Manuel’s Tavern update: The return of Team Trivia

Image by Todd Leopold (that’s me on the right) of a 1998 photograph by Shawn “Smack” McElroy.

I recently did the #firstsevenjobs thing on social media. Many of my positions were short-lived: summer jobs, jobs to save up for school, jobs to eke out rent money. The shortest lasted probably two months; the longest, a little over a year.

At the other end of the spectrum is my weekly Sunday night gig as Team Trivia host at Manuel’s Tavern. As of next March, I’ll have sat in the emcee chair, on and off, for 25 years.

Tonight I’ll be in that chair again for the first time since last December.

As has been noted here and elsewhere, Manuel’s has been undergoing a renovation. The venerable Tavern finally reopened a week ago, August 6, on its 60th anniversary.

While the bar was being renewed, I conducted Trivia from Smith’s Olde Bar in Morningside. They have treated Trivia (and me) well, and I appreciate their kindness. But now it’s time to go back to the original place.

We have a long history together, one that predates my role as host. I’d played at Manuel’s for almost a year before becoming the Trivia Guy. When I took over as emcee, the first months were nerve-racking: after all, I was asking questions of knowledgeable journalists, well-educated lawyers and brainy students. They parsed the poorly phrased queries for tricks that weren’t there, or offered answers that weren’t in the usual reference books. (You have to remember, this was the pre-Web early ’90s, and the only source I’d have with me was the most recent World Almanac.) I prided myself on my College Bowl-instilled memory, but there were still nights I wondered if this gig would last longer than my stint as a bellman at Syracuse, New York’s, Hotel Syracuse (2 months).

Gradually, the bumpy times faded. Though the turning point was probably much earlier, I think of one particular question as symbolic, when I asked who the villain was in McDonaldland.

The answer I had (I wrote some, but not most, of the questions, which are supplied by folks at Team Trivia) was the Hamburglar.

This led to a loud debate. How about the Evil Grimace? What about those weaselly Fry Guys? Have we forgotten about Captain Crook? And wasn’t Mayor McCheese on the take?

Having little else to do — in those days I was a full-time freelance writer, which meant I had a lot of time on my hands — the next day I called McDonald’s headquarters and explained my predicament. The amused person at the other end said that, in the egalitarian world that was McDonaldland, there were no villains, just occasional mischief-makers. A couple days later I received a folder of McDonaldland — and McDonald’s — facts and stories, which has probably long since perished in a move.

Nevertheless, though I can’t remember the specifics, I remember that when I read some of those details to the Trivia crowd, we all burst out laughing. They were almost as ridiculous as some of the team names that won a free pitcher of beer. (My favorite remains “Help Rwanda, help help Rwanda,” which has the benefit of being both silly and serious.)

Anyway, tonight at 7:30 p.m. I’ll click on the mic, prep the iPod (an invention that didn’t exist when I started) and deliver the opening spiel I’ve done probably 1,000 times. It begins, “Welcome to Manuel’s Tavern.”

And note to the regulars: There are no McDonaldland questions this week.

Update, 10:36 p.m.: It was an excellent and competitive show, with a full dining room of teams (19 in all). Big thanks to Brian Maloof, Joe Ward and the whole staff. 


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