and history questions and I came up with wild cards like Meryl Streep and Dolly Parton.
Around us teams huddled over their tables, the bar or any spare inch of space available, discussing answers fervently. There was no need to speak in hushed tones. Everyone was thoroughly engrossed in their deliberations.
Driscoll kept time, calling out the minutes left until we were instructed to pass our tests to our neighbor. I was never fond of this grading style in elementary school, but the patrons of Founding Fathers operate under a good-natured honor code.
Driscoll reads each question aloud in succession and teams boisterously shout out their guesses, which he affirms or corrects.
The answer “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” caused the bar patrons to break into song.
“Why did we even bring you?” a man exclaimed in mock anger to a team member who provided a woefully incorrect answer.
Participants also will stand up for their answers. Driscoll’s correct location for the Hope Diamond as the Smithsonian rather than Washington, D.C., was subject to an outcry. Chants of “Wash-ing-ton! Wash-ing-ton!” broke out and drowned out the boos of the naysayers. Our grader raised his glass to us in solidarity when our D.C. answer was accepted.
While the bar might seem a Colosseum of chaos and Driscoll its emperor, there is a noble spirit to these games. Driscoll thoroughly researches his questions at the library and takes the yeas and nays of the body into account. His sound judgments would please fathers from Hamilton to Jefferson.
Driscoll does not follow specific categories like other bars, instead he draws from any and all source materials for a wide range of question subjects.
“I try to diversify a little something for everyone,” said Driscoll.
After grading, the top three teams enter a final round. This night ended in a tie resolved under Driscoll’s favorite method, a shout-out match between one member from each team. The winning team went home with a bottle of wine for each member.
The fun was far from over as the official shout-out round began. A table is loaded with prizes, including beers, shots, candy and grand prize bottles of flavored vodka, which are awarded to those who shout their answer quickest and loudest.
After voices were lost and the table cleared of prizes, Driscoll magnanimously thanked all the bar-goers and asked them to join him in thanking the hardworking staff. The man clearly loves his job and the people.
“Oh, we have what I consider probably the smartest customers of any bar I’ve ever been in in Western New York,” said Driscoll. “Now maybe in Albany or Washington, D.C., or Boston they have smarter, but around here, I’ll challenge these guys against anybody in trivia.”