The bar at Baranof Restaurant is the stuff of legend. If you haven't visited, you may have heard tell of its epic, nautical-themed diveiness, its clientele of the sodden, the potentially combative, those who look rode hard and put away wet. You'd be forgiven, if not applauded for your good judgment, for resisting a trip to the Baranof at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday morning for bingo. But if you overcame said good judgment and pried yourself out of bed and journeyed to Greenwood at the ungodly bingo hour, you'd find an entirely benign, perversely cozy (albeit entirely surreal) scene. Everyone knows everyone else, except you, to whom they are admirably friendly and about whom they are not especially curious. Calm prevails. People peruse the Radio Shack circular; they describe their just-completed graveyard shifts ("Long day tonight"); they erupt in intermittent unified laughter. It's a lot like a church social, but with drinking, cursing, and the whole congregation shouting back the letter-number combination that is bingo's secret dirty joke every time it is called ("OH, SIXTY-NINE!").
The prizes at the Baranof's Saturday-morning bingo fall into two categories: candy and grab bag. The candy options, grouped on a tall stool, are compelling in an obvious, promiscuous way—a jumbo box of Dots, a bag of Hershey's sugarless something, the new caramel-centered Junior Mints. However, the regulars, which is everyone but you, disdain those who choose candy. Where's the mystery, the spirit of adventure?
In the splendor of the grab bag, of course. Stapled-up paper sacks and reused manila envelopes yield the odd, the useless, the useful that you may not actually want to use. More importantly, the grab bag yields belonging: Your fellow bingoers want to see what you got and even, possibly, to trade prizes with you. Candles are passed around to be smelled; a large ceramic white rabbit with a manic look in its eyes is much admired; a plastic thingamajig requires collective speculation as to its purpose; a tiny purse prompts the showcasing of an even tinier purse (a previous bingo score? It's unclear).
A reverent hush is sustained while the game is on. The bingo caller, stationed at the distant karaoke machine for amplification purposes, is but a disembodied voice, a soothing cadence. Proper Ink-A-Dot bingo markers, stamping satisfying rounds of color, are provided, as is a plastic basket of the basket-of-fries variety for your used paper cards.
Variations on classic bingo—postage stamp, five-around-the-corner, kite, choo-choo, four corners, crazy eight, block of nine, picture frame—keep it interesting, as does the between-game conversation (did Bonnie actually get arrested for threatening a clerk with a box cutter, or is this bullshit?). Daylight ekes in around the back door, which occasionally admits new arrivals, greeted by name, often coughing like death warmed over. At 10:00 a.m., when the game wraps up, most everyone looks to be sticking around.
Baranof Restaurant, 8549 Greenwood Ave N, 782-9260.