Thursday, February 16, 2012

Trivia at Sweetwater.

Trivia Night at Sweetwater Tavern in Boston was the best thing that ever happened.

Sweetwater was pretty much part of the Emerson College campus, the ultimate dive bar a few steps from where I had most of my classes when I was in school, living on highfalutin dreams of being a writer and/or photographer. What an idealistic, productive person I was. Anyway. Sweetwater was in this alley on Tremont Street, this alley that was officially called The Alley. Like, wow. Be creative, people.

Trivia was on Tuesday nights, and it was held in the downstairs portion of the bar, where the shitty bathroom was, where the bartender was always an asshole. Ordering something from him was always a special type of hell. You never knew when you were going to be yelled at, or more likely ignored. We were frequently ignored. One time I tried to order a drink other than PBR from him, and he rolled his eyes at me and said, "You can only order that UPSTAIRS," like I was a complete jackass, a complete imbecile, for trying to order alcohol from him, the man behind the bar. He was a completely condescending asshole. I think his name was Jake. How glorious.

Trivia was so popular, for a time, that we would have to get there a couple hours beforehand to save a table. There were a few jerkwads who would stop by early, throw their Red Sox hats on a table, and come back hours later, expecting their hats-on-table gesture to mean that table was saved for them. GUESS WHAT, BOSTON JERKS, WE TOOK ALL YOUR CHAIRS. TOO BAD.

But we got there early and staked out our spot, and would order the first pitcher of PBR, and stay where we would be for the next few hours, waiting for our other friends and/or other teammates to finish their shifts at their respective jobs and come join us. All of us worked shitty jobs, at the time. We'd commiserate about our shitty jobs over the PBR, which always tasted SURPRISINGLY good at Sweetwater. There was something special about the PBR there, no lie.

Basically, Tuesday nights were the highlight of Kathy's & my social calendar for at least two years.

We would have to commence most of this socializing at SCREAMING-LEVEL VOLUME, since they always played music at EARDRUM-KILLING VOLUME downstairs at Sweetwater. At best, you could clearly hear what the person immediately next to you was saying. At worst, you were too drunk to really care what anyone was saying, and since you couldn't hear them anyway, you would just smile at everyone and think about how much you loved them.

The actual trivia that went down on Tuesday nights was an intricate, unique sort of game made with love and detail; it wasn't any sort of corporate-chain-company-trivia-night bullshit that I've seen at other bars since then. The trivia questions dispersed at Sweetwater were dispersed only at Sweetwater on Tuesday nights, nowhere else. There was a detailed scoring system. It was classy. It included current events and sports and music and pop culture and history and a whole bunch of shit. It was good trivia. And people took it seriously. That business got competitive.

There were three stalls in the ladies' bathroom, and at all times, no matter what, there was only one that was actually functional. One normally had a busted lock; another one was normally all out of toilet paper. Let's be honest, it was a miracle if one of them had any toilet paper at all. It was always when you found this one working bathroom stall that you realized how much PBR you had actually drunk. There was always some really awful ad on the back of the bathroom stall door, for some other awful, stupid Boston nightclub, or for like, AT&T, or something. And there was an abundance of stupid, boringly typical girl-bathroom scribblings all over the place. So or so is a slut. Whatshisface is an asshole. The occasional witty comment. I would often sit there, staring at all of it, realizing suddenly that my head was spinning a little and also suddenly knowing how deeply happy I felt, reading the bathroom stall drivel and thinking about how much I loved my friends and my life, for many long minutes, before I would shake my head, get up and wash my hands, and leave. The water at the sink was always ice cold.

Our team name was always dirty. We always screamed and clapped whenever they announced it. We hardly ever, ever won. But we always screamed louder than the other teams anyway. People were probably jealous of us, really.

We won once. Mainly due to a heavily-weighted question that involved listing five of the Gin Blossom's greatest hits. And other teams were like, "The Gin Blossoms, what? That question is lame!" and we were like, "OMG, fuck you, sore losers! Gin Blossoms FOREVER, ALL UP IN YOUR FACE."

This also happened to be a night that one of the latest Harry Potter movies was coming out. The movie theater where we had obviously reserved midnight seats just happened to be a mere few buildings away from Sweetwater. Kathy had to leave early from trivia to go save us seats. She knew that we were ahead as she left, but she of course couldn't be 100% certain of the outcome. Especially since we never won. The prize for winning trivia at Sweetwater was $100 buckaroos, and the moment that we streamed into that movie theater holding our $20 bills in our fists was perhaps the greatest moment of all time. And then we watched Harry Potter! WHAT A DREAM!

After trivia was done, if there weren't Harry Potter movies to rush off to, we normally trickled upstairs and socialized for awhile more. For a splendid moment of time, there was this thing upstairs with the genius title of "Free Bar Photos," wherein you pressed a button, stood in front of a camera, and it took a bunch of pictures, which it then uploaded to This endless entertainment was free of charge, and you better believe we pressed that button and acted like assholes a remarkable amount of times. Until one day it wasn't there anymore, because whoever invited Free Bar Photos probably realized it was an enormous waste of money and a poor business decision at best.

Or, if you had gotten second place at trivia--another event that very infrequently happened to us--you would matriculate upstairs to collect your prize of a free round of drinks. Maybe, if you were part of our team and it was one of the rare times that this happened, you would realize that hardly anyone on your team ever drank anything other than beer, and didn't even know the names of any mixed drinks to order. Until one of your teammates--and I'm not saying which one, although it might start with a Kee and end with an eegan--says, "Hey, WHITE RUSSIANS!" and you all say, "Hey, WHITE RUSSIANS!"--and you might later realize this was an ill-informed decision.

You also often played Big Buck Hunter, which was featured right next to Free Bar Photos (while it existed.) Because, uh...why wouldn't you play Big Buck Hunter? You get to shoot stuff with plastic guns. God bless America.

After all of these shenanigans were coming to a close, meaning that people started looking at their watches saying, "Oh man, I have to work tomorrow!" or, "Oh man, the last T leaves in fifteen minutes!," you would make your way back out into the brick-lined Alley. And you'd stumble back to Tremont Street, walk past that Emerson dorm you used to live in--what, weird, seems like so long ago!--and cross the street to run to the Boylston T-stop. This 15-yard-or-so dash between Tremont and the entrance to the stop often seemed like the most hilarious moment of the whole evening, the most epic and alive. Can't really explain why, it just was.

There was enormous American flag framed above the stairs leading down to the T-stop, and it was a triumphant moment when we were able to open the doors to the stop and see it, realize we hadn't missed the last train, and fly down those black-and-yellow steps to the turnstiles, running down to that creeky, leaky, dark subway stop, and wait for our train. Sarah often got on a different train than we did, and when hers came first, we'd wave at her through the window until it left, and when it started to move, run along the platform down the tracks as she left our sight until we couldn't run any further.

When our train came, there may have been some contests about who could stay standing up on the train free-handed longest without falling down, which sometimes is difficult when you're on the oldest subway system in America and the tracks are rickety and you've consumed a lot of PBR. But then your teammates would get off at their respective stops until you were left to slump into an empty seat, close your eyes, wait for your stop near the end of the line.

And then you'd get to your apartment and fall asleep. And you'd wake up the next morning and go to work.

And next Tuesday, do it all over again.

I've heard that Emerson, in its expansion to be more and more modern and boring and less the unique hodgepodge of quirky and historical that it was when we were there, has bought the building where Sweetwater resides and is planning on removing it completely, probably to put in some more sterile dorms or high-tech recording studios or something.

It's a huge loss, Emerson. We saw Michael Cera there once. What other dive bar will stars go to to feel uncomfortable and then immediately leave? Will they be exiled to the trashy Faneuil Hall bars? It's a sad state of affairs. I mean. I guess this is what happens when we leave.

I'll always remember you, single bathroom stall where I always felt supremely happy and woozy. You'll always stay supremely gross and absolutely wonderful, in my memory.

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