Legendary Bingo at Hamburger Mary's Celebrates 15 Years as WeHo's Craziest Game Night
"I just touched your boob." When was the last time you heard a bingo caller say that at a bingo game? When was the last time you played bingo?
If you have recently, and you're not on social security, you were probably at Legendary Bingo at Hamburger Mary's in West Hollywood. The irreverent twist on the old-fashioned game, held four times a week (and once a month at the Magnolia Lounge in Pasadena), turns 15 this year -- that's 30 in drag queen years.
To help celebrate, founder and producer Jeffery Bowman is hosting a three-day party, which kicks off at Magnolia Lounge April 8 and continues at the WeHo hotspot April 9 and 10 with bingo games, a champagne toast, drag and burlesque performances and celebrity guests, including the casts of ABC's Suburgatory, CBS' Golden Boy , Sheryl Lee Ralph from Smash and others.
Roxy Wood with Molly Shannon
The popular bingo nights have been attracting long lines of players outside the restaurant for nine years now. Bowman co-hosts with a rotating lineup of drag queen and transgender entertainers, nearly all of whom perform their own shows at the venue. They simultaneously call out the numbers while making lewd wisecracks like, "If you wanna play on Sandusky's team you must...B14. Don't worry. He's in jail." Winners get gift bags donated by the night's charity, but not before they're ordered to run around the room while being pelted with crumpled up bingo cards.
Bowman has been presiding over the games since 1998. The Orange County native has previously worked as an events coordinator for AIDS Project Los Angeles and as a publicist for Hollywood Squares. (Bowman is also a playwright, having won an L.A. Weekly Theater Award for his Deep Throat-inspired Lovelace: The Musical). It was for AIDS Project Los Angeles that he created the first incarnation of the game at the Stonewall Gourmet Café in WeHo.
"It was just me standing at the counter with a little bingo wheel," Bowman says. "The first night there was like ten people and I think I charged like a dollar a game."
He moved to two other locations, including the now-defunct Du-Par's branch on Santa Monica Boulevard, before settling in at Hamburger Mary's. "Everything in there is arranged around bingo," Bowman says. "That event started bringing people into the restaurant that wouldn't normally go there. I like to say egotistically that Hamburger Mary's is the restaurant that bingo made."
His first celebrity ball caller was actress Jean Smart from Designing Women. "I remember watching the show and thinking, 'This is so cool,'" Bowman says. "This is like being in Jean Smart's living room. She sat up there eating a sandwich and she was just having so much fun. To be honest with you, I never wanted that to change. I still use the same type of bingo wheel. I've never gotten better equipment. It's now become a monster."
And a raucous monster it is, even on relatively calm Wednesday nights. But Bowman isn't afraid to quiet down rawdy patrons, especially for charity's sake. "It's hard when there's women sitting at the bar and they're trying to be louder than me," Bowman says. "There have been nights where I've stopped and said, 'Hey, Shut Up! We're raising money for charity.' We're not party clowns. That's not us. We will kill you."
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