Location: Murphy’s Pub on King Street, Old Town Alexandria, Virginia
Regular Time: 8:15 on Tuesdays
This was not a new trivia night for me, far from it. I’ve been to Murphy’s about fifty times. It’s the first trivia night I ever went to in the DC area. At one point, my friends and I had a weekly routine of going to Murphy’s every Tuesday night. That was at a very different time in my life. I was recently out of law school. My wife was in residency and I was looking for a job while we lived in my mother’s basement. We only had one child then. So, I know Murphy’s has been doing trivia night for at least ten years. Come to think of it, I was at Murphy’s pub quiz the first time I used a smart phone to look up a baseball score, which seemed like magic. So, what would that have been, 2006? I was looking up the Orioles score so it might have been earlier. In the world of pub quiz, surviving that long is a rarity. These things pop up and wink out like particles in quantum foam.
We had a regular trivia team back then, five of us who showed up every week. Two were a couple who had just started dating. They’re married with a kid, living in Germany now. Number three had a nervous breakdown and left his cushy job to focus on a career playing those weird giant bells that you have to wear Mickey Mouse gloves to ring. Who am I to judge? So, when I decided to make a return to Murphy’s there was only one of the old crew left. I called him up and he was as excited to go back as I was. There were only two of us, but we weren’t in it to win.
I drove down and parked like I was defusing an IED. Each Alexandria signpost has at least four different signs, each of which seems to directly contradict the others. They make the complicated parking in DC seem like an Idiot’s Guide in comparison. I went to law school, practiced law for ten years, and still can’t decipher when and where I can park in Old Town. And do they enforce? Yes, I’ve gotten hefty tickets in the neighborhood before. It’s not Murphy’s fault, but watch out if you decide to go.
King Street is beautiful in winter, decked out in long strings of white lights, and not just for Christmas. The row houses and brick sidewalks are perfectly designed for the season. Actually, the Christmas carol O Little Town of Bethlehem was written when the author was inspired by Alexandria in the snow. I once worked in the neighborhood. My mother went to nursing school right down the street. Old Town has always been part of my life. It’s easily my favorite part of Northern Virginia. On a sad note, I noticed that Misha’s, the best coffeeshop in Old Town had gone out of business since I moved.
But nothing had changed at Murphy’s. Trivia is at the same time. It’s still held upstairs in the less popular overflow bar. It’s even the same DJ running the game who was there all those years ago. People always flock to the downstairs, traditional Irish bar, and the steady boom of a bodhram gave a little accompaniment to the night. It’s a fun bar, but upstairs you get a bit more space and quiet for conversation. That’s my scene. A few tips might be in order. Sit near the fire, it’s cold upstairs in winter. Also, if you order a burger (half price during trivia), do not get the actual “Murphy Burger”. It has mozzarella cheese (not necessarily a deal breaker) and a slab of ham. Someone needs to tell Murphy’s that a hamburger does not contain any ham because that slice of lunch meat has no business on a red-blooded American’s burger. Also, avoid the potatoes and ask for normal fries. The potatoes are almost as gross as the slab of ham. But the real thing to watch out for at Murphy’s is the men’s room. If you are male, do not go in last. The rightmost urinal is right next to the door in a very awkward position. If you are female, make sure to avert your gaze as you walk by. The ergonomics are a nightmare.
But enough advice, how did trivia go? Well, we struggled over our team name as usual. We considered something to do with the coronavirus, then decided against it. Of course, when the game began we learned that yet another team had called itself coronavirus and lime, making it the third time I have heard that team name in the last two weeks. We had the good taste to reject any Kobe Bryant-related names out of hand. That seems obvious you say? Who would have the gall to choose one? Well, hang on a minute, there’s one born every minute. We were stymied for a name, and finally went with The Attractive Nuisances. Yes, the name of my blog comes from our most frequent trivia team name.
I’ve complained about volume before in trivia nights, but Murphy’s nailed it with a loud PA, and frankly we were sitting too close. When the DJ spoke, we had to just shut up, but that was a small price to pay for clearly hearing all the questions. (I just realized how incredibly old that makes me sound.) The questions themselves are perfect. They don’t have any particularly specialized rounds, and most of the information is just general knowledge. The idea of themed rounds sounds much better than it is in reality. Give me a random selection anytime.
We played well through the first three rounds (out of a total of 7), and surprised ourselves by remaining in the running at least that far. Then we were suddenly a team of three when a woman plopped herself down and joined our team. Apparently, the team she had started with didn’t like her suggested name “Helicopter Justice”. Yeah…
I didn’t want to get into it, so I smiled and nodded politely when she talked about how much she hated Kobe Bryant because she was a rape counselor. I didn’t mention all the other people on the helicopter, including several children, and I certainly didn’t want to get into a discussion of Kobe’s guilt. The fact is, I think most people saw that for what it was. He’s a dick for cheating on his wife, but the woman who accused him is a gold digger who saw her opportunity and took it. He’s not a rapist.
It wasn’t the best introduction to the team for our new friend, whose name I have already forgotten. She went to Vanderbilt law school… Let’s call her Sara, that sounds about right. Immediately after impressing herself into the Nuisances though, she got a question right about Meryl Streep and the movie First Do No Harm which even in hindsight I have never heard of. So, all was forgiven. We needed the points. We had a team dispute about a question about a muscle that moves a limb inward toward the body. Apparently, that is an adductor. I thought we were saying abductor and I wrote that, then blurred the third letter in case there was a close call on the answer. The proctor called us over and made us choose one or the other. I have to say, he may look like he has read about smiles in books rather than having ever seen one, but that was a good catch. We chose… poorly, and got it wrong. “Sara” lost us a point later by being overconfident that a picture of Kim Novak was Lena Horne, but honestly, I would have never gotten that, so I’ll look the other way. I won’t ding her trivia team WAR for that one. My shining moment was when we were asked what Ron Blomberg did first in a major league game on April 6, 1973. We deliberated for a long time, considering answer like die, pinch hit, or wear a batting helmet until I realized he must have been the first designated hitter. Boom.
Amazingly, when all was said and done, we had calculated a score of 74 points, which seemed high, but not high enough to win. As the DJ announced the final scores, we thought they started too high, and began giving our concession speeches to one another. Then, by two points, we were announced as the winners. Here is the best thing about Murphy’s trivia night, and I hesitate to even tell anyone this. You aren’t playing for a bar tab, and you aren’t playing for just pride of places. At Murphy’s you actually get amazing prizes. (I really shouldn’t be telling you this). For years, my favorite prize they had was a row of tickets to the Orioles right behind the home dugout. I won them a few times and they are the best seats I’ve ever had at a baseball game, much less at Camden Yards. We were close enough that one time when Danny Valencia was checking out a girl in the stands, I yelled “Hey Danny, want me to get her number for you?” and he made a goofy affirmative shrug in response.
Tonight’s prize was arguably better. We got two tickets, center ice, to the Caps. This is no 2013 85-win Oriole team. This is the 2018 Stanley Cup winning Washington Capitals. Alex Ovechkin just scored his 694th goal to pass Mark Messier in all time goals. This is the first-place team in the Metropolitan Division playing the second place Penguins. The face value of the tickets was more than two hundred dollars each. That’s a real prize. Our walk on player even let us keep the two tickets to ourselves. So, she’s a hero in my book.
The awesome prizes and the genuinely good chance of winning make Murphy’s my favorite trivia night. A+ all around as usual.
Postscript: We went to the Caps game early on Super Bowl Sunday. They lost a great game 4-3 and we had to watch Penguins fans chanting on the steps of the portrait gallery after the game. Open question- why do some city’s fans behave like that? Can someone enlighten me?