Got Game? Inner Sunset Trivia Night Roundup

Graduate Division

After a long day of running experiments and sitting in on lab meetings, it’s tempting to mindlessly drown your stress in a beer or two at the local pub.  While I wholeheartedly condone this practice, there are also many options to keep your bar-going mind at least somewhat active, at one of the many pub trivia nights held throughout San Francisco. 

I gathered a team of Synapse writers and friends to try out a handful of weekly (or bi-weekly) trivia nights located near UCSF’s Parnassus campus.  Ranging from relatively easy to mind-blowingly difficult, these competitions tested our knowledge of random subjects, ranging from current events and science to obscure, not-quite-classic songs. 

While our success at these events varied depending on the setting, we still had a ton of fun at each one. 

Patxi’s on Irving (Inner Sunset)

511 Hayes St.

(415) 558-9991

Normally serving as the spot in the Inner Sunset to gorge on deep-dish pizza, this Patxi’s location only recently started doing quiz nights, so word has yet to spread that the restaurant offers a weekly trivia competition.

On the night the Synapse team competed, half of the front room was occupied by trivia teams, while the other half was occupied by unknowing, slightly bemused diners.

I was the first of our team to arrive, securing my spot by the window by ordering a pizza (which takes about 45 minutes to make). Before the first trivia question was uttered, we were handed a sheet of black-and-white, obscured celebrity pictures that are standard at many trivia nights citywide.  

This was followed by a few rounds of, as my teammate and recent Biomedical Sciences graduate Alex Greer, PhD, put it, “oddly difficult questions,” which we weren’t quite expecting from such an informal atmosphere.  However, our team still was able to secure the third place, good for a $15 gift card. 

Although it was the smallest of the trivia nights we went to and the selection of beer was limited, it was still a lot of fun, and we had the added bonus of having a great server. (no need to leave the table during a particularly puzzling question.)

I recommend it to those who are new to bar trivia and just want to get some experience with a higher-than-average likelihood of winning something at the end of the night. 

Mad Dog in the Fog (Lower Haight)

530 Haight St.

(415) 626-7279

After flexing our rather impressive trivia muscles at Patxi’s, the Synapse team headed to one of Mad Dog in the Fog’s two weekly trivia nights to see if we could keep up our prize-winning streak.  A few of us arrived about half an hour early to get a large table for our team of six. 

While the relative calm might have been a result of the fact it was the week before Christmas, here we encountered a laid-back, welcoming atmosphere. 

The main difference between this place and Patxi’s was an entire menu full of impressive beer selections.  They also offered a extensive menu of pretty decent bar food (I had the buffalo wings), and the server was great at keeping the food and drinks coming throughout the night. 

Trivia started promptly at the appointed hour, and the announcer kept the questions coming pretty quickly, including rounds of trivia with questions a bit less obscure than those at Patxi’s. 

The result was a first-place finish for our team, with a $30 gift certificate that we’re itching to spend at another Mad Dog trivia night.  We agreed that it was our favorite of the trivia nights, as it had, as Alex put it, “the perfect combination of informal atmosphere and moderately challenging questions.”

Nickies (Lower Haight) 

466 Haight St.

(415) 255-0300

For our last quiz night, Team Synapse tried one of the trivia nights hosted by Brainstormer Pub Quiz, a company that holds quiz nights throughout The City. 

Since Brainstormer Pub quiz nights are always packed, with very large and very serious teams, we were sure to grab a table an hour early and get our drink order in. The servers here get busy quickly with the demand for the full bar. 

There was definitely an air of formality here, as the league teams present already had established names and even came dressed thematically (in rock T-shirts). We were also handed a slick, professionally printed answer pamphlet with “Brainstormer Pub Quiz” plastered all over it. 

With the typical photo and music rounds, the trivia started off easy, just like the other places we went to, but the difficultly level quickly escalated. By the third round, we were wildly guessing at half of the questions. 

Aware of how crazy competitive the league teams can be, Nickies offers — in addition to the typical prizes for the top teams — a prize for the team with the score closest to the average, and a prize for one of the losing teams picked at random. 

We were therefore slightly placated by the fact that we were in the running for average team for most of the night, which we missed by only one point in the final round.  We were, however, the randomly chosen team, and won a roll of beer posters.  Yay for us! 

While our team of casual pub trivia-goers probably won’t compete in this particular quiz night again, if you’re into serious league pub trivia, this place is as good as any to get your feet wet and, upon realizing that you’re in over your head, shoot for that average placing.

Blackthorn (Inner Sunset) 

834 Irving St.

(415) 564-6626

I broke away from Team Synapse and went to Blackthorn with a group of lab members who were gifted with random knowledge.  Definitely the loudest and most-packed of the two Inner Sunset trivia nights I had tried out, it was deemed by my teammate and seasoned pub quiz competitor Stephanie Vlachos, PhD, as “the best pub trivia in the Inner Sunset.” 

Indeed, it benefits from having a full bar that serves both mixed drinks and a decent selection of beer on tap, although you have to stand at the very crowded bar to procure them. 

Because Blackhorn fills up fast and because our group was pretty large, we had to secure a spot an hour before the trivia started.  And because they don’t serve food, we brought in burritos from Gordo’s down the street. 

Just like the other quiz nights, this one started off with some easy general-themed questions, followed by increasingly more difficult rounds, including a guess-the-celebrity picture round and a relatively easy music round. 

Although the questions were not overwhelmingly difficult, with a significantly high number of teams playing, the trivia was pretty competitive. 

Nevertheless, our team of eight won first place and a $30 gift certificate.  Aware of the power in numbers on a team, Blackthorn also offered a prize for the highest-scoring small team of the night. 

All in all, Blackthorn is a great (but very crowded) place to go for a competitive, but still very fun, quiz night. Tip: There’s a decent likelihood of winning a prize if you come with a very small team or a very large team.

If you’d like to help Synapse identify and compete in quiz nights around Dog Patch/Mission Bay, please contact us at [email protected].

Here’s a list of pub trivia nights held in the Inner Sunset and Haight St. neighborhoods:

  • Blackthorn (Mondays)
  • Danny Coyle’s (Wednesdays – hosted by Brainstormer)
  • Durty Nelly’s (Wednesdays)
  • Mad Dog in the Fog (Tuesdays & Thursdays)
  • Martin Macks (Tuesdays – hosted by Brainstormer)
  • Nickies (Mondays – hosted by Brainstormer)
  • Patxi’s Pizza (Tuesdays)
  • The Pig & Whistle (Wednesdays and Sundays)