2023March August 4, 2023

Where to test your smarts in bar trivia in L.A.

Originally Published in the Los Angeles Times
November 27, 2022
Story by Adam Tschorn | Senor Features Writer
Photo by Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times

Photo caption: A trivia team celebrates an early-round victory in a pub-quiz contest at Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood. One of the most robust and competitive trivia nights in the L.A. area, it can see a field of 20 to 30 teams vying for prizes and bragging rights on any given Tuesday night.

The 15 best L.A. places to test your smarts in bar trivia

Los Angeles is probably the best place in the world to have a brainpan crammed with trivial knowledge. I know this first-hand, having turned a Cliff Claven-esque penchant for useless information (Did you know that Jimmy Carter was the first U.S. president born in a hospital?) into a run of television game-show research (“Win Ben Stein’s Money”) and writing (“Twenty One,” “It’s Your Chance of a Lifetime” and “Weakest Link”) gigs in the early aughts.

In our off-hours, my fellow Q&A colleagues and I hit the local pub-quiz circuit to see if we could leverage frontal lobes filled with folderol into free drinks, bar swag and bragging rights. We did OK for ourselves, one time coming within one right answer of a free steak dinner for the team. (We lost on a question — now lost to the ether — about Apollo astronauts.) That’s when I first came to appreciate the embarrassment of riches that is the SoCal trivia bar scene; the perfect storm of drinking establishments trying to beef up business during less-busy times (mostly, but not always, Tuesdays and Wednesdays) and a near endless reservoir of quiz-show writers, researchers and contestants (past, present and potential), all bent on sharpening their wits and plying their pop-culture prowess on both sides of the pub-quiz equation.

That’s still true today, as I discovered while revisiting some of our favorite haunts and exploring some new ones. The Sunday night contests at Ye Rustic Inn in Los Feliz, for example, are hosted by former “Jeopardy!” champion Brendan Sargent (Season 37). Also, a recent night at O’Brien’s Irish Pub in Santa Monica found a brain trust of that show’s buzzer beaters clustered in a corner, including Pam Mueller (the College Championship winner in 2000, she’s also appeared on “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “500 Questions”), Jerome Vered (whose 1992 and 2005 runs sandwiched a win — followed by researching and writing gigs — on “Win Ben Stein’s Money”) and Brad Rutter, who holds the distinction of being the second-highest-earning U.S. game show contestant of all time.

The venues and people are as random — and as fun — as the questions themselves. On any given weeknight, you can find yourself competing in a giant barrel (Idle Hour) in North Hollywood, a mock-up of a Tatooine bar (Scum and Villainy Cantina) in Hollywood or a jackalope-themed German restaurant (Rasselbock) in Mar Vista. Likewise, your competition could turn out to be some totally unknown rock stars of the pub-quiz world, say, the Quizzlypuffs (the third-highest-scoring pub-quiz team in the country based on game runner King Trivia’s league play) or a guy who looks vaguely familiar from TV (the actor who plays Jamie in the Progressive ads).

With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the best pub-quiz places I’ve played at over the last three months. Every one has a little something extra going on — game-wise, food-wise or decor-wise — that will leave you feeling like you’ve won. That’s even if you’re ending your night in 14th place because that one guy on your team thought the Grand Canyon was in Nevada. (You know who you are.)


33 Taps Silver Lake
3725 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, California 90026 | 323-338-7777

The number in the name officially refers to the rotating selection of potent potables on tap here (which includes wine as well as beer), but it might as well refer to the number of teams you could be facing off against on any given Wednesday. Owner Ryan Floyd says there are usually somewhere between 30 and 40 teams in the mix. Joshua Lieberthal, chief executive of King Trivia (the game format played here), says it’s one of that company’s biggest games in a city full of them.

If that doesn’t feel like enough competitive pressure, keep an eye on the team that plays under the nom du trivia Curieux. Their quiz game is unusually strong for a team of two (they usually post up at the far end of the bar), having notched seven first-place wins and four second-place showings over the last 14 months.

Outdoor option: Yes. There’s ample outdoor seating in addition to a speaker system that keeps you connected to the quizmaster throughout the game.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays
Prizes: First-, second- and third-place teams receive gift cards (good on a subsequent visit to 33 Taps) for $25, $20 and $15, respectively.

Barney’s Beanery West Hollywood
8447 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, California 90069 | 323-654-2287

The trivia scene at this nearly century-old West Hollywood bar and restaurant is easily one of the most competitive factoid faceoffs on the SoCal circuit, with the King Trivia answer-via-cellphone-formatted game usually seeing a robust field of 20 to 30 teams vying for prizes and bragging rights any given Tuesday night. The interaction among teams often turns out to be as social as it is competitive, especially in the packed-to-the-gills bar area.

That’s where you’re likely to find the Quizzlypuffs (Matt Hauer, Lea Miller, Amanda LaMontanaro, Dan Romuno, Rahul Lalmalani and Chris Pavlick), a team that competes all over town but considers this Barney’s outpost its home base for seven years and counting. The Quizzlypuffs aren’t just local legends either. Thanks to King Trivia’s coast-to-coast presence, there’s a national league ranking (the sum of each team’s best 12 scores over a set 16-week period) and, in a recent stretch of league play (which ended Oct. 23), the QPs were the third-ranked team nationwide and the highest-scoring team in California.

Outdoor option: Yes, thanks to a narrow front patio. Also, dog-friendly — indoors and out.
When: 9 p.m. Tuesdays
Prizes: First-, second- and third-place teams receive gift cards worth $50, $35 and $15, respectively, usable on future visits.

Bigfoot Lodge West
10939 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles, California 90064 | 310-287-2200

If you’ve ever wanted to prove your mental mettle to total strangers against the rustic backdrop of a log cabin, this dimly lighted, antler- and carving-filled watering hole is the place to do it. The quiz vibe here is laid back, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 17 to 20 teams turning out for two hours every Tuesday to answer questions created by Geeks Who Drink, a pub-quiz concern that organizes bar trivia nights across the country and across town (including the original Bigfoot Lodge in Atwater Village on Wednesdays and Verdugo Bar in Glassell Park on Tuesdays).

The seven eight-question rounds are thematically arranged and answered via cellphone, with audio and video questions sprinkled throughout. The usual quizmaster here is Brenna the Pub Quiz Lady, who works at keeping the tone light. Despite the number of teams, the format and pacing makes it a good place for newly formed teams (or newbies in general) to get a few confidence-building games under their belts. And, honestly, where else can you play trivia in a bar that’s a little bit of movie trivia itself? The story goes something like this: A full-size replica of the original Bigfoot Lodge was built for a scene in the 2008 Jim Carrey movie “Yes Man,” and the set was later sold to the bar’s owners, who recycled most of the pieces into this Palms version.

Outdoor option: No. There’s a small patio, but it’s without access to the audio and video clues.
When: 9 p.m. Tuesdays
Prizes: The first-place team gets a $25 gift card to Bigfoot West, and the second-place team gets a $15 gift card. Winners of a bonus-question raffle win a free beer or well drink.

Idle Hour
4824 Vineland Ave., Los Angeles, California 91601 | 818-980-5604

Although this is another of the myriad places around L.A. where you’ll play your pub quiz via King Trivia’s format, there’s plenty that makes this North Hollywood watering hole a unique place to show off your mastery of minutiae. Chief among them, the whiskey-barrel-shaped building itself. Built in 1941 in an era when the rise of car culture led to a boom in attention-grabbing programmatic architecture — another example being the hat-shaped Brown Derby restaurants — it was designated a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument in 2010 and lovingly restored to its former glory in 2015. The back patio where most of the players post up is home to another artifact of L.A. architecture: a replica of a giant pipe-smoking bulldog that until the mid-1960s was home to a Washington Boulevard eatery called the Bulldog Cafe.

The field of roughly 25 teams per week feels like a mix of entertainment-industry folks and random passersby. The result is that, on any given night, you could find yourself locked in a battle of wits with the guy who plays Jamie in the Progressive TV commercials (writer-actor Jim Cashman, whose team won the October evening I was there) and a pair of bored dance moms waiting for their daughters to finish filming a music video. (Pro tip: Sticking with the theme of the building, snap into one of the barrel-aged Old-Fashioneds on the menu.)

Outdoor option: Yes — and dog-friendly.
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday nights
Prizes: First-, second- and third-place winners get $35, $25 and $10, respectively, off a future visit’s bar tab.

The Irish Times Pub & Restaurant
3267 Motor Ave., Los Angeles, California 90034 | 310-559-9648

Dreambuilders Multi-Media, one of the handful of smaller mom-and-pop game-runners around town, has been organizing trivia competitions here since late 2005, says Greg Beron, who has been the Tuesday night quizmaster for most of that time. (There’s also a Thursday-night game here hosted by Beron’s Dreambuilders boss, Dave Robinson.) “I took over as host in March 2006,” Beron told The Times, “[and] except for a couple of brief interruptions — and a long one for COVID — I’ve been doing it ever since.”

That lengthy tenure has honed his ability to keep an increasingly boisterous field of teams — 15 to 17 on an average Tuesday — focused on the game as well as add a dash of easygoing levity (particularly when it comes to sharing those impossibly bad answers or awkward team names) to the gameplay. The slip-of-paper submissions and quiz format (consisting of four five-question rounds with varying bid options, bonus questions and interstitial music clues) make for the quintessential old-school pub-quiz experience. Throw in a heavily 20-something crowd, which skews about half a decade younger than at most pub-quiz places, and the bar’s cozy-small footprint, and you’ve got some of the best pop-culture-meets-people-watching around.

Outdoor option: No
When: 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays
Prizes: First-, second- and third-place teams win $30, $20 and $10 toward their bar tab, respectively — either night of or on a subsequent visit.

Molly Malone’s Irish Pub
575 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, California 90036 | 323-935-1577

The Wednesday night trivia competition at this 53-year-old bar is a super-friendly, delightfully lo-fi, low-stress event helmed by quizmaster (and daughter of the bar’s owner) Sasha Hanlon, who writes all the trivia questions herself and encourages participants not to leave any answer blank because even a wrong answer that makes her laugh is worth half a point.

Held in the music venue adjoining the bar proper, the competition consists of two 20-question rounds with a short break in between. Most questions fall in the medium difficulty range, with some tougher visual ones served up via handouts (including, the night I was there, identifying countries by silhouette). It’s a younger-skewing, enthusiastic crowd, and the smaller, more intimate space makes it a good place for a trivia-seeking party of one to turn total strangers into trusted teammates.

Hanlon says the Wednesday night trivia game can draw “anywhere from 20 to 50 people,” adding that she won’t kick off gameplay unless at least 10 people are present. (Bonus: It’s conveniently located just steps from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and is just eight blocks (half a mile) south of the Original Farmers Market at Fairfax Avenue and 3rd Street.)

Outdoor option: No
When: 9 p.m. Wednesdays
Prizes: First-, second and third-place teams get a 30%, 20% or 10% discount, respectively, on the same evening’s bar tab.

O’Brien’s Irish Pub
2226 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, California 90403 | 310-829-5303

The O’Brien’s Irish Pub quiz folks claim to have the longest-running pub quiz in the L.A. area, having hosted weekly factoid faceoffs (but for the worst stretch of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which organizers took it virtual, and annually the week between Christmas and New Year’s) since 1998. While there’s no way to verify that boast with 100% accuracy, there’s another superlative I can personally attest to. It is hands-down the most challenging, vexing, brain-straining, genius-level test of useless knowledge you’re likely to encounter in a SoCal bar — and maybe anywhere else. It’s the place seasoned game-show question writers and researchers — and a whole bunch of “Jeopardy!” champs — can be found dueling on the elevated plains of arcana, and mere mortals are likely to feel like collateral damage, clutching their skulls and drowning their sorrows in draft beer and well drinks.

The Wednesday night contests here (there’s also a Monday night game hosted by a different game runner) are organized by a cabal of big-brained folks who post up in the corner of the bar just to the right of the entrance. Roughly 30 in number, they take turns writing the slate of weekly questions, as well as serving as the quizmaster who unleashes them in two timed, 15-question rounds. There are also bonus-question rounds with seemingly impossible asks such as matching Pantone color swatches to audio tracks (the brownish 17-1134 would be the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar,” for example) or sussing out film titles from punny clues (“paternity of Apollo or Kartikeya (1972)” would lead the learned to “The Godfather”). It might just be the most fun you’ll ever have losing.

Outside option: Kind of. There’s a back patio where players can see questions displayed on a video screen but can’t hear the audio of questions or musical clues.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays
Prizes: $150 — in cash — distributed to the winning teams at the quizmaster’s discretion.

Rasselbock Kitchen & Beer Garden L.A.
3817 Grand View Blvd., Los Angeles, California 90066 | 310-439-2938

This postage-stamp-size spot just off Venice Boulevard might be home to the Southland’s most competitive trivia night — when it comes to finding a seat, at least. That’s because this German pub has just eight small wood tables and another eight seats at the bar for patrons who want to answer King Trivia’s quiz questions while hoisting an outsize stein of beer or dining on Bavarian pretzels and wurstplatten.

If you’re lucky enough to score a perch — or were smart enough to make a reservation — you’ll be competing against a field that can range from seven to 16 teams. No matter how you fare question-wise, you’ll go home a winner if you’ve availed yourself of the jäger schnitzel and a liter of Paulaner Oktoberfest beer during your game. (The food service is surprisingly speedy.) A little trivia about this trivia spot’s name: Rasselbock is an Old German word for what we know as a jackalope. That’s why you’ll find several examples of the peculiar species mounted, trophy-like, around the interior or painted on the walls.

Outdoor option: Kind of. Because it’s cellphone-based, the game can technically be played from one of the handful of tables on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant, but you won’t be able to hear the quizmaster.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays
Prizes: The first-, second- and third-place teams get gift cards of $30, $20 and $10, respectively, emailed to them for future use.

The Roguelike Tavern
295 N. Pass Ave., Burbank, California 91205 | 818-859-7434

The appeal of this spot — tucked into Burbank’s Lakeside Shopping Center next to a Bank of America and across from a Vons — is hidden in plain sight. “Roguelike” is a term plucked from the world of video role-playing games, and the space is gaming- and pop-culture focused, from the puzzle boxes on the menu to the drink names that only serious trivia nerds can truly appreciate (examples: the Mjolnir, a whiskey and amaretto drink named after Thor’s hammer, and the Mr. Krinkle, a cider vodka drink that shares its name with a 1993 Primus song).

This is one of a handful of local pub quizzes run by Big Happy Trivia that Torrance Coombs, the quizmaster here, says are tweaked slightly to cater to the sensibilities of each venue. (On a recent Tuesday, for example, there was only a single sports question.) The six-round game starts with 10 questions keyed off a video clip, followed by visual (identifying band logos or famous magicians), audible (horror movie dialogue) and multi-answer (most-hated Halloween candy) rounds. Expect a lively, spirited-to-raucous field of around a dozen outlandishly named teams. Pro tip: Order the salty, crispy, fried pickle chips, which will put the soggy versions of the dish you’ve had before to shame.

Outdoor option: No
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays
Prizes: The winning team gets $50 toward a bar tab on a future visit, plus a round of same-night mystery shots goes to the team with the funniest name.

Scum and Villainy Cantina
6377 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles, California 90028 

Think of this weekly game as the Comic-Con of pub quizzes — and not because of the Mos Eisley cantina vibe, the cosplaying clientele or the Jedi knights behind the bar (though those definitely add to the feeling). The Hollywood Boulevard watering hole’s whole raison d’etre is as a safe space catering to the sci-fi/fantasy crowd. The pub quiz serves up six themed, 10-question rounds aimed squarely at the geek/gamer crowd. “We’re not testing you on the Bible or Laker championships,” bar owner and quizmaster J.C. Reifenberg (who also writes all the questions) tells a group of players on a late October evening that included a guy in an Indiana Jones outfit, a gal in Yoda ears (or maybe Grogu ears, it was hard to tell), and the Scooby gang’s Velma and Daphne.

That means trying to come up with answers like the name of the nightclub in “Terminator” (Tech Noir) or the first big game hurdle in “Ready Player One” (King Kong) or identifying hit songs of 2000 by listening to 8-bit audio clips. Regularly playing teams can earn points for weekly plays in addition to wins, making them eligible for the cantina’s version of league play called Trivia Quest. Winners (most recently a team called Max and the Family Rebo) get recognized via a trophy crafted from an Infinity Gauntlet, with the team name engraved on the base. “Just like the Stanley Cup,” points out Reifenberg, making the rare sports reference of this — or any — trivia night here.

Between rounds of questions you’ll be able to enjoy how deliciously all-in this place goes on the theme. Drinks have names like Wretched Blue Milk and Asgardian Ale. Appetizer choices include Vader Tots, Shire Fries and Onion Rings to Rule Them All (“flash fried in fires of Mount Doom,” notes the menu), and when a bartender has stepped away momentarily, a laminated sign is posted that reads: “Gone to fight the Rebellion. Be back soon!” If you’re a trivia nerd of a certain order, this is totally the pub quiz you’re looking for.

Outdoor option: No
When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays
Prizes: The first-place team gets $60 in future-use bar credit. The second-place team gets $30 in credit.

Surly Goat
7929 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, California 90046 | 323-650-4628

This small West Hollywood bar goes heavy on two things: craft beer (nearly 30 on draft from palate-familiar IPAs to intriguing coffee saisons and cucumber-flavored wheat beers) and goat-themed decor (posters, chalkboard drawings and a massive taxidermied goat head that keeps a watchful eye from above the bar). That makes it the perfect place for trivia-loving beer buffs to lock horns in a spirited Monday night pub quiz hosted (and written) by Scott “Doodad” Dyer, who has been organizing his Doodad Trivia competitions here since late 2017 (but for a pandemic shutdown).

Expect somewhere between 25 and 30 six-person teams (more than six players on a team earns a five-point penalty) answering 10 questions in each of five themed rounds. Although Doodad’s game serves up many of the same elements found in other pub quizzes around town (including audio/video clues and guessing the common bond), there are a couple of format tweaks that make it refreshingly different. Chief among them is the ability to double down on a per-question basis, making the reward — and risk — much smaller than in the per-category double-or-nothing wagers that are a part of most quizzes. Pro tip: Arrive early (like half an hour early) if you want to find a seat, because the place tends to fill up early with trivia junkies looking for a place to post up.

Outdoor option: No
When: 8:30 p.m. Mondays
Prizes: The first-place team wins a $40 gift certificate for future use, and the second-place team gets a $20 gift certificate.

Tam O’Shanter
2980 Los Feliz Blvd., Los Angeles, California 90039 | 323-664-0228

There are a few things that make this a great venue to bend an elbow and test your smarts. One is affable host Mike Miller, who has been the Tuesday-night quizmaster here since March 2010 and whose energetic and engaging patter has earned him a bit of a following. Another is the relatively small field of teams (the average hovers around seven), which makes it a good place for newbies — or those whose trivia-slinging is a bit rusty — to hone their skills and get used to game runner King Trivia’s answer-via-cellphone format.

But the biggest reason is simply the fact that this is a 100-year-old Scottish-themed steakhouse complete with framed clan tartans on the wall, hundreds of whiskies on the shelves and mountains of meat on the menu. You don’t need to be a trivia whiz to know an eatery doesn’t notch the century mark (the Tam opened in 1922) without serving up something special. (For my money, it’s the Scotch rarebit.)

Outdoor option: Kind of. There is a tented outdoor space where teams can play, but most of the action takes place in the pub area. No reservation required, but get there early enough to grab a decent perch.
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays
Prizes: Restaurant gift certificates for the top three teams: $25 for first place, $15 for second and $10 for third (plus a free adult beverage or dessert for each member of the first-place team).

Trip Santa Monica
2101 Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica, California 90245 | 310-396-9010

This tiny, 80-seat Santa Monica dive bar is home to one of the rare Friday-night trivia competitions — not to mention one of the all-around most enjoyable contests for knowledge junkies of every skill level. That’s due in large part to the format and questions created by quizmaster John Rosenthal, a contributing editor to the World Almanac and former executive editor of the New York Times Almanac. His weekly 20 Questions Trivia game, which also can be played at O’Brien’s Irish Pub & Restaurant in Santa Monica on Monday nights, succeeds in being what Rosenthal calls “trivia for people who don’t like trivia.”

That’s because although the 20 questions escalate in difficulty and point value as the game progresses, the answers never feel impossibly out of reach. That’s due partly to musical clues served up during the game but mostly because each contest has a theme, which is announced before the game begins. The night I played, Rosenthal said the theme was “Jerry Brown,” explaining that every answer in some way involved either one or the other (or both) of those words and their homophones. That meant that coming up with the real name of Spice Girl Ginger Spice (Geri Halliwell) and the food invented by Bertha Palmer for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (the brownie) felt challenging but not impossibly so — and helped level the playing field between newbies and seasoned players.

Another fun element is the quizmaster’s encouragement not to leave any round unanswered because humorously wrong — or particularly punny — answers can earn partial credit. (Example: A team that didn’t know John Brown was the abolitionist who died at Harpers Ferry scored points for writing down “Jerriet Tubman.”) This might be the perfect pub quiz to play when you’ve got a team (seven people maximum unless it’s your birthday) of varying experience levels.

Outdoor option: No
When: 7 p.m. Fridays
Prizes: First- and second-place teams get $20 gift certificates good for a future visit, and third-, fourth- and fifth-place teams each get $10 gift certificates.

Verdugo Bar
3408 Verdugo Road, Los Angeles, California 90065 | 323-257-3408

This is what a tacos-and-trivia Tuesday night should be. The field of play here is an expansive, open-air, dog-friendly beer garden where some six to 16 teams compete via the Geeks Who Drink smartphone-based pub-quiz game. The libations are heavy on craft beers, and brain food comes by way of a small corner window where Nato’s Tacos slings lovingly folded quesadillas, bountiful burritos and all manner of mouthwatering mini-tacos (the most popular of which are the potato and asado, says Fortunato “Nato” Renteria Garcia).

Even when there’s a drop in team count and temperature, quizmaster Michael McCollor can be counted on to keep the crowd warmed up with energetic banter, wry observations and bonus-round free-drink tickets. Pro tip: Even though the 20 handles of craft beer behind the bar inside are constantly in rotation, there’s usually a Bayerische Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier on tap. Start there — it’s as smooth to drink as it is hard to say.

Outdoor option: Yes
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays
Prizes: The first-place team receives a $25 future-use gift certificate, the second-place team a gift certificate for $15. There’s also an opportunity to win bonus-round drink tickets.

Ye Rustic Inn
1831 N. Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles, California 90027 | 323-662-5757

Former “Jeopardy!” champion Brendan Sargent has been hosting his Lucky Guess Trivia contests at this dive bar since November 2021 and says there are usually 10 to 12 teams on deck. Each two-hour game consists of four loosely themed rounds of five questions each, with musical interludes that double as clues. A quirky scoring system (detailed in this sample game format), multiple score-swinging bonus rounds and material that runs the gamut from gimme-easy to near-impossible make for an engaging contest that can be anybody’s game right to the bitter end.

The top two teams win prizes and a shoutout on Sargent’s Lucky Guess Instagram feed. (Teams of any size can compete, but only squads of six or smaller can qualify for first place.) Pro tip: Even if you don’t walk away a winner, you won’t lose if you order some of the Rustic’s famed Buffalo wings, which are consistently ranked among the best in the city. Ask for them as crispy and as spicy as they come — to do otherwise would be sheer idiocy.

Outdoor option: No
When: 9 p.m. Sundays
Prizes: First place gets a $30 gift certificate and a round of shots. Second place gets $15. Both prizes are redeemable the same evening.