Downtown bar hosts bingo games for charity

Bingo is cool again — if it was ever cool in the first place.

Every Wednesday at the Red Star bar, hipster bingo brings the decades-old game with its numbered cards and hopper full of balls to the denizens of the artsy downtown pub.

They don’t play for cash, but for quirky prizes — vintage vinyl records, beer koozies and kitchsy items like novelty beer mugs or ice cube trays shaped like dogs or skulls.

“It’s bingo, and I’m terrible, and I never win anything, so I just get to window shop,” says Bradley Campbell, a 43-year-old regional manager for an industrial supply company who plays every week.

“It’s my neighborhood bar, and it’s for charity,” he adds. “It’s fun.”

The atmosphere is unlike other bingo halls. There is no smoking. Local art covers the bar’s red walls. And, instead of folding tables covered with bingo cards, there are booths and bar stools.

By the front door, the pyramid of prizes — shelves of records, small king cakes, cocktail shakers and more — resembles an altar.

At the end of the bar on this Wednesday night, Michael Chalaron mans the wire hopper, giving it a roll to shake up the balls.

Chalaron, also the master of ceremonies for the bar’s Tuesday trivia night, started calling the bingo balls four months ago when Red Star began hosting the game.

He announces the numbers over a background of music — grinding guitars and strained vocals playing over the speakers. A television screen keeps track of previous numbers called.

In the first game, he pulls O-69. As a nod to the double entendre of that number and letter, he hits the microphone’s reverb, causing an echo as he drops his voice an octave or two: “Ohhhhh. Sixty-nine.”

“That’s a regular,” Chalaron says. “That will happen every night.”

One card costs $3; you get two for $5. All proceeds go to local charities picked by the bar’s employees.

The game has raised $1,000 for STAR, Baton Rouge’s Sexual Trauma Awareness and Response center, says Gabe Daigle, who manages the bar’s promotions.

Now they’re playing for the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s Race for the Cure breast cancer fundraiser.

“This gives the employees a chance to come up with something that is dear to them,” Daigle says, “and we get to use the bar to help.”

Daigle was looking for something different to draw customers in for Wednesday nights when he decided to try bingo. Now it draws anywhere from a dozen to 50 players.

“We’ve got the old cards and the wheel — it’s from the ’50s,” Daigle says. “People get to sit at the tables and hang out.”

At first it was advertised as just bingo. Then, in a moment of self-aware humor, they printed a flyer calling it “hipster bingo.”

“It was just kind of poking fun at everything,” says Daigle.

Number-letter combos provide a bit of ritual for the game. When Chalaron calls out B-4, the crowd usually shouts back, “Before what?”

“I try to tell some jokes and stuff, try to keep things light,” Chalaron says.

For one of Chalaron’s favorite gags, he leads with, “The test results are in,” then zings the crowd with the punch line: “It’s B-9.”

Benign. Get it?

At a booth along the bar’s back wall, Jade Brady, 29, and Steven Holbrook, 34, each keep an eye on five cards laid out on the table in front of them. Between calls they take swigs from long-necked bottles of Miller High Life.

“Just something fun to do,” says Holbrook, a quiet librarian. “Fun to win stuff, drink beer, play bingo.”

Brady, an artist, says she would never play at a traditional bingo hall. She likes the moody atmosphere of the bar, the local art and the no-smoking policy.

“It’s not really gambling,” she says. “It’s not like you’re winning $100 in cash. They’re hipster prizes.”

She once won a glass beer mug shaped like a cowboy boot, and on this night chooses a small king cake donated by Calandro’s. Later she picks up a gift card to the Lock and Key, a donated prize from the new bar in town.

When a surprised Holbrook says quietly, “I’ve got bingo,” Brady yells it across the room for him, “Bingo!”