Lookout's monthly trivia event, hosted by Wallace Baine, returns Tuesday to Abbott Square in downtown Santa Cruz.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)
City Life

The trivia boomlet: Post-pandemic, trivia events throughout Santa Cruz County bring in the crowds

In the wake of pandemic lockdowns, trivia nights occupy a comfortable middle space between an intimate dinner and a musical or theatrical performance, a way to engage with friends and strangers and still be home before vampire hours. There’s a wide variety of them across Santa Cruz County, including one starting up Tuesday hosted by Lookout and Wallace Baine.

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Bob Prikazsky is having a blast. He’s holding a glass of wine in one hand and a microphone in the other, at El Vaquero, the winery in between Corralitos and Watsonville he co-owns and operates with his family. It’s trivia night at El Vaquero and Bob’s job at these weekly events is to read off the team names submitted by the crowd on little pieces of paper, and to award points to each team based on the creativity and humor of its name, according to his own hunches and moods. His judgments are impulsive and not open to appeal.

“I’ll give it a point and a quarter,” he says of one name that kinda sorta amuses him.

Team names at this particular trivia night can get pretty far afield, and despite one or two completely tasteless references to the recent Titanic submersible tragedy, Prikazsky’s favorite is a lewd rhyme about a young man and the many uses for his “gherkin.” The crowd roars its approval.

Trivia events are all the rage as a kind of post-COVID social phenomenon that occupy a comfortable middle space between an intimate dinner and a musical or theatrical performance, a kind of audience-participation happening where you can engage with strangers or friends at neighboring tables, quaff adult beverages in companionable leisure with others, maybe win something cool, and be home at long before vampire hours. Social trivia quizzes at bars, brewpubs, wineries and restaurants are nothing new, but they’ve assumed a new prominence since the pandemic. In Santa Cruz County, there are many such events from Santa Cruz to Capitola to Watsonville, some run and managed by companies that do such things, but most by a volunteer host for the venue.

illustration of a question mark on a deserted island, surrounded by palm trees

WHERE TO GET YOUR TRIVIA ON

The following is a (probably incomplete) list of regular trivia events in Santa Cruz County (and if we missed any, email us and let us know the details):

Woodstock’s Pizza, downtown Santa Cruz. Weekly on Thursdays at 8 p.m.
Cruz Kitchen & Taps, downtown Santa Cruz. KPIG Trivia Night, weekly on Wednesdays at 6:30 p.m.
Bruno’s Bar & Grill, Scotts Valley, Taco & Trivia Tuesdays, weekly on Tuesdays at 7 p.m.
Fruition Brewery, Watsonville. Monthly on second-to-last Wednesdays at 7 p.m.
Greater Purpose Brewing, Live Oak. Weekly on Tuesdays at 7 p.m.
Upper Crust, Westside Santa Cruz. Weekly on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.
Britannia Arms, Capitola. Weekly on Tuesdays at 8 p.m.
Big Gay Trivia Night at Greater Purpose Brewing, Live Oak. The next event is July 23.
El Vaquero, Corralitos. Weekly on Thursdays at 7 p.m.
Capitola Wine & Bar Merchants, Capitola Village. Every first and third Thursday at 6:30 p.m.
11th Hour, downtown Santa Cruz. Weekly onThursdays at 7 p.m.
Abbott Square, downtown Santa Cruz. Hosted by Lookout, monthly on last Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m.
• Discretion Brewing, Soquel, weekly on Tuesdays (except July 4) at 6:30 p.m.

Local singer-songwriter Michael Gaither runs the show at El Vaquero, dreaming up the trivia questions, deciding on themes and rules for scoring, and managing the crowd during the event. Gaither said that he and some friends began playing during the COVID lockdown.

“We started playing over Zoom during the height of COVID,” said Gaither. “We were all stuck at home and it became a kind of excuse to drink on Tuesday night, and we really just got into it. It’s fun. It’s easy. It’s not a big commitment or expense. It’s maybe a couple of hours, and you’re home by 9 o’clock or 9:30 at the latest.”

Gaither is coming up on his second anniversary running the weekly trivia night at El Vaquero. He is now also hosting another trivia event, this one at Cruz Kitchens & Taps in downtown Santa Cruz, in the former Saturn Cafe. Gaither’s approach is to build the evening around a theme. This night’s theme is summer — one of the categories features questions about ice cream, another features snippets of songs that have the word “summer” in the title.

Doing a trivia event is not, said Gaither, always an easy task, and he has had to negotiate a learning curve in his efforts to make a more audience-friendly evening.

“I’ve been doing the bantering/storytelling thing [as a singer-songwriter] for probably 20 years now,” he said. “So that part wasn’t so hard. But it took me a while with other things. [For example,] some questions just don’t work. I was using trivia sites online and a lot of them are just wrong. So I really have to make up my own. You’re trying to make it fun and silly. I always say that if you don’t know something, make up a funny answer. I might give you a point. It’s not a history exam. We’re all here to have a couple of drinks with friends and have fun for a couple of hours.”

John D. Pine is the quizmaster of the Big Gay Trivia night at Greater Purpose Brewing in Santa Cruz. He also got turned on to trivia competitions on Zoom during the pandemic. “At the top, we probably had more than 100 people from five different countries,” he said.

More than a year ago, after he moved to Santa Cruz, Pine began to think that a LGBTQ-oriented trivia night would be hit. “I didn’t see a gay trivia event in town,” he said. “I knew there was one in San Francisco.”

John Pine is the quizmaster at the monthly Big Gay Trivia event at Greater Purpose Brewing in Santa Cruz.
John Pine is the quizmaster at the monthly Big Gay Trivia event at Greater Purpose Brewing in Santa Cruz.

Pine said the Big Gay event is committed to pop-culture topics. “You won’t find sports questions at my event,” he laughed. His event is bigger than most, with up to 70 questions and a two-hour running time. Still, he said, he gets a good crowd.

“It’s a very diverse group,” he said of his crowd. “We have a lot of straight people who come out. There’s a lot of bi, trans, lesbians. I mean, it’s just the whole alphabet of queer identity. Everyone’s there. And everyone’s having a good time.”

Pine’s event now only takes place at Greater Purpose, but it also has a greater purpose: to raise money for The Neighbor’s, a proposed LGBTQ bar in town.

Longtime KSBW-TV newsman Phil Gomez is also hosting a trivia event on a volunteer basis, also for a purpose to help the community. His gig is twice-monthly at Capitola Wine Bar & Merchants in Capitola Village. He took on hosting duties to help Capitola recover from the damage of last winter’s storms.

“It’s not ultra-competitive,” said Gomez of his event. “Although, sometimes, you do have those groups that seem to dominate. And it can be intense at times. But it hasn’t been that big an issue, to be honest.”

Singer-songwriter Michael Gaither at El Vaquero Winery trivia night
Singer-songwriter Michael Gaither captains the weekly trivia at El Vaquero Winery in Watsonville every Thursday evening.

Unlike many other social events, trivia nights often have to keep a wider audience in mind, paying attention to demographics. Gen Xer Michael Gaither, for instance, has to reorient his own interests a bit to explore the music of today’s young people. When Gaither was hosting yet another trivia event at a now-closed burger restaurant, his audience included a lot of UC Santa Cruz students who would sometimes mock the host with questions like, “Can you please ask a question from this century?”

“I do a lot of pop-culture trivia,” said Gaither, “including TV stuff. And people will come up and say, ‘Hey, you should do some questions about ‘M*A*S*H.’ I mean, I love ‘M*A*S*H,’ but half the crowd on any given night would have not even been born when that show was on the air.

“You don’t want people to feel stupid, and you don’t want to be too dated. It’s all about mixing it up. People bring their kids. Other people will bring their mom or something. And they like to team up in different generations, so you have to give them all something they can answer.”