Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Uisce: Tuesday Trivia and the Water of Life

It is a Tuesday and, as I have learned from Roger and Shannon, that means only one thing: Trivia Night. It is like going to church around here. The sermon is on knowledge. The eucharist is beer and pretzels. To not go is to commit the sins of slothfullness and ignorance. And the place of trivial worship is called Uisce. Pronounced ish-kaa.

Being trivially minded, I looked up the word, uisce. It is Irish for whiskey. The word whiskey is actually derived from a mispronunciation of uisce. According to Wikipedia, uisce beathe is "simply an Irish translation of the Latin aqua vitae ('water of life')." As far as difficult to pronounce names for bars go, Uisce has to be the best.

We used to have a Trivia Night on at the bar I managed in Austin, Drungo Ice House. It was usually our busiest night. The same applies to Uisce. I've been going on and off since I arrived in town and the place is always packed.

It's in a long rectangular space with high ceilings. Elegant lighting. Plenty of nice seating. Comfortable chairs, even some church pews with slots on the back for bibles and hymnals. Hardwood floors. Beautiful long bar. An atmospheric faux-fireplace in the middle. Accommodates the crowd nicely.  (Side note: you might want to double check the sign on the door before you go to the bathroom... or learn Gaelic.)

It costs $5 for an Imperial Pint (20 oz) of Harp - my usual - which isn't a bad deal. Haven't tried the whiskey yet, but it seems a given now. We get a complimentary basket of pretzels with hot mustard for the table - one of the seven great foods to eat while drinking beer (pizza, peanuts, popcorn, chips, cheeseburgers and chili being the others).

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The evening is hosted and officiated by James Gillies, the sine qua non of trivia in Bellingham. Starts at 8 p.m. - but get there by 7:30 at the latest to get a table. No more than six to a group. Dollar entry for each person. 50 questions delivered in two sessions. The questions are recondite, entertaining, erudite, witty, challenging and topical. James does of great job in his pacing of questions and officiating of disputes, (i.e. gnocchi or gnocci).

Regardless of whether you win or lose, it's always a good time. But... to Men of Extraordinary Wealth and Beauty: you are going down this week.

Daniel O'Connell - Irish Liberator, Creator of Guinness and Inventor of Electricity

On your way out, be sure stop at the portrait to the left of the door and say a prayer for the soul Daniel O'Connell, the great Irish Liberator, who once wrote: "The altar of liberty totters when it is cemented only with blood." He was an influence on Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

When I went by to take the photographs above (after the review was written), I told the bartender and another patron what I had found out about Daniel O'Connell. The bartender laughed and said that a guy had been in the other day who told him that it was "the creator of Guinness." The guy next to me at the bar added that he was sitting with a group and when a girl asked who it was, the guy next to him replied, with complete authority, that it was "the inventor of electricity" and proceeded into a 5 minute discourse. Only in an Irish bar, right?

An appropriately final note: on the wall opposite the door as you go out are two letters in a glass frame. They appear to be farewell letters composed during the Irish Civil War of 1922-1923.

The one on the left is from J. Burk to his cousin, Kathleen. From what I can tell, he was executed on Jan. 20, 1923 - or the letter "was executed"... don't know. The last sentences read: "Remember me as the wild boy of the family / Good by all / From your dying cousin."

The letter on the right is from a brother, Stephen, to his sister, Julia - also written on Jan. 20, 1923. He begins: "Just a few lines bidding you the last farewell." Then, that he and his friends "will meet our death at the hands of Irishmen." Also adding towards the end, "I would not like to hear ye crying when I am among the dead."

Take a look when you go. They are fascinating and poignant fragments of historical authenticity.


Google: Directions, Hours, Reviews
Yelp: Reviews, etc.
Facebook: Uisce Trivia Night

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