Welcome back to Art Outings, an occasional series in which Seattle Times writers try out local cultural happenings paired with drinks and food. This time, things got participatory: Seattle Times arts critic Moira Macdonald and features producer Amy Wong — the newsroom’s acknowledged experts in, respectively, “Downton Abbey” millinery and K-Pop, neither of which helped us at all — tackled Book Trivia, presented by Seattle Public Library. We went to the one earlier this month at Optimism Brewing on Capitol Hill. Upcoming Book Trivia events are scheduled for Oct. 21 at Lagunitas Seattle Taproom and Beer Sanctuary, and Nov. 4 at The Royal Room.
Moira: Book Trivia is part of Booktoberfest (a word I like for this month because it has “Boo!” in it), an assortment of October events celebrating, in SPL’s words, “books, beer and good cheer.” All of which are fine things!
Amy: Full disclosure, I have very limited book knowledge. For every 10 books Moira has read, I’ve probably read one. But to be fair, Moira is a book powerhouse! I went to represent the common people (shout out to all my fellow “I really enjoy reading but don’t get around to it as often as I’d like” folks!).
Moira: I am also, ahem, a tad older than Amy, so I’ve gotten a little more reading time in. So! We met up, on a windy fall evening, at Optimism Brewing, which is a pleasantly cavernous place that is all about beer, to the extent that enormous bags of malt (that’s what the bags said; I’m pretending like I know what malt is) line the walls.
Amy: Generally, Optimism is a great gathering space! It’s a huge warehouse-like spot that’s both dog- and kid-friendly, although due to the number of people there and the general acoustics of the building, it was a bit hard to hear. If you can barely hear what anyone is saying though, is it even bar trivia?
Moira: Bar trivia, by definition, involves having the questions constantly repeated, right? It helped that Book Trivia had its own (very big) section at Optimism. Two SPL librarians, David Wright and Tyler Bosma, hosted the evening, using a much-needed microphone. Something like 100 people showed up — I didn’t count, I was too busy trying to remember what that book-based TV show with James McAvoy is (it was “His Dark Materials,” damn it) — in various groupings. Book Trivia rules allow for teams of up to eight people; we, after trying and failing to get some colleagues to join us (what is the MATTER with you people?), were a petite team of two.
The Food & Drink
Moira: Optimism doesn’t serve food, but it does host food carts in the courtyard, and allow food to be brought in from neighboring restaurants. And bless them for that, because before trivia night I did not know that “bacon hot dog” was a thing. It is. And it is glorious. (And available from the Chavoya’s Sausages food cart, which visits Optimism regularly.)
Amy: The two moments in which I’ve seen Moira the most excited are: after reporting back about the “Downton Abbey” movie, and when she was eating this bacon hot dog.
Moira: If I could have eaten that hot dog WHILE watching “Downton Abbey,” I might have expired from sheer joy.
Amy: Optimism is located in the heart of Capitol Hill, so we were surrounded by a plethora of options, if bacon hot dogs don’t sound appealing to you. (Although, why wouldn’t they? Live a little!). I opted for some magnificent shawarma from Garlic Crush, a place I could not stop thinking about since it was reviewed by my lovely colleague Dahlia Bazzaz.
Moira: Amy’s food did look really, really good. But I was full. And happy.
Amy: When it comes to the beer, I have noticed that Optimism’s beers tend to be polarizing. I’ve been thinking/writing/living a lot about breweries this past month, after our just-completed Brewery Bracket, so I feel like I should be an expert at this point, but alas I am still a 22-year-old with the palate of … a 22-year-old. If it’s not a lukewarm PBR, I’ll drink it (again, I do this for the common people). I ordered the Sol Connection, a strawberry basil sour, which was a refreshing and summery drink for a not-so-summery evening!
Moira: I like beer, but I am not good at discussing it. (What’s a PBR?) From the dizzying array of options at Optimism, I mumbled a request for something sort of light and crisp and pilsner-y, which I have concluded is the respectable beer that is closest to Diet Coke. The nice dude at the bar poured me something to try, and it tasted good and I ordered it. God only knows what it was. I have no further beer thoughts.
Moira: Book Trivia has six rounds, with a break between the third and fourth round; the whole thing takes about two hours. Each round had a theme: at our event, they were LGBTQA Authors, Stephen King, Libraries in the News, Book-to-TV Adaptations (this one was just photos, from which we needed to identify the show), Dead White Male Authors, Living Women of Color Authors. Overall, I thought the questions were really fun and struck a good balance: hard, but not impossible. Some of them I knew right away; some caused muttered curses and much pondering.
Amy: As mentioned before, I am a bit of a book novice, which showed pretty heavily in my inability to answer most of the questions. But I came through in “libraries in the news!” It pays to be a journalist sometimes I guess.
Moira: For the record, Amy knew way more of the TV stuff than I did. And I loved how, for one question, we each got halfway to the right answer. (The question was about the comic-book superhero Ms. America; Amy thought it was Captain America, I thought it was Ms. Marvel. I still think we deserved half a point.)
Amy: Yes, we worked well as a team! I do think that we would have had a stronger advantage if we had more people though. I believe the first- and second-place teams both had close to eight people.
Moira: Tragically we won no prizes. Gift bags, full of delightful-looking swag from the Friends of the Seattle Public Library gift shop, were awarded to the first-, second, and next-to-last-place finishers.
Amy: Overall, our score left us in the middle of the pack, pretty hot competition overall!
Moira: We should mention that the first thing you are asked to do in Book Trivia is to come up with a team name, and Amy and I panicked and couldn’t come up with anything clever. After a desperate text to a smart colleague, we named ourselves Tequila Mockingbird. (Yeah, yeah, there’s no tequila at Optimism; like I said, we were desperate.) The winning team was We’re Here for the Beer, with Father Knows Worst as runner-up.
Moira: Things I Learned From Book Trivia: 1) Sherwood Anderson (author of “Winesburg, Ohio,” which I totally knew and which earned us a point) died after ingesting a toothpick while on a cruise, which is horrifying. 2) The Hillsboro Public Library system, in Oregon, lets you check out robotic therapy dogs. 3) Amy is really fun to drink beer with.
Amy: Rephrasing something Moira said during the evening: “Everyone looks like they swung by Warby Parker before they showed up.” So if you’re someone like me who’s worried about their limited knowledge of both beer and books, don’t be afraid! Just wear a pair of cool glasses and you’ll fit right in. Book Trivia is a really fun time to hang out with friends, in a lightly competitive setting. And it’s a good excuse to hang out with your favorite local books/movies/”Downton Abbey” expert.
Moira: Let’s do it again! With more people next time! Two more Book Trivia evenings are coming up; maybe we’ll see you there.
Future Booktoberfest Book Trivia events: 6:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 21; Lagunitas Seattle Taproom and Beer Sanctuary, 1550 N.W. 49th St. Seattle (all proceeds benefit The Friends of the Seattle Public Library). Also 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4; The Royal Room, 5000 Rainier Ave. S., Seattle. Note: both venues allow all ages, but Book Trivia is an event aimed at adults. Trivia is free, but you pay for your own food/drink; arrive early, as these events fill up. For more information: 206-386-4636, spl.org
Optimism Brewing: 1158 Broadway, Seattle; 206-651-5429, optimismbrewing.com