May 1, 2024 - Business

Now trending in nightlife: Bingo raves

A nightclub interior where people are playing bingo and the number "31" is flashed in giant screens.

At Hijingo, a London nightclub, bingo is the central attraction in a show aimed at young adults. Photo courtesy of State of Play Hospitality

Bingo is taking the urban nightlife scene by storm, vaulting from a stodgy Rotary Club favorite to the centerpiece of alcohol-and-nacho fueled dance parties.

Why it matters: "Eatertainment" has become the hottest new restaurant trend since the pandemic.

Driving the news: Bingo-themed nightclubs, raves and pop-up parties are showing up in cities nationwide, strewing confetti on partygoers as they giddily dot their bingo boards ("B15!").

  • "BAM! Confetti... tunes... dance-offs... lip-sync battles" is part of the pitch from Bingo Loco, which stages bingo rave parties in cities like New York, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and Austin.
  • Parties feature DJs playing retro tunes and hosts who tell bawdy jokes.
  • And the bingo itself? "Win vacations, along with random prizes ranging from lawnmowers to giant teddy bears!" advertises Bingo Loco, a U.K. import.
  • Here's a bingo explainer for those who are new to it.
A nightclub interior filled with people playing bingo.
Guests at Hijingo are "going for the experience," not primarily to win money, says Toby Harris, CEO of the company that owns the London nightclub. Photo courtesy of State of Play Hospitality

Where it stands: Bingo as immersive entertainment for young adults originated in the U.K. and is just starting to make inroads in America.

  • Bongo's Bingo has spread from the U.K. to 40 countries, holding pop-up shows like one that'll be in New York City this Thursday.
  • There's a permanent bingo nightclub in London called Hijingo, whose owner tells Axios he's eager to bring the concept to the states.
  • He's seeking locations where getting a gambling license won't be too much of a problem — even though gambling isn't the main attraction.

What they're saying: "Our guests are going for the experience, they're going for the entertainment — they're not going to win money," Toby Harris, CEO of State of Play Hospitality, tells Axios.

  • "It's a relatively cheap night out," says Harris, whose company owns Hijingo, plus Flight Club, a "social darts" chain, and AceBounce, a "social ping pong" restaurant in Chicago.
  • At Hijingo, "they're not spending $150, $200 on a top-end steakhouse — they're spending $50-$60 to have a riot in a really immersive environment with an incredible and humorous, playful show," Harris says.

Between the lines: These nontraditional bingo games tend to be more about going to a "show" than about the rapid calling of numbers and marking of bingo cards.

  • At Bongo's Bingo, for instance, "different numbers trigger various musical experiences on stage," the New York Post reports.
  • "The number 33 summons an Irish jig and dancers take to the stage," for example. "The number 6 calls up 'Hey Baby (If You'll Be My Girl)' and more dancers."

Zoom out: Restaurateurs say they make more money per customer if they offer darts, pickleball, golf or other activities along with burgers, beer and wings.

  • Gen Z enthusiasms like cornhole and axe-throwing are giving way to once-geriatric pastimes like bingo and shuffleboard as young people seek novelty in their partying.

Fun fact: Within the world of bingo-themed entertainment, "drag queen bingo" has become a thing.

  • A place near Detroit hosts "an audience-participation comedy show with a drag queen entertainer calling numbers and zingers and insulting everyone and everything."
  • Drag Queen Bingo USA will send a crew to your home (in dozens of cities) to stage a vampy bingo game.

The bottom line: Many young adults haven't played bingo before, so these experiences could be their first — and seminal — encounter.

Costumed performers on a stage dance in front of a giant bingo card.
Bunny Pistol performed in a burlesque bingo show in Las Vegas in April. Photo: Ronda Churchill/AFP via Getty Images
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