On Thursday night at Actual Café, a stationery vintage Schwinn sat prominently at one end of the room. A bingo cage was strapped behind the seat, and rigged so riding the bike spun it and sent bingo balls spinning down its chute. Steffy Sue, hostess extraordinaire with a jet-black bob and blunt bangs, read out the numbers. “B1,” she said. “Be onnne with the universe.” The crowd giggled, and hastily placed markers on the cards in front of them. This is Bicycle Bingo, and it’s not your grandma’s game.
The crowd was made up of all types, bonded by their love of board games and Actual’s famously good grub, juices, coffee and beer. Steffy Sue, who is a local entertainer, kept things light with her sharp ad libs, giving a potentially stodgy game an unnaturally lively feel. (Another gem: “B12. Vegans may need to supplement vitamin B12.”) Between each round, Actual Café owner Sal Bednarz asked for volunteers from the audience to help Steffy Sue out by riding the one-of-a-kind bingo bike. Lots of fun, to be sure, but Bicycle Bingo is about giving back as well.
Each week, the donations players make (starting at $3 each) for the bingo cards, along with 10 percent of the café’s earnings for the entire evening, go to one of four charities. On the first Thursday of the month, the beneficiary is the East Bay Bicycle Coalition, an organization that advocates bike safety and promotes cycling culture. On second Thursdays it goes to Rebuilding Together Oakland, which provides home repairs to disadvantaged clients. On the third Thursday, the East Bay College Fund, a group that mentors Oakland high school students on higher education, gets the funds.
Last Thursday, the fourth in February, it was United Roots Oakland’s turn. United Roots trains Oakland’s young people in the media arts, and representatives from the organization helped Steffy Sue and Bednarz dole out cards, ride the bike, and hand out prizes. After each round, winners got to select from a table laden with goodies donated by local merchants: bike gear (Bednarz is a into bikes, in case it wasn’t clear), wine, jalapeno jelly, trendy t-shirts, and a Trumer Brauerei gift pack, to name a few.
The event is just four weeks old, but fits in nicely with Actual Café’s track record of spirited community involvement; for example, proceeds of an occasional trivia night go to Bay Area Girls Rock Camp. Actual’s location at the corner of San Pablo and Alcatraz, squarely in Oakland’s Golden Gate neighborhood, inspires Bednarz to hold events that benefit his community in a hyper-local way.
“Picking the charities was easy,” said Bednarz, as he set up for last Thursday’s event. “I just wanted charities that are doing important work in this neighborhood.” Actual’s mission, in fact, is to create community among its clientele—laptops are banned on the weekends to encourage in-person interaction. High up on one wall is an idyllic mural of rooftops, emblazoned with the words, “We Are the People In Your Neighborhood.”
On Thursday, the vibe was neighborly, indeed—regulars wandered in and out, and Bednarz called out to them over the mic between game rounds. Unsuspecting diners looking for a bite or a beer found themselves saddling up for a round or two of bingo. One of the chance visitors was Jeff Tiedeken, a welder and the man behind the Bingo Bicycle itself. Tiedeken, who works out of a nearby studio and builds everything from movie sets to robots, collects old school Schwinns, and other examples of his work are displayed prominently around the cafe. The bingo Schwinn, he said, was fabricated in a rush to mark the first night of the event at Actual Café, a spot he’s happy to frequent.
“There’s something going on here almost every night,” said Tiedeken. “If you live nearby like I do, you can just come on down whenever and check it out.” And if it’s Thursday when you stop by, be ready to play some serious bingo.
For more information on Bicycle Bingo, and other Actual Café events, visit the website: ActualCafe.com.