Bingo with a buzz
Photos: Tammy Fancy
The brides-to-be are glowing.
And so is everyone else.
In bright whites, popping pinks, luminous limes.
Under the H at Halifax Forum. Under the lights of Cosmic Bingo—a new twist on an old game.
“I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digger,” thumps through the hall.
Strobe lights splash the walls.
Bachelorette Linda Hatt blows her pink, plastic penis whistle and laughs. “I’ve got these on my veil,” she shouts over the music, pointing to other tiny plastic male parts, before the games begin.
Master of ceremonies Tim Kerr reels off corny jokes, calls out bingo numbers or declares: “winner, winner chicken dinner!” under the black, Saturday night lights.
Hatt is one of two brides-to-be mixing Cosmic Bingo with her bachelorette party at this vintage Halifax venue on a misty, autumn night.
The aging facility’s become the new place-to-be for college students, young professionals and hip twenty-somethings, thanks to this psychedelic take on a usually far-more-sedate game.
“Oh it’s awesome,” yells 20-year-old Jordan Hipson. “Nice beverages, good environment…the lights are fun, it’s a fun place to be.”
“It’s like party bingo,” adds 24-year-old Jason Furlong as the beats blast on: “Uptown Funk,” then “Call Me Maybe;” songs by Nicki Minaj, Taylor Swift and The Weeknd: “I can’t feel my face when I’m with you. But I love it. Yes I love it.”
So does the crowd.
“It’s just fun and loud,” echoes Adam MacAulay, 31, over the bass and a beer. “It’s bingo…Who doesn’t love bingo?”
Not as many people as before, says Kerr, the Forum’s bingo manager and tonight’s bingo caller.
Gone are the days of mostly-grandma gatherings in smoky halls. Anti-smoking legislation and other changes took some of the regulars away, although judging from the full tables at tonight’s earlier, traditional bingo, that version of the game isn’t dead either.
But the monk-like quiet of these older, regular-bingo players is a stark contrast to the blinged-out cosmic crowd that rolls in later. They sport glow-in-the-dark bracelets, necklaces and headbands. And, in the case of the second bachelorette, Nicole Wilson, a hot pink feathered boa, accessorizing her white lace dress and veil.
“It’s gone way down, bingo, the industry itself,” Kerr says of the original style of play. “There used to be many, many more bingos all around town. With non-smoking legislation and the casino and the lotto terminals, bingo is not as popular as it used to be. Obviously we wouldn’t have it if it didn’t make us any money but it’s not as popular and as profitable as it used to be.”
That’s the motive behind Cosmic Bingo, designed to “give the industry a little spark of life,” he says.
Kerr hopes they like it and try regular bingo too, bringing a new demographic to the cards and daubers of yesteryear.
These cards and daubers glow pink under the black light, as flashes of blue and green hip-hop across the hall.
Players in the licensed section line up for their drinks, nodding to the Top 40 beats. Players in the all-ages area—still mostly adults—settle in their seats.
And Kerr opens with his first groaner of the night.
“I’m going to start this bingo off the way we do every week with a hilarious joke. Some say a pretty pitiful joke but I think they’re funny and my dog laughs. What kind of guns do bees use?
“BB guns,” he deadpans to a chorus of friendly boos. “They just get worse ladies and gentleman. They just get worse…”
He goes on. “Before we get started would anybody like to come up and check my balls? My bingo balls that is, I’ll drop them in the machine here and we’ll get started…Here we goooo!”
The balls, bingo balls that is, bounce under the green lamp light on the stage where he stands.
B 12. I 20. I 23 and other numbers, echo across the crowd—about 171 people tonight but often packed with as many as 300 when the university crowd comes out.
Some come as an alternative to barhopping.
Others play here first, party downtown later.
That’s what Nicole Wilson and her crew, sitting in the non-drinking section, plan to do after dropping her underage bridesmaid home, when bingo’s over.
But she also comes for the love of the game. She’s played Cosmic Bingo about a dozen times since it started here three years ago. “I love it here,” she smiles, her boa, necklace and “kiss the miss goodbye” button beaming.
Her red, kiss lips sticker twinkles, falling off her arm.
“It’s a good way to spend a Saturday night. Good and inexpensive… There’s no riff raff or anything. You can [listen to] music and sit with your friends and you can still talk if you want to.”
That’s far easier here than at traditional bingo, says Adam MacAulay.
“You’re allowed to talk, you’re allowed to have fun, you’re allowed to laugh,” he laughs. “If you go to like a regular bingo hall, they’re just, they’re mean to you…They don’t want any talking…no phones ringing. Here you can just kind of enjoy yourself.”
That’s something the folks here do more of as the night moves on.
Players shout Bingo! Bingo! Bingo! And collect their winnings: $75 here, $100 there, as Kerr keeps the one-liners coming.
“What does a ghost wear when it’s raining outside?
“Boooo,” answers the crowd.
But people laugh too.
Dance in their seats.
Tap their feet.
And sing along.
Someone at Linda Hatt’s table wins the game she’s playing: $128.
Everyone claps and cheers.
But this party’s just getting started.
Midnight arrives, Kerr says his goodbyes and wishes the bachelorettes a life of “wedded bliss.”
But Hatt’s taking her “bachelorette on the loose” cup, “homemade sash with dollar store glitter” and “accessories” downtown.
“We’re going to the Lion’s Head for karaoke after this,” she laughs. “So this will fit in at the Lion’s Head as well.”
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This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.