It's 9:30 p.m. at Dick's Dylan's, a Portage Avenue watering hole that has been hosting erotic bingo -- a vamped-up version of the traditional game of chance -- every Wednesday since August. On a stage otherwise occupied by rock bands or karaoke singers, tonight's MCs, Sara Meyer and Dallin James, are going over the rules for any first-timers ("virgins," they call 'em) in the crowd.
Apart from the occasional "under the O for orgasm," erotic bingo isn't much different from the type of bingo played in church basements and social halls. That is, until you win. At which point you walk your card to the front of the room and are rewarded with massage oil, hosiery or a not-so-little number called "Chocolate Thriller."
Also instead of black-outs, the goal is to cover enough squares so that resulting pattern resembles a g-string or a certain male organ. (No, not a spleen.)
While Meyer and James continue with their lists of dos and don'ts, Candice Hurley grabs a seat near the back of the room and gets out her notepad. Hurley isn't here to try her luck. Instead, the married mother of two is all business. In seven short days Hurley -- a sales representative for Passion Parties, the company providing this evening's prizes -- will stage a similar event in her neck of the woods, Transcona.
Hurley has two reasons for bringing erotic bingo to the land of milk, honey and pink flamingos: 1. Of the dozen or so taprooms in and around Winnipeg that currently feature erotic bingo, zero are located east of Lagimodiere Boulevard; 2. Hurley hopes to attract new customers by introducing them to her line of sensual products in a no-pressure atmosphere.
"A lot of people are still shy about going to a store that sells sex aids," she says. "But by coming here they can win something they might not necessarily buy, but secretly want."
A few weeks ago Hurley approached the owner of the Silver Spike Saloon and asked him if he'd be open to giving erotic bingo a test run.
"Tell me more," he said.
Yes, do tell...
After smoking in public places was banned in 2004, happy hour crowds dwindled in bars across the province.
In a bid to woo customers back to his lounge, Ron Petryna, the owner of the Headingley Hotel, began running conventional Friday night bingo games.
"We started off giving away pretty tame stuff -- cases of pop or boxes of candy," Petryna says. Then he recalled a Ladies' Night promotion he`d witnessed south of the border -- one that climaxed with a few rounds of "naughty bingo" where female participants went home with vibrators and such.
"So we began to introduce adult toys into our own bingo games," says Petryna. "Next we added special martinis and cocktails named after the games. This all evolved from there."
"This all" refers to the fact that Manitoba has quietly become the undisputed erotic bingo capital of the world. Sure, you can find comparable goings-on in places like Toronto, Ont., Portland, Ore. and Orlando, Fla. But "dirty bingo" or "X-rated bingo" or however it's billed in those burgs isn't a standard occurrence. Not like it is at Dick's Dylan's, the Stock Exchange Hotel and the Riverside Inn, to name a few local nightspots that now host erotic bingo on a weekly basis.
"I didn't know what to expect the first time my sister-in-law invited me along," says Kristen Single, who plays bingo at the Headingley Hotel once or twice a month. Single ("I'm married but I'm Single") says she was concerned the bingo callers might be topless, or that it was going to be like strip poker -- that every time she matched a number she would have to remove a piece of clothing.
"I remember I wore tons that night -- sweaters, jewelry, you name it."
Single now attends with her husband and/or mother in tow. "My mom won the first time she played; she was like, 'Hot damn, now I'm going to have to find a man to use this with.'" (Because this is a family newspaper, we didn't ask Single what her mother won, precisely.)
Erotic bingo had already been a fixture on Pembina Highway for 12 months when Dave Kaisaris bought the St. Norbert Hotel three-and-a-half years ago.
"My first reaction was that it sounded kind of skanky," says Kaisaris. "We don't do strippers here -- we're not that kind of place -- but I quickly discovered that erotic bingo isn't like that at all. It's good clean fun." (Good, clean and free: none of the bars we visited charges people to take part.)
Nowadays, erotic bingo at "The Nob" is definitely a family affair; while Kaisaris's daughter runs the show every Saturday night, calling numbers and doling out prizes, his wife bakes cakes shaped like a male organ (no, not a pancreas) for parties of five or more.
"Even though we're off the beaten path, we draw people from all over the city," says Kaisaris, who shops online for the majority of his prizes. "Last weekend was the busiest it's ever been, in fact; we had a 28-girl bachelorette party and a soccer team from the U of M. We ended up having to seat people at the pool tables so that everybody could play."
"I don't know if I'll get dressed up all the time but since is Night 1, I thought I'd wear something special," says Hurley, sporting a Cat Woman costume to mark the Silver Spike's inaugural bingo eve.
Hurley is pleasantly surprised to discover that most of the people in the room have played before. (Many in the predominantly female crowd are keenly aware, for example, that whenever the number 69 is called, they are encouraged to do a shot.)
"The owner told me that if he gets 10 people in here on a Wednesday, it's a good night. We're at 60 already, so things are looking pretty positive," Hurley says, surveying the room.
Even before the first pair of lace panties has been handed out, Hurley is already thinking about next Wednesday. And the Wednesday after that.
"I want to make sure people are keen to come back," she says, mentioning that between bingo games, she plans to test the audience's sexual acumen by asking trivia questions for prizes. (Sample query: Who has the most sex: people who listen to hip hop, rock or jazz?)
"Because if somebody gets bored with the bingo part of things, what's left?" she says, adjusting her tail. "I want this to be like a show, with lots of games and audience participation. And if I pick up some business in the process -- and the bar turns a profit on what's ordinarily a slow night -- then bonus."
(By the way, music lovers, you might want to dust off your Miles Davis LPs. The answer is jazz.)