Move over, meat raffles -- the bar scene has fallen in love with bingo.
Once relegated to church basements and VFW halls, bingo is now the domain of a whole new generation of players -- namely, bargoers.
"It's not just a bunch of little old ladies sitting in a room," said Warren Walberg of the Minnesota Gambling Control Board.
Bar bingo has mushroomed in the past two years, Walberg said, finding audiences in neighborhood bars across the Twin Cities. Prize money can vary from a $10 bar tab to as much as $3,000 (and even more).
A number of bars don't actually call the game "bingo" -- because they can't. If players are not charged a fee to play (which would make it gambling and susceptible to state regulation), the bar can't legally call it bingo.
This has given way to a variety of bingo alternatives -- the most common names being "bango" and "bargo."
Then there's the 331 Club's hipster version, "blingo." And "beergo" at Skinners in St. Paul.
Call it what you want, bingo is here to stay.
We took a tour of the different bingo scenes you'll find around the metro area.
When new owners turned the former Poodle Club into McMahon's Pub two years ago, they ditched the bingo nights. Bad idea: The neighborhood's bingo contingent went nuts. "We brought it back because of sheer customer demand," said co-owner Andrew McMahon. It came back in a big way with bingo and bango sessions on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Someone recently won $3,000 on a Sunday night, McMahon said. (3001 E. Lake St., Mpls. 612-722-1377. mcmahonsirishpub.net)
Another south Minneapolis spot, the Rail Station, calls their free bingo night "bargo." When I played there last Saturday night, a server informed me that "If you win, you have to yell out 'bargo,' or else we'll get in trouble." Whatever you call it, the game draws a crowd -- almost every seat was filled. One thing you should know: Every bar plays bingo differently. The sessions at the Rail Station start with a half-dozen games of normal bingo and then end with a "cover-all" game (think: blackout) where you can win the big money (upwards of $1,000). If someone doesn't win, the jackpot increases $50 the next night. The Rail Station plays every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. (3675 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls. 612-729-3663. railstationbarandgrill.com)
Is there such a thing as gay bingo? Not really. Bingo in a gay bar isn't that different from the straight-bar variety. But it's safe to say that most straight bingo hosts don't look like Mother Pearl. Every Wednesday at the Saloon, Mother Pearl (real name Dale Hanson) dons a nun's outfit that's pinker than Pepto-Bismol while yelling out bingo numbers from the bar. It's free, so the game is actually called "bango" here. Pearl starts each night with a taste of holy water, i.e. a glass of scotch. From there, his particular brand of humor just comes rushing out. (Sample joke: "That's a lot of balls to load up.") The prizes aren't anything special -- just some restaurant gift certificates, beer T-shirts, bottles of wine. (830 Hennepin Av. S, Mpls. 612-332-0835. saloonmn.com) If Mother Pearl doesn't float your boat, there are bingo nights in other downtown gay clubs, including sessions at the Gay 90s and the Bolt, and over in St. Paul at the Town House and Innuendo.
Bingo in the 'burbs
In the suburbs, few bingo nights can contend with the state-of-the-art bingo hall that Mystic Lake Casino opened in 2007. On Friday and Saturday nights, the old-timers who usually populate the enormous room hit the bricks as an army of young people storm the hall to play "Cosmic Bingo." It's loud, colorful and a little crazy. The "Cosmic" part comes from the neon black lights that give the hall an almost club-like atmosphere. When the hall opens for Cosmic Bingo at 11 p.m., players literally crash through the doors, scrambling for the best seats. The night's sessions typically sell out at about 550 people (it costs $6, with a chance to win $100 each game). While there's no booze (just free pop), the night's wild host, Paulie Panic, keeps the energy up with club music, karaoke and his own brand of crude humor. On a recent Friday night, he began the bingo session by warning people that they might find him offensive. "We are not in church," he yelled at the crowd. (2400 Mystic Lake Blvd., Prior Lake. 952-445-9000. mysticlake.com)