Grandview amateur astronomer, music fan, casual rocketeer, and occasional pyromaniac Duke Skygawker had been knocking back a few and enjoying the local and touring acts at Woodlands Tavern on West Third Avenue for over a year. A regular at Open Mic Wednesday hosted by Molly Winters (Miss Molly Band, Salty Caramels), he liked to talk about his stargazing hobby. Eventually, Winters told him he should set up on Woodland’s patio. Next Open Mic, he did.
A pair of tripod-mounted astro-binoculars on the patio drew a bit of a crowd. Intrigued by the response, Duke set up an red 8” reflecting telescope that looks a lot like a bowling-ball cannon. More people came, and sometimes a waiting line formed. The moon fascinated everyone, and Saturn, rings and moons included, had some dragging their friends outside to take a look. Many seemed to think Saturn was a bar trick of some sort, a picture pasted in the scope, because it looked too good.
Even better from his perspective, Skygawker found even somewhat tipsy people could be taught to aim and operate the scopes easily, and he could sit back and watch the fun as people marveled at the sights, or head in for a game of Rolling Stone pinball, another shot of rum and a music fix.
He started calling it “Barstronomy,” and began tweeting, Facebooking and email-listing when he’d be set up. He registered the domain for Barstronomy and set up a website. He started giving away Barstronomy t-shirts. Pictures of people – oddly, mostly attractive young women looking through the scopes – started showing up on barstronomy.com. Unsolicited Facebook testimonials like “Barstronomy kicks ass!” started appearing. Stepping it up, Duke brought in a solar telescope and showed prominences flaring off the sun. And he continues to set up every chance he gets.
“It’s funny that people are afraid to touch the scope,” he says. “If I have a mission, it’s to show people there’s nothing complicated about it. If a drink and a look through the scope help you think about your place in the universe or debate cosmology with your fellow partiers, then it’s all the more entertaining for everyone.”
Barstronomy takes place at Woodlands Tavern in Grandview Heights. It’s free, it’s fun, and it’s something new to do when you’re imbibing. Here’s how you can discover when Duke and Barstronomy will set up next: