Downtown business affected by recessionPosted: April 21, 2009
It’s a recurring theme for the trivia team “Yunited” – winning.
The Athens trivia team won its Sunday trivia night championship against a room full of competitors at the Athens restaurant Allen’s Bar & Grill on the corner of Hawthorne and Oglethorpe avenues. Dave McMahon, a member of Yunited pumped his fist, celebrating at the team’s third straight victory.
“It feels good to keep winning, no matter where we play,” McMahon said, referring to the move of the 9 p.m. trivia slot hosted by disc jockey Bobby Nettles from downtown Athens restaurant Amici to Allen’s in January.
Prior to the move, Nettles held his trivia night at Amici for the last seven years. It was a hit among University of Georgia students, trivia geeks and drinkers.
“It became a routine,” said Phillip Mulkey of the trivia team Oedipus and the Mama’s Boys. “We’ve been coming for years now, and we’ll follow Bobby wherever he goes. It’s a shame Amici lost him for the late time slot because it was packed Sunday nights.”
One reason Nettles opted to move the trivia to Allen’s was because Amici couldn’t renew its liquor license due to financial difficulties. Nettles said it made more sense to set up shop at a place that had a full bar.
“I’m not an idiot,” Nettles said. “I know a lot of trivia guys are heavy drinkers.”
But Nettles didn’t completely abandon Amici. He still does a 6 p.m. trivia spot on Sundays. But the crowd has been cut substantially, and the restaurant itself doesn’t receive the business it did when Nettles held the 9 p.m. slot.
“Business definitely hasn’t been the same,” said Amici waitress Katey Litfield. “I’ve noticed, for me, that I don’t make nearly as much in tips Sunday nights as I used to and it’s not that people are tipping less, it’s that there’s just not as many people coming here on Sunday nights now that they can’t drink and can’t play trivia.”
Amici manager Dave Williams said the recession forced him to not renew the restaurant’s liquor license. However, he wouldn’t go into any further detail about the restaurant’s finances except to say he “believes the economy is in a cycle right now.”
Williams isn’t alone when it comes to recession woes and trivia nights. On Metromix, an entertainment guide to Phoenix, Ariz., 10 of the bars in one area advertise themselves as “recession-friendly” trivia nights where customers can “get their drink on, cheaply.” South bar in Santa Monica, Calif., now holds a weekly “Recession Thursday” for customers to get “unbelievable deals” on food and drinks until midnight while playing trivia. In Saratoga Springs, N.Y., “Thrifty Trivia” on Wednesday nights offers free game play, giveaways, recession-driven drink specials and “game night munchies.”
Williams said he was upset when he found out Nettles was going to move the 9 p.m. time slot to another restaurant, he was a little upset, but understood why.
“Bobby is an entrepreneur and he needs to do what’s best for him,” Williams said. “These times are rough and he needs to make a living.”
Williams added Amici is in no danger of closing its doors yet, and said he’s optimistic business will pick up.
Though Williams admitted he had to “cut back” on a few expenses at Amici, Nettles said his business has been fine.
“You know, honestly, I can’t complain,” Nettles said. “It’s been pretty steady for me. I haven’t had anyone drop me from doing trivia and that’s great. I’m not doing another Athens show at American Tavern in downtown Athens Monday nights, so there’s still a chance for someone to come downtown for Full Contact Trivia. I just felt it was in my best interest to move from Amici Sundays at 9.”
Though Williams wouldn’t give any sales numbers, Litfield said she assumed they’ve taken a considerable hit.
“We used to run around like crazy,” she said. “It’s not the same. The rush isn’t nearly as bad, and your pocket feels it.”
Litfield added that it’s obvious, considering Wild Wing Café also has a trivia night on Sundays. She said that one still fills the restaurant and probably doesn’t have the same problems Amici now has.
“Wild Wing still has its regulars Sunday nights from what I hear, but all our usual customers are now at Allen’s,” Litfield said. “It’s kind of sad. I miss them.”
Drew Goodman, a bartender at Wild Wing who works a lot of Sunday trivia nights, said Sundays are great for him to work as the same customers flood in.
“The recession really hasn’t hit us regarding Sunday,” Goodman said. “We still have a lot of people and trivia is a lot of fun for a lot of people. Our crowd is mostly college students, so I don’t know if they are directly affected by the economy but it’s also just a fun night. If they are affected, trivia night might serve as a way to forget about all the bad in the real world.”
Disc jockey Evan Delany, who also works for the radio station Bulldog 103.7, said he’s noticed a rise in trivia participants.
“Just from looking at the crowd I’ve noticed an increase of people,” he said. “It’s fun stuff.”
Neither Nettles nor Delany would admit how much each restaurant pays them for trivia. But Nettles added he’s comfortable with how much he makes for his career.
“Quite frankly, to be a DJ and also host a trivia game five days a week, I’m doing pretty well,” Nettles said. “The bills are always paid and I haven’t had any problems. It’s quite fortunate actually.”
Nettles also added part of Amici’s problem may stem from the fact its location is in such a small space. He added Wild Wing will always have customers come to its trivia because it has a lot of room to work with.
“I feel for Amici but for my 9 o’clock shows you had to get there no later than 8 to get a table at times,” Nettles said. “At Wild Wing, and I haven’t been there in years, you can still get a seat at the bar up to about 15 minutes before it starts … So even when my trivia nights were sold out, packed at Amici, there’s no way they are making the same kind of money a place like Wild Wing was. They have more customers, they had to be making more money.”
But for someone like McMahon who places Nettles’ trivia experience above others, he said he’ll follow Nettles to whichever restaurant or bar he’s working.
“I work during the day and can get busy on weekends traveling with my job too,” McMahon said. “I need a night where I can relax and enjoy myself. Bobby’s trivia does that for me. It’s the best and it doesn’t hurt that we win all the time too.”