Thursday, December 13, 2007

First US pub quizzes in... Orono, Maine?!

A few weeks ago a 50ish fellow sitting at the bar at Frank's bent my ear after the quiz. He said his name was Myron, that he came in late in the contest, was visiting from out of town and had found out about Frank's on the web, enjoyed listening to the final rounds, and that the quiz took him "back to his college days." Naturally I was very interested in what he meant by that last bit and asked him to explain with as much detail as possible.

Myron played a pub quiz in college in Orono, Maine, a town of just over 9,000 people and home of the University of Maine, in 1976-77. From Myron's description the game played there was a cross between the quizzo we know and love and Jeopardy!, with categories and question cards posted on a corkboard, team play and written answers to verbal questions. Winning teams won pitchers of beer.

I imagine that asking trivia questions in bars is about as old as the modern bar itself. Anyone reading this site likely knows that the Guinness Book of World Records was specifically created as a premium item for barkeeps who served Guinness products to help settle trivia(l) bar arguments. (It rapidly took on a life of its own as a British best-seller, and launched the Guinness reference publishing company.) We know that the pub quiz started in the British Isles, and most of us in this area are convinced that the Philadelphia area was the epicenter of the phenomenon in this country. I just find it interesting that people were doing something very similar to our game now in Maine 30 years ago. I doubt there's any direct link, but it makes you wonder how widespread this sort of thing was 15 and more years ago, before the internet and 500 cable channels, before the worst of the suburban sprawl, when people had more incentive and ability to socialize.

If anyone out there in web land remembers this game or any others like it in any other parts of the country, feel free to comment here or type me up a report. I can't get enough of this stuff. "It's oral history, maaan!"

The name of the bar was the Oronoka, and it appears to have been a restaurant/hall as well as a bar. It was rented out for dances by the International Students Association of UMaine - apparently the swinginest kids in town - until somewhat after the (original?) owner died in 2003. The students called a dance "an Oronoka," and the last one ever in the building happened, as a throwback event, earlier this year. Apparently Phish played there "in the '80s" (I assume that means they played one song which lasted 1980-1989). The phone number for the place I found on the web has been disconnected.

I called another bar in town, the 113 (until recently the Ushuaia - does anything in this town have a name like "Bob's Tavern?"), and the staff was as helpful as they could be after I explained my odd quest to track down old time regulars from the Oronoka. The folks in the bar at the time were too young to have hung out there when it was open as a general bar as opposed to an event hall. They tell me that the building, which is "across from the golf course," is currently empty and up for sale. Maybe someone will buy it, and trivia questions will resound off its walls once again... If you're ever in Orono, be sure to stop by the 113 at Rangeley Road & Park St. Do me a favor and tip heavily, those were nice folks.
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