LENOX - I once asked Troy MeCheck, manager and friendly face of Rumpy's Tavern, how long the playful, campy bar had been open. "Just about 200 years," he said.
Though teasing, he wasn't kidding. Rumpy's is an extension of Rumplestiltzkin's Restaurant, itself part of the picture perfect Village Inn.
The large Colonial building in downtown Lenox has provided lodging intermittently since 1771.
It's all the more surprising, then, that through the inn's side door lies a glowing den plucked more from John Waters' imagination than Israel Bissell's (unless Bissell's writings suffer from tragic omissions).
I first honed the chirps and thumps of my live electronic music set at the bar's open mic nights in 2007, when a plugged-in pool of musicians and a steady flow of Kripalu trainees, Shakespeare & Co. students, and sundry college-agers danced nightly until closing time.
The establishment has undergone some costume changes since then. For a time, its weekly newsletters expressly branded Rumpy's as a gay bar. Open mic night took a folky turn along the way. Promotions now emphasize Rumpy's role as a venue with weekly live music, bingo, karaoke, trivia and standup comedy shows. The bar opens daily at 5 p.m. and no longer permits minors.
"There is never a cover charge for our awesome events," boasts the website.
I hadn't visited in a while, so when joining three friends on Tuesday for trivia I planned to be surprised.
Moving from snowy Church Street into this Screamin' Jay Hawkins set felt phantasmagoric. Technicolor films flickered silently on a television mounted above the small barroom's jumble of tables. Crimson lava lamps, red Christmas lights, and tabletop candles housed under ruby glass cast an ambiance that floats between 1963 and the present.
The bar emphasizes affordable mid-range liquors and tasty draughts. Beer from Sheffield's nascent Big Elm Brewing Co. is currently being poured. A menu of sandwiches, salads, and pizzas is available from 5 to 9 p.m., but
free bowls of popcorn worked for me.
Charlie, Lauren and I used to work together and squabbled endlessly over minutia. I hadn't met Jaime before, but trusted Charlie to select our fourth brain wisely. Though confident about our range, we knew a sports round could cripple us.
The game began at 8:15 p.m. with just three teams present. Brianne Forrest, who also runs trivia at Michael's Restaurant of Stockbridge, was a funny and dynamic host. Her challenging fact-based questions were punctuated by visual and musical rounds, requiring swift mental acrobatics, and an unrelenting pace precluded second-guessing.
This vigorous clip grew dizzying as we continually tied for first with another team. The final tally revealed a dead tie, as did the lightning round. Forrest improvised a neat solution.
Each team would send one member to face off in a race to name that musician. The bartender set his iPod to "shuffle" as I nominated Charlie, a razor sharp mind with vast musical knowledge. After a flurry of bickering I was the one who marched on up.
The other team didn't bicker. One man silently stood up. Uh oh. Side by side at the bar, he a head taller than me, the "High Noon" theme looped in my head. I reminded myself that Gary Cooper was alone and did fine, and to not guess "Tex Ritter" out loud.
A dancy beat rose, retro instrumentation, a diva crooning. I spitballed Tina Turner. Tall Guy ventured Barbara Streisand. Nope, next.
Warbling electric organ, a tinny drum kit, and gently fuzzed-out bass settled into an easy blues groove. "THEM!" I blurted, making sure to draw first. I'd barley wrapped my lips around that M before Tall Guy uttered, "Booker T. & the M.G,'s." I instantly knew he was right.
Forrest surprised me with a gift certificate for 10 Rumpy's Bucks, which I immediately spent on gin. Tall Guy got 25. These prizes are standard, as is a night's stay for two at the Village Inn for the winner on each month's first Tuesday.
Forrest said that larger crowds come as the weather warms, and with them she offers larger prizes. "Liking" the Rumpy's Tavern Facebook status on Tuesday earns you a bonus point for that night.
The winning team had arrived with pockets full of these points. The deck was stacked! Maybe Tall Guy was wearing lifts, too.
"In the summer we'll get 10 or 12 teams in here," said Forrest. "And I never ask sports questions at Rumpy's."
If you go ...
Rumpy's Tavern, 16 Church St., Lenox, 01240. (413) 637-030, ext. 385. http://www.rumpystavern.com
Style: Casual, campy bar with weekly theme nights and an LGBT slant
Cover: None for weekly theme nights
Food: Free popcorn, a menu of pub plates priced mostly between $6 and $8
Entertainment: Comedy Variety Show Sundays, Stitch & BItch Club and NFL Mondays, Trivia Tuesdays, Bingo Wednesdays, Karaoke Thursdays, Live Music Fridays and Saturdays
Our rating: Four Mugs, "I'll be back!"