UNC alum revives trivia, crowds at Linda’s Downbar

By Hannah Kaufman

The underground bar is teeming with people. Elbows brush up elbows. Beers slosh.

Students and adults alike attempt to squeeze just one more person—the last one, they swear—around their table.

The five wooden booths lined against the far wall are rivaled only by the high-rise tables, which, despite their small surface area, are covered with the arms, hands, pitchers and french fries of about 15 people per table.

No one says a thing about the claustrophobic atmosphere. It’s a Wednesday, after all.

Deep teal walls are hardly visible behind many pints of bold, crisp beer signs: “Budweiser: King of Beers.” “Samuel Adams.” “Yuengling.” “What’ll you have? Pabst Blue Ribbon COLD BEER.” “Bourbon Street.” And of course, the ivy-covered wooden plank that reads, in a delicate cursive font: “Linda’s.”

There’s a $1-off special tonight at Linda’s Bar and Grill, but that’s not the reason for the bustle.

Let the games begin

“Thank you for joining us tonight,” the steady announcer’s voice rang out through the clamor of shouts and laughter. “It’s now time to start Linda’s Wednesday trivia, as we do every Wednesday. The rules are up on the screen, make sure to tip all your lovely bartenders generously—and remember that the winner has the chance to win a $25 gift card.”

The voice belongs to Patrick Wiginton, a 29-year-old UNC-Chapel Hill alum. Patrick is of average height with a big straight-toothed smile and newly dyed blue hair. By day, he’s a remote data analyst at Cisco, but by night—Wednesday night, that is—he’s the star of his own show.

Patrick has been hosting trivia at Linda’s for 15 months, and he’s hardly missed a single Wednesday. He reignited a Chapel Hill tradition that had been lost to the isolating lull of Covid-19, a tradition that packs Linda’s basement bar, the Downbar, with up to 100 students, graduates and locals. And Patrick works for free.

“I’m just doing this for my own fun,” Patrick said.

What is … backstory

Unlike most trivia lovers, his trivia experience didn’t begin during college, but much earlier. At 12 years old, Patrick was an only child and avid reader. He and his mom began watching Jeopardy every night after dinner, competing fiercely to see how well they could do. One night, his mom proposed a challenge that she thought couldn’t be done: guessing the answer to the Final Jeopardy question based on the category alone.

“My mom thought it was impossible,” Patrick said. “I got it three times.”

At UNC-CH, he majored in public health and minored in biology. He met his roommate and best friend Aaron Gross sophomore year. By junior year, they were regulars at Linda’s. They befriended owner Chris Carini and cheerfully annoyed the waiters.

Patrick now lives 15 minutes from Chapel Hill but is often in town. He and Alya Butler, his girlfriend of two years, attend football games and occasionally stop by Franklin Street.

But two weekly traditions are set in stone: Linda’s on Wednesday nights for trivia and Sunday afternoons for what he and Aaron call “church day.”

Beers over bibles, right?

Spinning wheels of fortune

On the most recent church day, it was 3 p.m. and Love Island was playing on the TV. A few customers were mingling around but most of the noise was coming from the bar, where Alya, Patrick and Aaron were seated.

It was Halloween weekend and Aaron was wearing a cowboy hat with a red El Toro Tequila cap-turned-hat glued to the top. Patrick took a sip of his drink and looked up at a short-haired waitress inquisitively.

“Kirsten, when did you start hating me?” he called out.

“Must’ve been the first day I met you,” she deadpanned.

“Yeah, day one,” he agreed.

The staff doesn’t actually hate him. In fact, Patrick’s seven years of friendship with Chris was what landed him his trivia job in the first place.

In 2020, the pandemic forced almost all of the restaurants in Chapel Hill to shut down operations. Linda’s was no exception, and with its loss of business came the loss of a 20-year tradition: trivia in the Downbar.

After things opened back up again, trivia wasn’t the same. Turnout was low and the previous trivia host couldn’t work Wednesday nights. Linda’s had taken a massive hit. But there through it all was Patrick, the ever-so-loyal regular.

“I’ve known Patrick for a very long time,” Chris said. “He’s hilarious, he’s got a really honest vibe about him. He’s just a sweet guy.”

Sitting at the bar one day, Chris mentioned offhandedly that he wanted to start up Wednesday trivia again. Patrick volunteered without a moment’s hesitation. He had never hosted before, but he liked bar trivia and had watched a lifetime of Jeopardy. Plus, he wanted to help Linda’s however he could.

“How hard could trivia be?” Patrick said.

Becoming Wednesday Guy

He refused Chris’ offer for payment, instead opting for a guarantee of free food and beer, and began learning the Downbar’s ropes. His first Wednesday trivia night was August 25, 2021. Only six or seven teams showed up, and while Patrick had prepared the proper amount of rounds and questions, he didn’t even have a working PowerPoint. That didn’t stop him from coming back the next Wednesday, though. And the following. And the following.

Now, it’s November 2022 and Patrick just finished announcing the answers to the Current Events round, which is always the first round. Next might be a wordplay round called Before and After or maybe Movie Title Math. Patrick suspects that the crowd is rooting for Musical Numbers, in which he plays the first 30 seconds of eight different songs and teams have to guess the song and artist’s name.

What the 20 teams in the Downbar don’t know is that each trivia night requires around three hours of preparation. During the actual game, Patrick is also required intense concentration in announcing every round, displaying the answers and reading out each team’s score and name.

(A few weeks ago, Aaron chose the team name: “Terrible Trivia Host Says What?”).

At last, around 10 p.m., the so-called Terrible Trivia Host reads out the final scores. One team shrieks with joy while the rest pat each other on the back disappointedly. The crowd files out, but not before shouting a thank-you to Patrick, who is standing in his corner, face flushed from the past two hours. Somehow, he still has the energy to smile and wave at his fans.

“It takes someone like Patrick to create that type of community around trivia culture,” Chris said.

While generally humble, Patrick sometimes jokes that his trivia nights are gaining him something akin to celebrity status around Chapel Hill. He isn’t far off. Last week, he was walking to a UNC game and stopped by the Student Stores to buy a hat. At checkout, the cashier took a long, hard look at him.

“Oh, I know you,” the cashier said. “Trivia.”

“Yeah,” Patrick replied. “I’m Wednesday Guy.”

Edited by Caleb Sigmon