SOMERVILLE — The room buzzed with chatter as the beer taps at Aeronaut Brewing Company let out rushes of amber and dark, honey-colored liquids. Guests scanned the crowds, looking for friends and a place where they could settle in and witness the spectacle about to be displayed on the screens set up around the hall.
Long before the first round had begun, a line stretched out the front door. But this wasn’t your typical sporting event — or bar scene.
This was a viewing party for a match-up of a different kind: a presidential debate that would make history and could shape the outcome of one of the most unconventional national races in recent memory.
Bars and restaurants across the Greater Boston area Monday night played host to the highly-anticipated and much-talked-about showdown between Republican nominee Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Drinking establishments lured in spectators with promises of large screens, boozy concoctions, and specialty appetizers inspired by the candidates’ most unflattering attributes.
“I’ve never seen this,” said Ben Holmes, co-founder and chief executive at Aeronaut, standing outside as the crowd continued to grow. “It’s such a funny event to have a line for. It’s kind of cool.”
Inside, attendees switched between staring at their smartphones, sharing their opinions and political views on social media, and craning their necks toward the screens. The brewery set up a special hashtag — #AERODebate — and projected the stream of people’s reactions onto one of the walls. People with the “snarkiest” commentary, whether against Trump or Clinton, won prizes.
Hannah Pappenheim, 28, of Somerville, sat with a group of friends at a high table, sipping on beer, as they waited for the debate to get underway.
“I think this is a pretty large Hillary crowd,” said Pappenheim, before making a prediction for the evening.
“I expect Donald Trump to say one or two — or a million — unflattering and insulting things, and Hillary Clinton to do a great job and still be deemed unlikable,” she said.
Jesse Saler, 28, created bingo cards with general topics and common sayings used by the candidates printed inside the squares. They were passed around to her friends and to others at the brewery.
Her squares quickly filled up with “X” marks as the debate ticked on.
“I think a few people already have bingo,” she said.
Deepak Kumar, of Brookline, sat huddled at the corner of a small table, his arms crossed. He wasn’t surprised by the size of the crowd around him.
“This is one of the biggest events,” he said, hardly taking his eyes off the screen. “I’m surprised there aren’t more.”
Midway through the debate, as people stood shoulder-to-shoulder, letting out “Oohs!” and cackling as if at a comedy show, Kumar thought Clinton had the upper hand.
“His lack of thought about [world] issues is coming forth,” he said of Trump’s rebuttals.
Many at the brewery seemed to sway toward Clinton’s camp, wearing stickers bearing her campaign logo and at times laughing at Trump’s remarks.
Guffaws rumbled through the crowd any time the Republican nominee mentioned the many properties that he owns.
But Holmes insisted that the brewery’s aim was to host an event that was truly bipartisan.
“We have been very careful not to let our own politics slip into this evening,” said Holmes. “I never imagined that so many people would come together and be excited about the process.”
While the atmosphere was decidedly different at West End Johnnie’s downtown, where the Massachusetts Young Republicans held a watch party — no lines, sparse crowd, no games — the mood was no less ebullient as they viewed what one guest called “the World Series of politics.”
And they were not afraid to let their political allegiance be known.
Jack Duggan, 18 and a freshman at Suffolk University, sat at a table with a fellow student he’d just met.
“Being in Massachusetts, it’s hard to find other like-minded people politically. It’s such a blue state,” he said. “I don’t like to bring up politics in Massachusetts at all. I feel like I’m being judged.”
But Monday night, he could talk politics freely. “It’s a safe space for Republicans,” he said of the party.
Sydney Strachman, also a freshman at Suffolk, agreed, saying she preferred not to have her presidential candidate of choice published.
“I think in this day and age with mass media and communication, I don’t think it’s really wise to be open and share that,” she said.
She did, however, offer a hint by way of a slogan: “Anyone but Hillary.”
Once the debate started, all eyes on the room were trained on the television screens.
M.J. Muldowney, 23, a financial consultant for the MassGOP, laughed softly as Clinton appeared in a red suit, saying an online poll of sorts, about what Clinton and Trump would wear, and how they’d greet each other, was spot on.
“They nailed it,” he said, later pulling out his phone showing that the red suit won by 25 percent.
Matthew O’Brien, another Suffolk freshman, dressed up for the party, wearing a shirt that resembled the American flag.
“I gotta show my colors,” he said.
Mark Inman said he was solidly a Gary Johnson supporter before Monday’s debate. Now the film producer with a PhD in philosophy said he’s on the fence between Johnson and Trump.
“It was a bloodbath in my opinion. She lost the debate,” he said of Clinton. “Trump defended himself against every issue. She was talking in statistics and would just have a knowing smile and not have a real retort.”