With beer pong and air guitar, bars try to stand out

New Haven residents can now expect to find more than just cold pints and mixed drinks at local bars.

In response to slowing business, owners of local bars are now holding more special events and contests in order to differentiate themselves and draw in new customers. From beer pong tournaments to air guitar contests, among other events, local bars have, in the last month, taken measures to boost business and stay afloat.

Last month, The Playwright on Temple Street held an air guitar contest that was cosponsored by Smithwick’s, a beer company based in Ireland. The event was hugely successful, Manager Matthew McGourty said, and the bar has plans to hold more contests in the future.

The Playwright, however, is different from some other bars and clubs in the area in that the majority of its patrons tend to be regulars. As a result, McGourty said, the Irish pub has been less impacted by economic volatility.

“We thought it was going to be mainly college students, but there were a lot of regulars, too,” he said. “It’s not as bad as everyone says it is.”

Other bars have not been as fortunate. A general manager at Hula Hanks on Crown Street said business this year has definitely been slower compared to last year. In response, Hula Hanks agreed in late October to host a beer pong tournament as part of the World Beer Pong Tour, which was started by Sam Pines and Peter Altholz, recent college graduates from New York State, in October 2006. Tournaments originally began in New York City but have spread to many cities in Connecticut, such as Stamford and Danbury.

The tournament, the first WBPT event held in New Haven, is usually hosted by bars on off-nights when the bar would otherwise be closed.

“It was an extra night for us to make some extra money,” said Mike, a general manager for Hula Hanks who declined to give his last name.

But even this event failed to draw as many people as organizers hoped; Mike said they expected close to 50 teams, but the event only drew half that.

Pines, when asked about the lackluster turnout, said, “It was our first tournament in New Haven; usually the first time only draws about 25 or 30 teams.”

While Pines said he plans to continue developing the WBPT, Hula Hanks has not made a decision about whether they will host future tour tournaments in New Haven.

Keys to the City at Caffe Bottega has had more success since they added a dueling piano bar earlier this year, said Julie Maravalle, one of the three owners of Keys to the City. She added that her business wanted to do something outside the typical bar scene.

“You gotta keep changing in this business,” she said.

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