Over the rallying cry of “Blitzkrieg Bop” and the undeniable crunch of cheesy nachos, the call is made: “B9…B9.”
At Black Bear Bar & Grill, patrons are enjoying a pint of their favorite brew with one hand and clutching a bingo board with the other. It’s Wednesday night in Hoboken. And that means bingo.
But while there’s a spinning wheel of balls and plenty of prizes to be had, it’s certainly not your grandma’s bingo.
The atmosphere is cacophonous—you won’t hear any “hushing” from your fellow players here—and the only blue-haired gals to be found in the joint are sporting a mohawk.
For 29-year-old Jodi Hart, bingo at the Black Bear has been a tradition since she moved to Hoboken a few months ago.
And, she says, it’s a great opportunity to shake up the typical week of barhopping and billiards.
“It’s a fun thing to do on a Wednesday night,” she says.
She stumbled on the event by chance after walking into Black Bear one night for a drink, but after a round of bingo with the bartender, she was hooked. Good music and a winning board on her first try didn’t hurt either.
She now comes back weekly, eagerly recruiting friends to come out with her for a chance at the “big” prizes and a uniquely enjoyable night out.
And she’s not alone. A young Hoboken clientele has caught on to the idea and breathed new life into the concept of “bingo nights.”
Other bingo venues have come and gone, but Black Bear is said to be the most popular and longest-running bingo joint—it’s been going strong for more than five years with Hoboken resident Joe Testa at the helm of bingomania.
Joe, a professionally trained actor, spends the rest of his week as an employee of Black Bear serving tables. But on Wednesday nights he is part bingo caller, part DJ, and all-around party starter.
He attributes the success of bingo night at the bar and grill to the great vibe, great food, and great specials that are offered on those nights (you can get a 25-ounce mug of Stella and five sliders of your choice for just $9.99).
Aside from the gastronomical benefits, there’s perhaps a bit of other magic at work too. That booming radio-announcer voice over the loudspeaker is, quite literally, “theatrically trained.”
Joe went to school for theater, and the pizzazz he brings from that experience is undeniable. He sets the stage for the night with music (mostly classic rock and memorable ’90s tunes) and as the night goes on, his lively attitude helps more customers loosen up and get in the game.
When asked if he may be part of the reason bingo has been so successful at Black Bear, he replies with a smile, “I hope I bring a little something to it.”
Biggies has been hosting bingo night for about a year—on Tuesdays from 8-11 p.m. Manager Michael Ferrante says they started it based on the success of bingo night at the Biggies on Route 17. “There was a good turnout of young kids in their twenties,” he says.
Which is exactly what they are attracting at the Hoboken location—well-known for occupying the site of the legendary Clam Broth House.
On a good night, about 20 young men and women try their hand at bingo. “It’s guys and gals, friends hanging out,” Ferrante says. “They sit at the bar, watch sports, and join in bingo or they sit at the tables. Other bars have trivia. We have bingo.”
Manager Steve Ranuro says that the $5 martinis are always a draw. They also have $3 Blue Moons, $2 drafts, $4 house wines, and a happy hour at 10 p.m.
A DJ plays music and an mc announces the games. Patrons play for t-shirts, Biggies gift cards, and grand prizes with baskets of martini glasses and shakers.
At the Black Bear, patrons also play for prizes, but if you want to rack up the big bucks, do it the old-fashioned way—at church. Hoboken’s Our Lady of Grace Church, for example, hosts bingo games and a lunch cafe every Saturday at noon in its school hall. Apparently you can pocket hundreds of dollars on a Saturday afternoon.
But at the Black Bear, plenty of other valuable treasures can be had, and it gets better as the night goes on—everything from gift cards and restaurant gift certificates to sports equipment and tickets to various events, including Yankees games.
But don’t let what seems like Black Bear’s lackadaisical approach to bingo fool you. According to Jodi, the nights can get competitive, especially among the regulars. On one bingo night, she was found jokingly seething at her barstool neighbor, Dan, for quickly winning twice in a row.
Dan Di Iorio, 28, is a resident of Jersey City and comes to bingo nights once or twice a month to relax after work. In one night alone he racked up a fun little prize package, which included sunglasses, beads, a beer glass, a $25 gift certificate to Black Bear, and other loot.
It’s always free to play at Black Bear, where the festivities start around 7:30 p.m. and the games and drink specials continue throughout the night. But if you can’t show up at 7:30 on the dot, never fear. There’s always plenty of time between games to grab a beer and a bingo card.—07030
Black Bear Bar & Grill
205 Washington St.
Our Lady of Grace Church
400 Willow Ave. (bingo games held at school hall on 5th and Willow)
36-42 Newark St.
Photos by Kate Rounds