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

UNC-CH student uses music to cope with pandemic, on-campus living

By Noah Monroe

As UNC-Chapel Hill junior Justin Watson relaxed on his couch, he reminisced about the day he was accepted into the university in 2020.

Watson described the feeling of getting into his dream school and the innocence of who he was on the winter day decisions were released.

He was unaware that in 49 days, his high school career would be cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For this Concord, N.C. native, his first taste of college wouldn’t come for another 567 days.

Watson’s demeanor changed as he recalled how he had grown since that January day.

‘It was crushing’

Watson walked around his neighborhood to get his mind off the conversation he had just had with his parents.

He couldn’t believe it; he was staying home for his first year in college.

How could this have happened?

How did COVID-19 evolve from being an extended spring break to a global pandemic that forced him to miss out on his first year on campus?

“It was crushing,” Watson said. “I took time to process high school and COVID ruining things. I was just in college mode, and that’s where I put all my chips. And then COVID ruined that as well. It sucked.”

Several states away, Griffin Fuetsch, who was supposed to be Watson’s roommate, was dealing with the same dilemma in New York City.

The two met on an Instagram page designed to help incoming UNC-CH students find a roommate, suitemates and ultimately, make friends.

The two started talking because Watson thought it was cool how Fuetsch was from New York City. They talked more and more, and Fuetsch soon became Watson’s first friend “at” UNC.

“Watching those two weeks go by where everyone is meeting people was stressful,” Fuetsch said. “Knowing I had a roommate who was going through the same thing as me and was going to start at the same place I was, it meant so much.”

Still though, not being on campus affected Watson.

Two of his high school friends, Christian Thomas and Jordan Nance, noticed this when they interacted with him in Concord.

“He was frustrated,” Thomas said. “He was cooped up at his house, so he just felt like there was no escape. It was weighing down on him that he couldn’t be on the campus and interact with classmates.”

Once that disappointment wore off, Watson knew he had to make the most of the situation so that when he finally stepped foot in Chapel Hill, he’d be in a good spot.

He got more involved with fitness, buying a punching bag and dabbling in calisthenics. Though Zoom was not the ideal introduction to college classes, Watson honed in to continue his track record of making excellent grades.

“(Being stuck at home) sparked a drive in him, and he kicked it up a notch,” Nance said. “I remember he was extremely determined to get through the classes. He was saying, ‘Just wait until I get on campus,’ and he proved himself when he was able to get on campus.”

‘Everyone has to learn, and I learned a different way’

In a friend’s basement during the summer between his first and second year, Watson began to rap Lil Baby’s part in the Drake song, ‘Wants and Needs,’ a song he had familiarized himself with since its release in March 2021.

Music had always been influential in Watson’s life, but while at home during his first year, he listened to it more, often to manage his emotions.

When he moved into Morrison Residence Hall at the beginning of his sophomore year, he knew his transition from living at home to college wasn’t going to be all smooth.

His suitemates had developed skills the previous year, like meeting people and balancing academics with social activities. Since they had experience with college life, they were able to give him advice.

But even with help, there were still growing pains.

“I was still a little bit immature sometimes,” Watson said. “Sometimes I felt like I could’ve handled things better. Everyone has to learn, and I learned a different way.”

Watson needed a way to channel his frustrations, and found a familiar avenue his sophomore year – music.

“It calmed me down,” Watson said. “When I felt anxious, I’d put on my headphones, and I’d walk through campus. It was mainly music that got me through a lot of things sophomore year.”

Walking through campus without his headphones was a rare occurrence, but a symbol of his growth throughout that year.

In combination with his experiences on campus, music helped Watson adapt to college life and learn what to expect on a daily basis.

He advanced ahead of the curve and improved his time-management.  He knew his schedule and what it would take so that he could attend class, do his homework, have time to decompress, hang out with friends and attend social events.

He found time to start a website with a friend, giving students a platform to discuss improvements for their respective colleges. Watson even found time for a girlfriend.

By the end of his sophomore year, Watson was comfortable with who he had become. He’d walk through campus with his signature headphones, taking them off to talk anytime he ran into someone he knew.

“Seeing who he is today, it’s the best feeling a friend can have,” Nance said. “In high school it seems like we were all pretty young, not knowing what we wanted to do. When I’ve seen him, I feel a sense of confidence in the drive that he has and knowing that he’s doing well in college.”

Edited by Collin Tadlock and Caleb Sigmon