Take a look at the schedule of regular, weekly events put on by local bars and see if you find any similarities. You might notice, for instance, that trivia nights dominate like a boss.
Over the last few years, trivia nights have exploded all over Columbus. Whether people come for a casual night of gaming and a few laughs or because they’re fiercely competitive when it comes to knowledge, it doesn’t appear to be abating any time soon.
“Some people can’t sing but want to go out and do something. Trivia is something anyone can go out and participate in,” said Dave Casto, owner of Excesss Trivia, which also offers karaoke services.
Some of the more popular nights, like Sundays at Bodega and Thursdays at Grandview Café, see as many as 150 to 200 people. Three of the most popular local companies — teamtim trivia, Columbus Trivia Challenge and Excessss Trivia — alone present 30 trivia nights a week. And more could be coming, said Brooklynn Brokaw, Columbus manager for Last Call Productions, a national trivia company with locations from the East Coast to Pacific Northwest.
“Our headquarters in Cincinnati have 80 shows a week — basically every bar in the city. Columbus could get to that point,” said Brokaw.
In Columbus, Last Call has grown from five nights a week when they opened two-and-a-half years ago to 20 last summer during their peak. They’ve even grown to the point where it can offer three tournaments a year with a $1,000 cash prize. The only requirement to get into the tournament is participating in six of its trivia nights. The next tournament begins in April.
Tim Fulton, the man behind teamtim trivia, is the O.G. of the Columbus trivia game. He’s been putting on trivia nights for seven years, beginning at Andyman’s Treehouse (now the Treebar).
After Andyman’s closed, Fulton moved to a couple other venues, eventually finding a perfect fit at Short North’s Bodega three years ago. He also runs a Wednesday trivia night with similar success at Buckeye Hall of Fame Grill in Grandview.
Even Fulton’s competitors give him credit for being a driving force in the Columbus trivia scene.
“I want to give credit where credit is due, Tim is a rock star,” Casto said.
While Fulton is no doubt one of the most recognizable — and well-liked — faces, Columbus Trivia Challenge presents the most popular night in the city on Thursdays at Grandview Cafe. Every week, every seat in the upstairs private party area is taken.
At Grandview Café, Tuesday and Thursday nights are filled to capacity with 25 to 30 teams. People show up 45 minutes to an hour before signup at 7 p.m. to make sure they get a spot. Usually a few teams are turned away.
“There were two teams last Thursday that played outside and it was 30 degrees!” said Steve Meyers, owner of Columbus Trivia Challenge, which hosts 11 nights a week throughout town, and will be expanding to Phoenix soon.
“I even went outside at half-time and told them I was so flattered they enjoy the game; I appreciate you playing. But are you guys out of your f---ing minds?”
The main factors in the popularity of the trivia nights at Bodega and Grandview Café, sources said, are the hosts and the personal touch they add. Both Fulton and Meyers come up with fun questions and categories, but most importantly they’re engaging and funny with the mic — although they each have different styles.
Fulton is like a witty, sharp gameshow host — what he calls his dream job — balancing charm and sarcasm. (As evidenced by the category Songs I Dislike.)
“The Bodega night is so popular because I try to put a little snark into it. It adds a bit of fun,” said Fulton.
James Hansen, a Ph.D. student at Ohio State who’s been “ritually” attending Bodega’s trivia night for almost two years, likes Fulton’s affable causticity.
“It’s a love, hate relationship. I like to give Tim a hard time,” Hansen said with a wry smile, making sure Fulton overheard.
Meyers — who previously worked as a standup comic — is like that genially wise-ass joker who makes everyone laugh. For example: Meyers hurled a good-natured jab at one team name last Thursday, causing the room to lose it. The name involved performing sexual favors for free, and Meyers simply said such acts were implicitly “free,” given the team’s attire.
“No question about it, the host makes all the difference. Steve has a great sense of humor, good interaction and he’s very genuine,” said Grandview Café owner Bill Cosgrove.
While Columbus Trivia Challenge and teamtim trivia are banking on the personality of their hosts, Excessss Trivia is relying on its gameplay — a “Jeopardy”-style format where teams must be the first to buzz in with their answer. It’s a more fast-paced game than the pen and paper style used by most trivia nights. Casto compares Excessss to an NBA game, while the others — “analog trivia” as he calls it — are like golf.
“I’m a big fan of paper trivia. It’s so much fun, but I felt like something was missing,” said Casto. “Excessss provides a quality product regardless of the host or place. We’re not relying on hosts as our business model to be successful.”
Casto credits his stable of hosts for contributing to the success of trivia nights — each creates 120 questions per night specifically catered to the location and its crowd — but feels his gameplay is what separates Excesss from the pack.
Whatever the format, host or location, trivia nights have served the bar and restaurant industry well.
Casto feels trivia nights are having an impact on the local economy as a boon for what are traditionally off-nights (Sunday through Thursday) in the industry. In fact, Excesss started as a karaoke company, but now has 17 trivia nights compared to seven for karaoke. Casto is even hoping to have trivia nights on Fridays and Saturdays.
Cosgrove said trivia nights at Grandview Café are a great way to introduce his place to new clientele and it’s done wonders for his private party business because people get to see that area when they come for trivia nights.
“Truthfully, I look at this more as an advertising expense than a profit-maker. It gets people here, gives them a good feeling for the place, they get to know the staff and they’re more likely to come back on a Friday or Saturday. From a financial standpoint, it’s probably break-even,” Cosgrove said.