The quirky bartender who is winning fans and money on "Jeopardy!" already has a big following at the neighborhood bars where he works and hangs out.
New York City bartender Austin Rogers extended his "Jeopardy!" win streak to nine games on Friday, bringing his total winnings to over $330,000 and cementing his position as the season’s first "streaker."
Rogers, 38, a Manhattanite for more than 18 years, watched the pre-recorded show at 7 p.m. from a familiar perch: a barstool at Gaf East, a Yorkville bar on 2nd Avenue near 88th Street.
He’s been a regular at the watering hole for about 15 years. He bartends at another bar, The Gaf -- which is run by separate owners -- in Hell’s Kitchen.
"That’s the one I work at; this is the one I drink at," he said after extinguishing a cigarette outside the bar an hour before the show started.
He loves his job at The Gaf -- a beer-and-shot bar, he calls it -- and counts many of his regular customers as close friends.
"It's the best job," he said. "Our regulars are great. You know what they want, so it’s just chit-chat. With the glance of an eye down the bar, I could be like: ‘Oh, he needs another Budweiser, he needs another Bud Light and a shot of Jameson, he needs another Guinness—and he needs to go home.'"
Rogers, raised in suburban Westchester County, credits his Jeopardy success with getting right the questions that would typically go unanswered during the game.
"In Jeopardy, you have to assume that every contestant knows the same 85 to 90 percent base," he said. "It's knowing these one or two that only specialization or random happenstance that allows you to get ahead."
"My knowledge filled the gaps a typical Jeopardy contestant would not know," he added.
But aside from his smarts, Rogers has become a hit with "Jeopardy!" fans because of his unorthodox wagering, quirky delivery and scruffy look. “He’s got hair, he’s got chutzpah and broad-based knowledge,” host Alex Trebek said of the champion.
In one of his games, he wagered $15,600 on a Daily Double round; in another, he finished with a total of $69,000. He appears on the show with a long, scruffy beard and unkempt mop of brown hair. And he scoffed once when he named the rock band The Eagles as the correct answer to a question.
"The Eagles are the Coldplay of [the] '70s," he said Friday. "They are like a rock band that’s trying to sound like other rock bands without actually learning how to rock.”
For his fellow regulars at Gaf East -- a "Cheers" bar, they call it -- the charisma Rogers has shown on "Jeopardy!" is the reason most of them count him as a friend for more than a decade. He’s a genuine, smart and clever person, his friends said. He’s known to hang at the bar hours after midnight, taking trivia questions from his friends bent on stumping him. And he’s always available for conversation in between sips from his Guinness and Tullamore Dew whiskey.
"I was worried he would water down his personality on TV, but he’s exactly like that in real life," Jeanette Reece, 29, said after putting her Corona down on Gaf East’s bar Friday night. “He’s not putting on a show—that’s Austin.”
"You can't get a better drinking buddy, to sit down have a few beers," Gaf regular Justin Wakefield, 53, said through his British accent. "I tell him my s---. He tells me his s---. We don't come in here just to have beer, we come in here to get rid of a few anxieties."
Anish Chahravorty, 38, known as Hash at Gaf East, met Rogers at the bar more than a decade ago.
"He’s smart. He knows it. Which is sort’ve what you love about Austin. He’s got that temperament to him,” Chahravorty said. "What’s great is when he comes in here and it’s late night and we just try to probe him, give him questions. There’s about six of us at the bar trying to figure it out."
At 7 p.m. Friday, the TVs that line Gaf East’s bar-side wall were switched from the Yankee playoff game to "Jeopardy!"
Rogers sat towards the back of the narrow bar, where his band of regulars usually hang. He wasn’t drinking, he said, because he had to rush from Gaf East to work a bartending shift after the show was done.
The crowd booed as Trebeck introduced Rogers’ competitors for the evening, two women named Diana and Rebekah, then erupted into cheers when Rogers’ bearded face appeared onscreen.
More boos came as Rogers fell behind in the first round and missed a Daily Double question. Cheers followed as he went on a run in a category during Double Jeopardy and answered a Daily Double correctly.
By the end of the Double Jeopardy round, he was in lead by a $2,900 margin. He was then the only contestant to nail the final Jeopardy question by naming the most densely populated country in Europe and the least densely populated country in Asia (Monaco and Mongolia).
The bar erupted in the loudest cheer of the night. The regulars raised their arms, clapped and yelled their support for Rogers.
"The quirky bartender does it again!" one of them shouted as the credits rolled.