On the evening of Feb. 21 at The Last Word, a basement bar on the corner of West Huron and First Street, there were plenty of thick-framed glasses, plaid and cocktails. Suspended lights cast a golden glow over a sea of thirsty Ann Arborites as they swarmed to the bar, waiting for the night to begin. This was Nerd Nite, an event proving that drinking and being a nerd are not mutually exclusive.
The evening began around 7 p.m. when the coordinator, or “boss” of Nerd Nite Ann Arbor, Liz Lamoste, gave a short history of the organization and welcomed over 100 guests to the monthly event that debuted in January.
Nerd Nite started around 10 years ago in New York and has since spread to 52 other locations throughout the U.S. and abroad. Self-publicized as “The Discovery Channel (TM) with Beer!,” the evening usually consists of three 15- to 20-minute Powerpoint presentations, with a short question-and-answer period after each speaker presents.
“You’ve got a bunch of diverse people from all over your city who are all interested in learning something new,” said Lamoste, a third-year law student at the University. “It doesn’t matter what the presentations are about; these are just smart people who want to have a couple drinks and learn something new.”
In mid-2012, Lamoste decided that Nerd Nite would be a great addition to the Ann Arbor community, so she contacted the head bosses to start a chapter.
“I thought, ‘there are a lot of nerdy people in Ann Arbor who would really like something like this. Why isn’t there one here?’ ” she said. “So, I emailed them and we debuted last month.”
January’s event was held at Braun Court and was such a hit that Lamoste and her co-bosses had to turn people away.
Though February’s event was at a larger bar, the venue quickly reached capacity and many patrons remained standing for the entire evening.
Titled “Nerds Like it Hot,” the February presenters spoke about a range of topics, all loosely related to the Valentine’s Day — or Single Awareness Day, as Lamoste noted — theme.
“Everyone loves love, right?” asked Nicholas Silva, a first-year Ph.D. student.
Though Silva had never been to Nerd Nite before, he was excited to hear the presenters speak.
“Drinks and science seemed like a good combination, so that’s why we’re here.”
Erica Barnes, a ‘U’ alum and self-dubbed “hardcore nerd,” heard about Nerd Nite through a friend and thought it was a perfect fit for the Ann Arbor community.
“Because of the University, knowledge is always going to thrive here, and sharing it is great.”
Jane Davis, a second-year graduate student at the School of Information, was the first speaker of the night, and she gave a presentation called “Kill it with Fire.” Before coming to the University, Davis was a member of Flaming Lotus, a team of women who make giant metal art that they light on fire at the annual Burning Man Festival, held in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. She explained the process of creating each sculpture to her “nerdy” audience.
“When you’ve got pressurized methanol, shit gets completely bananas,” Davis said to an eruption of laughter from the crowd.
Next, Becky Bloom, a Ph.D. student in the department of Asian Languages and Cultures, spoke about passion in her presentation, “Coitus and Curry: The Divine Sexy Times with Lord Krishna.”
The third act of the night was “Cupid Wasn’t Aiming for Your Heart: The Neuroscience of Love.” Presented by Dr. Tiffany Love, the talk originally attracted many nerds, like Silva and Barnes, to the event.
“I love getting people together from all different types of disciplines to talk about ideas, which is why Nerd Nite is such a cool idea,” said Love, who is also a researcher at the ‘U.’
The idea of bringing people together from a broad range of fields is what Lamoste loves most about the Nerd Nite community.
“I really like being surrounded by intellectually dynamic people who look at the world in different ways than I do,” Lamoste said. “It can be hard to engage with other nerds in a non-academic setting, and this is such a perfect place for that.”
Though Lamoste will be moving to Detroit after she graduates from law school, she still plans on being a part of the Nerd Nite community. She is one of two bosses launching Nerd Nite Detroit, which will debut March 28. Ann Arbor Nerd Nite will return on March 21.
With the way things are going, Lamoste expects Nerd Nites in Michigan to continue successfully as long as people follow one simple rule: Be there and be square.