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ALBATROSS PRESS ROOM

Pub Quiz Host Not Another Trivial Trebek–
Bartender's Charisma and Short-Brim Hats Make Him a Local Favorite

by Rich Bunnell
07/11/2005 - The Daily Californian
 
West Berkeley bartender Jeff Gouin loves game shows. Unlike “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek, however, he doesn’t make a living pronouncing 12-syllable foreign words.
 
But as far as the regulars at The Albatross Pub on San Pablo Avenue are concerned, for all of the charisma he has, the man had might as well be the next Bob Barker.
 
For the last three years, Gouin has spent the majority of his Sunday nights working at The Albatross as a quiz master for “Brainstormer,” a weekly trivia challenge created and syndicated by San Francisco resident Liam McAtasney.
 
“It’s a good place to work,” Gouin says. “I meet a lot of interesting people, it pays the bills, it works well with my schedule. I like working three nights a week, I have a lot of time to do stuff on my own.”
 
Even though the trivia game itself is a commodity, there’s little doubt that the main attraction every Sunday night is the questions asked than Gouin’s boisterous demeanor and large supply of short-brimmed hats.
 
“I was the best-looking person here,” says Gouin about why he was chosen. “Actually, the owners asked me to do it. I’m pretty personable and don’t have any fear of being up in front of people. I’ve always grown up watching game shows, and I thought it would be a fun thing to do.”
 
A resident of Alameda, Gouin graduated with an art degree from San Francisco State University before moving to the East Bay in 1992.
 
After a six-year stint at Peet’s Coffee & Tea, he was hired at The Albatross by new owners Wendy Halambeck and Linda Zsilavetz.
 
“We knew that (the game) would probably be a good draw, and it certainly has turned out to be,” Gouin says. “When we first started, we had three or four teams, and it was mostly regulars. By now we have an average of 15 to 20 teams every Sunday.”
On a typical trivia night, Gouin relies primarily on the questions provided to him by McAtasney, which feature topics ranging from current events to the nicknames of professional golfers.
 
For each week’s music recognition round, however, he takes his own initiative, having players identify audio samples from his personal collection of nearly 7,000 records.
 
“Liam included a music round on his original challenges,” says Gouin. “Me being a music junkie, I said that I’d like to do them myself. Once, one of the regulars found a bag filled with (vinyl record singles), all from the 80s, and he loaned them to me.”
 
As the poster boy for an event which has slowly become a Berkeley phenomenon, the bartender admits that he has dealt with some colorful trivia nuts.
 
“We’ve had a lot of pretty funny team names,” Gouin says. “Sexual innuendos are very popular, I’ve found—’Stop Licking Me’ has made a lot of appearances. Last week there was a team called ‘I Didn’t Know She Was My Sister’—I don’t know whether that was related to ‘Stop Licking Me.’”
 
In the end, however, it is Gouin’s consistently positive attitude towards conducting the challenge which keeps crowds returning to the pub on a weekly basis.
 
“Jeff is a natural. His rapport with the crowd is so wonderful—he really makes the evening flow,” says an Albatross regular, Jeff Simon, who occasionally fills in as quiz master when needed.
 
“He also really loves tiki bars,” Simon adds.
 
Gouin’s fascination with tiki bars is long-standing, and has driven him into a number of cross-country road trips, as well as a vacation to Barcelona.
 
“I’m really into the whole Polynesian culture and lifestyle,” Gouin says. “It’s not just tiki bars—I’m into classic bars in general, places that make classic cocktails. My house in Alameda is furnished with 50s furniture. Everything I own is from the 50s or 60s.”
 
Gouin’s sense of cross-cultural eclecticism fits right in at The Albatross, a bar famous for allowing patrons to engage in a game of Connect Four while enjoying a cosmopolitan on the side.
 
“Some people are focused on just one thing—Jeff is all over the place,” says Renee, a bartender at the Albatross who declined to give her last name. “When he does trivia, he’s genuinely into it.”