Brooklyn’s Alligator Lounge isn’t exactly bustling on a Monday night at 7:45. The sun’s still out, the heat has broken, and it seems as though the denizens of Williamsburg have a lot of things they’d rather do than post up in a stalwart neighborhood dive for four rounds of bar trivia. I’m there a few days before The Rehearsal premieres on HBO, and like that first episode’s protagonist, Kor, I’ve shown up with an ulterior motive. In the episode, Nathan Fielder coaches Kor through dozens of possible scenarios in a to-scale replica of the bar before he attends an upcoming trivia night at the real place to make a difficult confession to his teammate Tricia. Fielder’s frustrated because he spent all of HBO’s leftover Westeros money to build a functional replica of Alligator Lounge and stock it with actors to rehearse the confession, but Kor is just as anxious about winning trivia as he is about coming clean to Tricia; as Kor tells Fielder, “One night of bar trivia is sacrosanct to us.” Clearly, this is a very special place with a very special bar-trivia night. But would that specialness still be intact once Alligator Lounge became HBO’s hottest new star? I decided to find out myself.
But first I had to rehearse some possible outcomes. So I dragged Vulture’s resident trivia mage, Nate Jones, to Alligator Lounge the week before it was sure to become inundated with fangirls, fanboys, and fanfolks thirsty for Fielder and cheap beer. When we got there, only one table was occupied, and it was the table, but the crooked framed picture of a gator was a new one — landscape instead of portrait. I remembered Kor’s decision tree but couldn’t bring myself to lie about a relative’s cancer; it’s not worth summoning the evil eye over content creation. Luckily, the group left before trivia started, so we were able to snag the Kor-Tricia confession table before the game began.
Eventually, the bar filled with about 20 players, including my friend Danny, an Alligator Lounge regular who joined our team. The place smelled like pizza, the spice rack had all the same spices, and the trivia was easy. There were things Fielder’s countless test runs couldn’t have prepared us for: A guy behind us kept dancing to the music during the breaks and hitting Nate with his tush. There were four “shot rounds” in which we won far more booze than we needed. I could see why Cheap Chick in the City would like this place: a free made-to-order pizza with every drink order is a great way to enjoy dinner and a High Life for $6 ($4 before tips), and the first-place prize of $40 off your tab is surprisingly attainable. Like Kor and Tricia, we cheered at every right answer. Our team, Lea Michele’s Vision Board, nabbed first place in the first round and kept it that way. We were on such a roll I got suspicious: Had people around me been planting answers? Had I walked by a cop who told me, “It’s days like these I curse Michael Bay for directing a ‘Got Milk’ ad”? My teammates were smart … but were they plants too? [Editor’s note: Nate Jones is not, to our knowledge, a plant.]
After our victory, the host, Sha, came up to congratulate us and get a picture. In that moment, I felt I had to confess that I was there with an ulterior motive: to write an article about a TV show. Sha wasn’t the host featured in the The Rehearsal, and like Kor, he hadn’t heard of Nathan for You. I told him I’d be back next week to see if The Rehearsal started a movement. He was a very fun and “boisterous” (Nate’s word) host who took a break in the middle of the game to serenade the bar with a rendition of “Careless Whisper,” but he couldn’t have been less interested in the show or Fielder.
A few days later, I felt dumb that I had told Sha about the whole TV show thing. What if I made it seem like a bigger deal than it was? What if no one showed up the following week? But then The Rehearsal dropped, and Fielder was in my Twitter “Trending” bar all weekend. The Monday after the premiere, I arrived at Alligator Lounge a full half-hour earlier than the previous time, and the crowd had already doubled. Nate, my friend Nico, and I snagged the last remaining table, and soon there weren’t enough free stools in the whole place for all of the players to sit (sadly, the fucked-up chairs near the bathrooms, as seen on TV, have since been removed). The energy in the room was palpable, and the crowd — cliques of gangly boys in their mid-20s, girls with glasses — fit the Fielder-fan profile. I spotted the lone wolves from the week before, still on their same barstools, now among loads more people jostling for the bartenders’ attention.
Sha walked in and was wowed by the crowd. He guessed it was the allure of the bar’s TV cameo, which Sha hadn’t watched. “One day I’ll be on TV,” he told me. “For juggling, maybe.”
“Oh, are you good at juggling?” I asked.
“No, but I can be.”
Before the game started, I asked Sha to take a survey of the room for me. He got on mic and asked, “Who’s here because of the HBO show The Review?” Around half of the crowd cheered. I’m guessing there were even more, but they didn’t cheer because they weren’t there for The Review. In line for a trivia sheet, I heard a bearded guy with a messenger bag with the word cinema on it say, “These guys are just not gonna know what hit them. They’re not prepared,” which could have been about The Rehearsal turnout or could have just been about his own trivia mastery. I turned around and saw a couple take a selfie outside the bar before walking in.
I returned to our table, and Nico overheard a guy behind him — at the table — call this “the Dumb Starbucks of trivia nights.” Someone was filming on his phone. My friend Danny showed up, and I asked him what he thought of the episode. He said that in the first scene at the real Alligator Lounge, when it looks as if there are hidden cameras scoping it out, he recognized regulars in the crowd, including one of his friends. And here’s where the plot thickens: Danny said that in the climactic scene in which Kor and Tricia actually do bar trivia, he “didn’t recognize anyone. Even the bartender was different.” Danny said the trivia host in the episode wasn’t the usual guy who hosted in 2019, either. To be clear, Danny is a true Alligator Lounge regular. He knows the space; he knows the crowd. He believed that the confession scene, the one that was supposed to be the “real” moment after many, many staged ones, was more staged than the show let on. He also directed me to a post on the Instagram account of Trivial Dispute, the group that organizes these bar-trivia nights. Overlaid on a screengrab of the episode were the words “AS (SORT OF) SEEN ON THE REHEARSAL! ACCEPT NO SUBSTITUTIONS!”
I reached out via Instagram to Adam Kesner, the man behind Trivial Dispute, which hosts a number of trivia nights in bars across New York throughout the week; the group has run the program at Alligator Lounge since 2007. Kesner usually writes the questions every week but confirmed that a different host and pre-written questions were provided by The Rehearsal’s production company for the final trivia night in the episode. “The only issue I had with the show was the subpar question quality,” said Kesner, who theorized that the questions were written to generate those funny “clue inception” beats rather than a challenging night of real-life bar trivia.
The game began, and the categories included “Hidden-Camera Shows” and “Famous Nathans,” both referencing The Rehearsal. When scores were called out at the end of round one, team names included show references such as the Dish (as in Trish the Dish) and Should’ve Brought a Plunger. (We called ourselves Door City Over Here.) The questions were slightly harder than the previous week; maybe the trivia writer, knowing there would be more eyes on the game, stepped things up a bit in response. The bartender told me that, in his time working there, he only ever saw it that crowded on a Monday “two or three times.” Sha told me he was “overwhelmed” by the crowd. Did The Rehearsal change the makeup of the players? He said the newbies were “a little annoying at the beginning,” and “the regulars were gentrified out of their seats!” I asked how many teams there were in total, and Sha counted up the scoresheets: 19, “the most teams we’ve had. I guess it’s on TV, and it’s something to Instagram about.” Six teams dropped out over the course of the night.
Sha was onto something. Between the themed questions, selfies, and references to the show, the night felt like a Sex and the City bus tour for comedy nerds. Compared with the week prior, real-life Alligator Lounge trivia now felt more like The Rehearsal’s version of Alligator Lounge trivia. My team couldn’t tell if Monday nights would get progressively busier as people kept getting turned on to the series or if this was an early bump and things would soon settle back to normal. Danny pointed out that the crowd made things feel the way they were before COVID hit, noting that many of the old staff members moved away during the pandemic because the hospitality industry had been hit so hard. It was nice to see it thriving. I only hope the replica bar is still sitting in a warehouse somewhere, happy for its twin’s success.