Quick, who sang the 1972 novelty hit song, “My Ding-a-Ling?” Now before you click over to Google to look up the answer, know that I’ll reveal the answer before I’m done telling this story.
During a trip to Goderich, Ontario a couple of weeks ago to get Gaviidae spiffed up for prospective new owners, Julie and I wandered into the Albion Hotel in nearby Bayfield looking for some dinner and adult libations.
Completely Quaint Bayfield
If you haven’t been to Bayfield, Ontario, add it to your bucket list of quaint lakeside villages to visit in the summer. Or at Christmas. Perched on bluffs overlooking Lake Huron, Bayfield is the quintessential Great Lakes getaway. Trees shelter cozy houses nestled in tidy, quiet neighborhoods. One house looks like a cottage designed, built and inhabited by fairies or elves. It sits on the ridge above the Bayfield River. Just upstream from the marina at the mouth of the river.
The broad three-block-long Main Street is lined with art galleries, interesting shops and boutiques, and three gorgeous old hotels with bars and food. The Albion Hotel anchors the southeast end of that street.
Julie and I ended up at the Albion because the “famous Bourbon bar” in the motorlodge we booked into was closed for remodeling. So was the restaurant. This was a development the innkeepers neglected to tell us when we booked a room just a few days earlier. To say we were disappointed doesn’t begin to describe our reaction. Our not unreasonable annoyance at this inconvenience was further aggravated by the sign out front promising buckets of mussels for Monday night dinner. It was Monday. Already steamed at being denied mussels and Bourbon, we were less than impressed with our nondescript room and the less-than-inviting indoor swimming pool. We discussed bolting for other lodging but nixed the idea because the room had been prepaid. It was just for one night and the likely hassle did not seem worthwhile.
So we went out in search of sustenance and solace—if not stupefaction.
After scouting the few eateries open on this wintry Canadian night we pulled up in front of the Albion, which leaked a warm and friendly glow to the outside. As we took in the Georgian Colonial architecture with a two-story veranda and compelling country inn feel, people streamed in the front door and turned right into the pub. We took that as a good sign, so we went in.
The high-ceiling-ed pub was done up in old-English style appropriate for a hotel named Albion–an archaic name for Great Britain. The beer menu was artfully written in chalk on a blackboard; nautical and fishing artifacts adorned the walls. Men and women of assorted ages, demeanors and dimensions were crowded around the wooden tables. Their lively conversations paused as they us took in—two strangers darkening the door to their pub. All tables and most seats were taken, except for a pair of high wooden stools at the far end of the bar, so we grabbed them.
While waiting for our drinks–didn’t notice any bourbons– Julie and I studied the food menu, which included a good selection of old-world pub food such as shepherd’s pie and English-style haddock and chips—as well as assorted salads and sandwiches and a promising array of entrees. No mussels. Julie ordered the night’s special, stir-fried chicken and veggies on rice noodles. I requested the chicken quesadillas.
As we waited for our dinners, we learned that Monday night at the Albion is trivia night—an apparently popular draw among the locals. It is conducted by Sparky, an older gentleman with a thick British accent. Participants gathered into teams of varying sizes to vie for door prizes; smartphones and other devices that could link to the Internet were disallowed.
As Sparky began calling out the trivia questions in his thick English brogue, a barmaid thrust a lined and numbered answer sheet at us and other patrons at the bar encouraged us to participate.
The sheet included two columns divided into groups of 10 answer lines. Number 5 in each group encouraged participants to raise their beverage glasses, shout “Cheers!” and take a drink. Once the last line of each column was filled, answer sheets were exchanged among teams to be graded.
Now this was the first bar trivia contest Julie or I have ever stumbled into. We have since noticed Trivia Night signs in pub windows or outside watering holes throughout Ontario and Michigan. I know that bars in the Midwest have come up with all manner of events to attract customers. Traffic builders like all-you-can-eat fish fries or televised sports are rampant. My personal favorite among these events has long been meat raffles, where people are given or induced to buy tickets for the chance to win cuts of raw meat. I’ve never been to a meat raffle, but I guess you should show up for one with a cooler.
A trivia contest, on the other hand, is a significant cultural and social elevation of the commercial efforts to get customers into bars. At least it rises above some of the baser instincts that traditionally drive men into bars.
The questions at the Albion were surprisingly hard. Not because they failed to bridge the nominal cultural gap between the U.S. and Canada, but questions ranged from which animal species spend the most time standing (elephants—I thought giraffes) to the longest river in Europe (Volga—what North American has even thought of the Volga since the last time he or she sang the Volga boatmen song in grade school?) The answer to who had a hit in 1972 with “My Ding-a-Ling?” The late, great Chuck Berry, who died a couple weeks after this contest.
The trivia questions were made even harder given the announcer’s nearly impenetrable accent was garbled further through the cheap public address system he used. Keeping up and deciphering the questions was a challenge for us. They frequently had to be repeated for our benefit, or translated by locals. Several questions were incomprehensible to us and left blank on our sheet as we raced to catch up. At the end of the contest, Julie and I did not win a prize for the highest score in the room. We did win a prize for the lowest score!
Two, actually: a couple of Tim Horton mugs. Julie was ecstatic at the win because she is a big fan of Timmy’s. Me, not so much. We did have fun with the contest and were made welcome by the locals.
Oh, and by the way, while we were at the bar we got acquainted with Kim Muszynski, the owner of The Albion Hotel. He encouraged us to stay there on our next visit to Goderich and gave us his card for a discount. We’ve booked a room for the next trip; unfortunately, it isn’t on a Monday night.
One last note: A pair of locals broke into a lusty a capella version“My Ding-a-Ling” when the answer was revealed for the trivia contest. Nearly everybody in the bar gleefully joined in for the chorus: My ding-a-ling, my ding-a-ling/I want to play with my ding-a-ling.