Pub Quiz Review: City Works, McLean, VA

                In the shadow of the mighty cathedral of cut rate credit known as the Capital One building, there is a new venue for trivia night on Wednesdays: City Works. This Wednesday, a bitterly cold December evening, I went with three friends to check out the competition in Tysons Corner. Walking past the windows of the 31-story building and seeing the lobby decked out in Christmas decorations, I couldn’t help but picture a Huey Lewis lookalike holding a submachine gun at the front desk, or Genghis Khan stealing candy bars from the gift shop. “It’s Nakatomi Towers!” I told my friends. “Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring… except, the four assholes coming in the rear in standard two by two cover formation.”

The fact that all four of us understood this reference is not uncorrelated with our love of quiz nights.

We got there half an hour early, usually plenty of time to get a table, and found the place packed shoulder to shoulder. Upon closer inspection though, I saw several tables open. When I asked the wait staff if we could just sit down, they referred us to a host who informed us that those tables had been reserved by parties who had paid. Okay, slightly obnoxious, but if that’s the rules, that’s the rules. The genuinely annoying part was when we realized that the tables remained open all night. In fact, as people left some of the other places, even more tables would get added to the paid/reserved list until there were more than two dozen empty chair yawning at us while we stood at the bar the whole night.

So that’s a strike I’d have to say. On the bright side, the beer list is well curated, and I found a few sour brews that fit my taste. I know that’s a niche thing, but it’s my favorite. My friends were similarly happy with their IPA and Bourbon Barrel Ale selections.

The food was perfect brewhouse fare. We started out with filet mignon sliders on pretzel buns, which combined two of my favorite things: low fat cuts of steak and pretzels. We moved on to a plate of nachos with cheese and duck meat. Not something I would have chosen, but I was glad my friends did. I recommend those. Even the pretzel bits we ordered seemed exceptionally tasty, a hair better than your usual Auntie Anne’s fare anyway.

So, the food and beer were great. Let’s call that ball one and two. 2-1. Trivia at City Works is in a nice hitter’s count.

Confession time. I am terrible at coming up with team names. I was floundering, trying to come up with a pun about impeachment, the talk of the town today as the House deliberated. One of my friends saved me from that by suggesting we make a reference to the fact that we only had one bar stool between the four of us. So, we became Four Guys, One Chair, and No Music. Solid.

The real problem of the night became apparent as soon as the emcee began the announcements. We couldn’t understand a word he was saying. At times we couldn’t even hear that he was speaking at all. The din of the crowd was mostly to blame. Perhaps the table reserving magnates couldn’t be bothered with trivia and had no interest in being quiet. Or maybe it was just the low quality of the portable speaker system the emcee had brought. I brought the situation to his attention, asking if he could perhaps turn it up, and I wasn’t the only one. A woman who got there before me was told that the management would get angry at him if he turned up the volume. So, I suggested that I could turn it up for him and he could blame me: plausible deniability. I reached over and adjusted the main knob to get a few more clutch decibels out of the system. It was a big improvement, but I didn’t win a friend in the emcee. For the rest of the night, he introduced me to people as “the douche”. Fine, I’m willing to fall on my sword there.

I guess City Works was looking for the heat on 2-1, because they got off-speed and whiffed on the volume situation; count even.

City Works can’t really be blamed for the quality of the trivia game itself, but the fact is that they chose District Trivia to run their quiz. District Trivia is not my favorite trivia format. I have the same relationship with Go-Go music and Ben’s Chili. I want to like our local quiz hosting company, but I just don’t. You get five main rounds with several bonus rounds in between. Each round has a bonus question that you have to bet on with your points. None of that is a problem, except that the questions they choose for these bonuses are the kind of thing you have to guess on. What year was the Brooklyn Bridge built? How many moons does Uranus have? (grow up, I hear you snickering). You get a margin of error, which helps, but I’d rather be asked a straight up question that I either know or don’t know. And worse, these questions are incredibly easy to cheat on. I’ve never actually seen someone cheating at trivia. I don’t know if people really stoop that low, but I hate having the feeling they might be. It takes some of the fun out of the quiz.

The music round was fun and included a question where you try to figure out the theme between all the songs. I enjoy that. Tonight’s was fruit, with songs like “Strawberry Fields Forever”, and “No Rain” by Blind Melon as hints. Not exactly difficult, but fun, nonetheless. One bonus round was a picture round, a classic in pub quiz, and one that doesn’t get old. The other bonus; however, was a listing of soft drinks. You had to guess which ones were owned by Coke and which by Pepsi. Again, essentially a fifty/fifty guess, which isn’t fun in my book.

At this point, the District Trivia format was tolerable. They lost me for good on the podcast tie-in questions. Yeah. You have to listen to their podcast to get answers for several of the questions, and this made the difference for us between placing and not. Am I bitter we didn’t win? I can’t deny the possibility, but mostly I just think it’s profoundly obnoxious to ask me to listen to a podcast in order to get answers that are otherwise impossible. So, I think this self-inflicted wound doomed the trivia to a strikeout, perhaps even looking.

That said, I had a great time. I would rather have had a chance to win, but I caught up with old friends, laughed and drank beer. I can’t really complain about that. Trivia night is like sex and pizza. Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.

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