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Since 2014, Arlington has had fewer bar crawls. But could they make a comeback?

There was a time when Arlington — Clarendon, in particular — was known for bar crawls.

There was Shamrock Crawl, the Clarendon Halloween Crawl, and Shirlington’s SantaCon. Thousands of mostly younger people attended. Along with the revelry, however, there were arrests, property damage, public intoxication, and nudity.

Then, in 2014, the Arlington County Board had enough and passed a number of regulations designed to allow local officials at least some control over how bar crawls operated in the county. It made event organizers apply for a special events permit, have insurance, and reimburse the county for any event-related expenses, like the cost of assigning extra police officers.

The regulations not only curtailed the number of incidents related to bar crawls but decreased the number of crawls in Arlington overall. From many people’s perspectives, the regulations worked.

Eight years later, the bar crawl scene in Arlington still hasn’t recovered.

Only 9 bar crawls have been issued special event permits since 2018, per data provided to ARLnow by the county’s Dept. Parks and Recreation (DPR), which manages the process.

“Pub crawls can draw a crowd and impact our community, so their organizers need to have a permit to hold a pub crawl,” DPR spokesperson Susan Kalish told ARLnow. “Special event organizers are required to pay any costs to the County due to their event, such as public safety, trash removal, and more.”

The upcoming crawls include an 80’s and 90’s themed crawl set for this Saturday (Sept. 17) in Clarendon. It’s being co-organized by local restaurateurs Christal and Mike Bramson.

There are two more bar crawl applications pending for this year as well.

While DPR said statistics are not available for permitted bar crawls prior to 2016, anecdotally and going through the ARLnow archives, it appears there are now far fewer bar crawls — especially those of the large, 1,000+ attendee variety — than prior to the enactment of regulations.

While the pandemic certainly impacted the last several years, 2018 and 2019 both only had 3 permitted crawls per year. That’s out of combined 401 permitted special events. With 2022 wrapping up, though, special events are returning to the level of the “before times,” including bar crawls.

“This fall we are pretty much back to pre-pandemic levels of applications,” said Kalish.

It takes a lot more to put on a bar crawl in Arlington today than it did in the free-wheeling days of the early 2010s.

“You’d be surprised how many people who are organizing a special event haven’t thought about all the specifics,” Kalish wrote. “Trash. Toilets. Noise. Flow. The [county’s] Special Events Committee helps them through a number of possible scenarios so they can have a successful event.”

How far in advance organizers need to submit their application, either 30 or 90 days, depends on a number of factors including the size of the crawl. Kalish noted crawls with only three or four establishments on the route usually require less time to process.

“The first year we had [permitted] pub crawls they were quite large, but recently they have gotten much smaller,” Kalish said.

A crawl or organizer “with a satisfactory history” of managing safe events also requires less processing time, as well as one that has a clear mapped route.

Because of these regulations, guidelines, and extra costs, though, some companies have decided to forgo organizing crawls in the county and instead stick to a place where the process is more straightforward and there’s no shortage of potential young and single attendees: the District.

Local restaurateur Scott Parker told ARLnow in 2019 all of these things put Arlington at a “competitive disadvantage” compared to D.C., which only requires a permit for events with over 200 participants and a $500 licensing fee.

Project DC Events, which was the organizer of a number of large Arlington bar crawls, told ARLnow recently that the company is now concentrating on organizing crawls in D.C. and Baltimore and hasn’t hosted one in the county in a “few years.”

One of the last crawls the company hosted was in October 2014, right after the enactment of regulations. It was estimated then it was going to cost Project DC an extra $9,000 to $15,000 for additional police and EMT personnel.

This, obviously, left a skunky taste in the company’s mouth — and led them to stop organizing bar crawls in Arlington.

“It [has to do] with regulations which increased costs drastically. Back when we used to host events in Arlington, we had to receive police approval, EMT approval, neighborhood approval, DPW/trash approval, etc. and take on the costs of police and EMTs (which were very high as Arlington PD wanted 1 officer for every 100 participants),” a Project DC spokesperson told ARLnow.

Others, though, don’t mind the need for extra costs and approvals. Christal and Mike Bramson, who are hosting the crawl this weekend, said the regulations are important for safety reasons.

“We are in full support of the county requirements. We do not see the regulations as a deterrent, but rather necessary to keep these events safe for attendees, businesses, and our community,” the couple behind B Live and Clarendon Ballroom told ARLnow.

While they wouldn’t comment on ticket sales or attendance, the Bramsons noted they are “working closely” with police and county officials in terms of what’s needed to support the community and attendees.

There is a sense that nearly a decade after the enactment of the regulations and as in-person events return to pre-pandemic frequency, that bar crawls may be coming back to Arlington. If the other two bar crawl applications do get approved for this year, that would bring the total number of crawls this year in Arlington to 4, which is more than either 2018 or 2019.

“It does seem like other companies are bringing events like the ones we used to host back to Arlington,” said the Project DC spokesperson. “Which makes us wonder if things have changed since we last did events in Arlington.”

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