The Bar: The Reading Gaol (Phinney Ridge, 418 NW 65th St) can be found in my favorite, most desolate drag of 65th Street that starts with Cafe Bambino and stretches across a series of abandoned buildings and For Sale signs.
Quick tip: If you started reading this article fumbling over how to pronounce the bar's name, you're already way off. The Gaol (pronounced simply "jail") is a charming little tavern tailored more to a night out with the friends than any kind of romantic tryst. It's probably got as many board games available to check out as it has beers on tap, and the bathroom smells like... well, let's just say funny.
The bar takes its name from one of the two English jails that held Oscar Wilde on charges of homosexuality and gross indecency. The Reading Gaol (now Her Majesty's Prison Reading) was known for pioneering a new prison system based primarily on silent reflection through solitary confinement. The bar's namecheck is more focused on Oscar Wilde's "Ballad of Reading Gaol", a poignant poem centered on the hanging of a husband accused of murdering his wife.
So it's really a no-brainer why someone would want to name their bar after it.
In the sweltering sun, the dimly lit Gaol almost has a sort-of cantina feel to it. Although this comparison may be the last thing to expect from a bar whose name was inspired by a pale Victorian fop, a narrow line of patrons just as drunk and sweaty as you inhabit this natural light-friendly haunt. One person was even playing a ukelele!
The Host: The creation of the quiz is usually split between a general knowledge round created by bar owner Paul Winters and a themed round created by scorekeeper Brian; although Brian has been tagged in to write the whole shebang as of late. However, newcomers would never know the difference, due to the very nature of...
The Quiz: Best described as the sort of quiz you remember from high school with a lot more booze (or perhaps less, if you hated math tests as much as I did), The Gaol's trivia night is free of charge and strictly one person per answer sheet. Crowds range anywhere from ten to thirty-five participants in a forty question free-for-all, with the prize always capped at "beer and bragging rights." No nagging for repeats here; all of the questions are right there on the sheets, and you have roughly an hour each round to finish them.In the Gaol's 14 years of quiz experience, the microphone has always been a taboo. Brian claimed that a short-lived focus on the quizmaster not only broke up the Gaol's laidback vibe but, perhaps more importantly, "blocked the way to the pool tables."
The lack of cash prize and unique anti-quizmaster format intentionally separates the Gaol from fellow trivia nights. Brian says the Gaol quiz has no interest in competing against other nights, but would rather settle into its own niche in the rapidly growing Seattle quiz scene. He claims to love other staple Seattle quizzes like the one at The George and Dragon, but feels that the Gaol has already found its sweet spot.
Drink Specials: None, but as mentioned before, trivia is free. You can also get a burger, fries and a pint of Pabst for less than ten dollars here.
The Verdict: The Reading Gaol is perfect for the bar patron who dislikes the pageantry and conversation-ruining capacity of most trivia nights, but who still wants stretch their brain out and have a shot at some free beer. The Gaol is a bar that dares its patrons to find fun on their own instead of being barked at by some sort of entertainment taskmaster.