Lowbrow (1601 W. Main) is a late-night or brunch destination for many. For me, it's the place you go when everyone wants to drink (there's a full bar), but someone in your party still wants to get a bite to eat and won't settle for picking up something on the way from the Taco Bell drive-thru.
Whether we're hungry or not, the outcome is we always all end up eating there. Now, of course, ever since they added speed dating on their roster of events, it's also become a place to go to meet that special someone. But like the food menu of New American cuisine, this once old game is now made new again. Speed-dating bingo, or SPEDANGO, came into being when Lowbrow approached John Mills-McCoin about doing a game night. Management was thinking something like a trivia night, but he had other ideas.
"I decided I wanted to come up with a brand-new game," Mills-McCoin explains. "Combining the simplicity of bingo with the thrill of dating brought forth SPEDANGO. After that, I went to Omar [Al-Bochi] and Justice [Jamail] to fill in the blanks..."
Mills-McCoin's Twitter bio describes him as "A Master of Ceremonies and an Amateur Inventor," which might be a good start as to who he is. Of course, Twitter is an austere place that works 140 characters at a time, and he can't be summed up in so few words. He's more than that, a real Renaissance man. Mills-McCoin is a madcap mad hatter, beaming with the charisma of a guy you would follow to Guyana and not hesitate to drink the "cool-aid."
Along with his cohorts, the three dapper dudes make up a trifecta of hosting, audio/visual ingenuity, and DJ duties.
Truth be told: the dating world is a scary place. I have been out of the dating pool for several years, but I can only imagine the trauma induced by such a feat. I still have a lot of single friends, and they tell me stories. Lots of stories. As a happily married man, I can't imagine being rejected in a world of Tinder swipes, or, Heaven forbid, being a woman having to deal with a plethora of dick pics constantly being sent my way.
Of course, dating has never been easy. If it was, we wouldn't have dating coaches; paid matchmakers; a whole section of dating books written by the likes of, of all people, Steve Harvey, Jennifer Love Hewitt and Dr. Phil in the self-help section of every bookstore; a dating site for farmers only; and last but not least, The Pick Up Artist "Mystery" (nee Erik von Markovik) and his wingman, "J-Dog."
That being said, I've never personally done speed dating -- but I'm also a huge pussy. I can be somewhat of an introvert, and while this is all for fun and everyone is having a good time, it also seems to be a little overwhelming for the faint of heart. So tonight, I am just a passive observer...or, maybe, a cultural anthropologist.
Speed dating may be the true definition of "single and ready to mingle," but throwing in bingo makes it much more interesting. Of the "contestants," seven females and seven males have shown up. They take up three booths, two tables and two couches around the perimeter of Lowbrow. I expected more of a slacker crowd but everyone here, ranging from 24-36, is a young professional.
Of the men, we have a strategic consultant for an urban-planning firm, a film producer and an engineer for oil and gas. Among the women are an architect, an accountant for one of the world's largest offshore drilling contractors, an office manager for energy company, and a labor/delivery RN.
How it works: sign-up starts at 7 p.m.. Folks fill in, sign up and grab a drink or two. As the DJ, Omar plays a nice stream of sexy slow jams like Color Me Badd's "I Wanna Sex You Up" and PM Dawn's "Set Adrift On Memory Bliss" alongside Depeche Mode, Snoop, and C&C Music Factory to lighten the mood.
Ladies, and ladies only, get a Bingo card. While a traditional card has a letter/number combination, SPEDANGO uses a letter/icon combination wherein each letter stands for something and is a topic of conversation. The letter B (Benign), is for harmless conversation; examples here include topics such as: your cat, what college you went to, where you work, etc. The other letters are as follows: I (Intelligent), N (Nerdy), G (Games) and O (for "O" face...topics that are more risque). So, for instance, they call out "I" and then an abacus icon shows up on the big screen, all contestants talk about math. And so on.
By the way, the cards feature original artwork by Tim Dorsey, who created both the bingo cards and all of the icons that go with them.
After each round, which lasts five minutes, guys switch tables to meet a new girl.
Mills calls a "G," and the game is to dance for your partner. One of the guys awkwardly twerks, but luckily the risk pays off and everyone thinks it's hilarious. There are, however, other cringe-worthy moments (at least for me). I turn into a prude 1950s housewife when I hear questions like, "What turns you on?" or "Marry? Fuck? Kill?" Others take it with a grain of salt and immediately answer with logical reasoning for which characters from the cast of Friends they would marry, etc.
The drink specials by Monkey Shoulder Scotch and 8th Wonder Brewery also help ease some of the tension, but don't get too sauced. You have to be on your "A game." On the quest to finding that "special someone," nothing is more painful or unimpressive than slurring your words.
Morgan, our funny and friendly waitress for the evening, delivers drinks to a table saying, "Oh my God. You guys both drink the same beer!"
"The game is being continually molded and shaped into perfection, but we feel our first two outings have been successes in different respects," says Mills-McCoin.
Actually, this is only the second time SPEDANGO has been played, so they're still working out some of the kinks. From my point of view, though, everything seems to go off without a hitch.
Story continues on the next page.
When each round is up, the winner gets her name thrown into a hat. (Yes, a literal hat.) After three rounds of names getting put in the hat, one name is drawn and that lucky lady get two drinks - one for her, and one for the guy of her choosing. After a ten-minute intermission, she can decide if wants to continue hanging out with the guy or play more SPEDANGO. Cindy, Selena, Iliana win the first three rounds, and Cindy wins the hat.
Anyone can also stop playing at any time during intermission. Maybe you didn't win drinks but still met someone you hit it off with, which is exactly what happened to Julia and Mac did.
Julia, an up and-coming handbag designer, owns her own company, which leaves her with little time for dating.
"While I am single and open to meeting single men, I was more in it for the bingo," she says.
Julia adds that she has dabbled with online dating, but feels like you can get to know so much more about a person from five minutes in front of them than weeks of online messaging. A little later, she goes on to say:
"I suppose Speed Dating Bingo worked for me. I'm shy when it comes to dating and get nervous when there could potentially be an exciting outcome. With this, I had zero expectations and therefore nothing to lose.
"I was able to relax and enjoy myself and I ended up meeting Mac, who I actually have a lot in common with," Julia continues. "Mac and I got together again two days later and someone asked us how we met. Speed Dating Bingo is a pretty cool first date."
Although I didn't participate, I would recommend this to anyone out in the dating world. But like life, SPEDANGO is not a spectator sport, and this beats the Internet any day. I leave you with the words of Alfred, Loyd Tennyson: "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have love at all."
Good luck out there, gang.
SPEDANGO returns to Lowbrow on Wednesday, April 29. Send your after-dark tips to email@example.com.
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