The packed crowd at Renner's Grill, a delightfully dive-y bar in Southwest Portland's Multnomah Village, goes up in a roar. On a Wednesday night, just past 8 pm, every seat is full. But no one is turned away: Instead, the bingo caller hands new players pieces of stiff cardboard as they walk through the door—to hold their bingo cards on while they stand in the corners.
The boisterous host starts shouting out numbers. This first round is traditional bingo, where the goal is to get one continuous line of numbers on your card. Usually the prize for each round is $50 per game; since games cost $1 each, the size of the pot is determined by the number of players. But blackout—where every square on a bingo card must be filled in and which happens around 1 am at Renner's—is so popular the pot has reached $200 before.
The crowd begs the caller for specific numbers. "Let me dig around in my pocket for balls," he shouts back. Suddenly he's screaming in ecstasy, breathing hard—he's actually faking an orgasm. He calls out O-69, or "Orgasm 69," as it's known at Renner's. "Hopefully you'll be getting some of that by the end of the night," he teases.
"Do you swallow?" shouts a regular.
The host responds by jumping onto the bar and shaking his ass to Justin Timberlake's "SexyBack."
Yes, this is bingo—a game traditionally played by gray-haired old ladies and grade-schoolers in membership-based halls. But for almost three years, Garron Dorr's been hosting a different kind of game at Renner's. Ask him to explain how he reconciles blow jobs with bingo, he simply says, "It's just me always wanting to play with my balls."
All sexual innuendoes aside, bingo wouldn't be such an explosive success at Renner's if Dorr weren't there, taking on his self-proclaimed role as "Bingo Diva, Host of Many Balls." Of course, Dorr—a well-spoken, fashionably dressed man who wears reading glasses and works at Starbucks when he's not at Renner's—will give you plenty of other reasons for the game's success, such as that there's no lottery at Renner's to compete with the bingo gambling, or that the bar has a great crowd of regulars who spread popularity by word of mouth.
"For one, it's an easy game," Dorr, who claims he's in his "late 27s," says about bingo. "It doesn't consume a massive thought process." He's right—you can talk to your friends, drink a cocktail and play Naked Photo Hunt on the MegaTouch while marking off numbers.
Portland is no stranger to bingo. You can find a game every night of the week here, if you're willing to play in halls with diehard dauber-in-hand devotees and follow precise rules, like at Sunset Bingo in Beaverton (where pots can reach $500). But it seems the game, which first appeared in the U.S. in the 1920s, could be the next indie quiz night or shuffleboard for the Portland bar scene if other bars followed the Renner's formula: generous cocktails + gambling + sexual innuendo = great bingo.
Or maybe not. Other bars around town have tried alternative bingo nights, but they either attract a small niche crowd (like the punk-rockers at Sabala's at Mount Tabor, or gay bingo scenes at Fox and Hounds or the Brig) or fizzle out when the novelty wears off.
It's more likely that Dorr—whose partner of 12 years, Marshall Meadows, owns Renner's—is the real reason people make the trek to Multnomah Village for a round of four corners (one square in each corner of the bingo card filled in) or postage stamp (a two-by-two box in one of the corners). Dorr makes a point to learn regulars' and newcomers' names. He plays pop and dance music on Wednesdays, a deviation from the bar's standard country and '80s rock soundtrack. ("If I could get a disco remix of Brad Paisley, I'd be all over it," he says about his musical selection.) He welcomes diversity: Darcelle XV has guest-hosted bingo, players from 21 to 70 years old show up regularly, and it seems that all customers, from cowboys to punk rockers, love Dorr.
The caller explains that his favorite part of bingo at Renner's is meeting and greeting everyone who walks through the door. "I like people, I like entertaining," he says. "I feel very blessed. That's where I get something from the show—learning what people do outside the building."
Bingo starts around 8 pm every Wednesday night at Renner's, 7819 SW Capitol Highway, 246-9097.
For more G-rated bingo experiences, check out a list of local games at bingotoday.com/portland.html. Prude.