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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.
(Updated at 9:20 a.m.) It’s been more than a year since the last large, organized bar crawl in Arlington, and the former seasonal staple of the Orange Line corridor shows no sign of returning soon.
The last notable crawl to fill bars in the Clarendon area was the March 2018 Shamrock Crawl. The St. Patrick’s Day-themed pub crawl was one of three — including the Halloween Crawl and a Fourth of July-themed All American Bar Crawl — to bring thousands of revelers to the watering holes along Wilson and Clarendon boulevards.
Though many local residents were not big fans of the bar crawls, which sometimes led to participants vomiting in front yards or running naked down the street, the events did generate local buzz and were reliable draws for Courthouse and Clarendon-area bars.
The free-wheeling nature of the bar crawls was curtailed a bit when the Arlington County Board approved new regulations targeted the events in 2014. While the crawls continued for more than 3 years after that, Scott Parker, a partner in some of the bars that participated in the events, tells ARLnow that the costs imposed by the regulations likely led to them petering out.
“My sense is that the regulations and costs made it impossible for it to be as profitable in Arlington as it is in D.C. for the operators,” Parker said. “I think the demand was still there, but the regulations made it too hard for them to turn a profit.”
“Kind of hurts because Arlington bars already have a competitive disadvantage to D.C. bars since we have to close an hour earlier, and must live by many other restrictions that they don’t have to in D.C.,” Parker added.
Project DC Events, the primary organizer of the big Arlington bar crawls, is still holding similar crawls in D.C. and Baltimore — even using video from Clarendon to promote its upcoming All American Bar Crawl in the District. The company did not respond to requests for comment.
Arlington County spokeswoman Susan Kalish says the county has chalked up the lack of bar crawls to declining popularity and is not reconsidering any of its policies, which call for event organizers to cover the cost of an added police presence and trash pickup.
“Arlington County supports more than 250 special events a year,” Kalish told ARLnow. “We have seen a decline in pub crawls, however there is always an ebb and flow in what’s popular.”
“Last year, we did have a pub crawl organizer complain about the cost for holding their event,” she noted, adding that “this does not appear to be a systemic complaint regarding our special events and there are no plans at the time to reconsider the policy.”
“Public safety remains our top priority during all special events and resources are deployed to ensure the safety of participants, neighborhood residents and businesses,” Kalish said.
Clarendon has been known for its nights-and-weekends bar scene and drinking culture, and there is perhaps no more pure an example of the drinking culture than the bar crawls that come to the neighborhood a few times a year.
There’s the Halloween crawl, the “All American” crawl and — this past weekend — the St. Patrick’s Day-themed Shamrock Crawl, which returned to Clarendon after a one-year hiatus. Like Dan Zak before me, I went to check it out.
The final list of bars included Bar Bao, Pamplona, Whitlow’s, Mister Days, Hunan One, Oz and Clarendon Grill. An earlier list featured Courthaus Social, but it was later removed.
Starting at 1 p.m. my friend and I were among the first people to show up at Bar Bao, where you had to register. We were given free plastic mugs and a map.
Nothing was ready when we first got there. No bartender, no music. Just my friend and I and two other guys awkwardly sitting around. After 5 to 10 minutes of standing around waiting for something to happen, we got up, left and headed to Courthaus Social, not knowing that it was no longer on the list.
We killed an hour at Courthaus Social and decided to finally start heading back. On the way over, we passed Oz and my friend insisted on checking it out.
Inside, I saw a $4 “shamrock shooter” was being offered. The bartender told me it was a watermelon flavored liquor of sorts, and it was so good I had another, clumsily spilling some on my green shirt. But the revelry was rather subdued — as far as we can tell, no other bar crawlers were there.
Fast forward to 3 p.m. and we decided to head back to Bar Bao. On the way over we found a grocery cart that I pushed my friend in for 10 seconds. She then jumped out and we went into Bar Bao. Finally things are poppin’. A DJ is performing, the bar was open for those inside and outside on the patio. People were actually there. The weather was between 40 and 50 degrees, but it was sunny so it wasn’t too bad to stand outside while having a beer.
While at Bar Bao I also met a guy who said he was friends with the man who was famously tased by police while wearing a Pikachu onesie, about one year ago. The man is still in prison after fighting with both police and the bouncers of A-Town Bar & Grill, his friend said, adding that they were wrongly discriminated against when they were kicked out of A-Town.
After Bar Bao, it was time to cross the courtyard to Pamplona, which serves Spanish cuisine but today was also offering $7 Irish car bomb shots.
Before our final stop at Mister Days, my friend and I were tempted by yet another grocery cart. Except this time, when I pushed it, the cart fell over, with my friend rolling out (she was fine). A police officer then came out of nowhere and initially told us to return the cart, seemingly less interested in my friend’s tumble. I offered to take the cart back to Trader Joe’s, but the officer had seen enough shenanigans.
“Just leave,” he said, which we promptly did.
Four and a half hours of drinking later we couldn’t make it to the four remaining bars. But I like to think we still had a great, boozy adventure. And for the record, neither us nor anyone we saw vomited in any front yards.
The costumed event takes participants to numerous Clarendon bars from 1-9 p.m. on Saturday, November 4. Advance tickets are $15 and the price increases to $30 the day of the event.
Participants get “a souvenir haunted mug, access to Clarendon’s best bars, exclusive drink & food specials, free pictures of the event and a raffle entry to win great prizes,” according to the website.
Nearly a dozen Clarendon establishments will be stops on the crawl route, including Clarendon Grill, Hunan One, Whitlow’s and Pamplona.
The All American Bar Crawl is set to take place Saturday, July 1 from 1-9 p.m. in Clarendon. It offers revelers access to local bars, food and drink specials, party favors, a raffle and a “signature patriotic mug.”
Among the participating restaurants listed on the event’s website are Mister Days, Bracket Room, Whitlow’s, Clarendon Grill, Oz and Whitlow’s Rooftop.
Early bird online registration is $15.
“The All American Bar Crawl celebrates America’s birthday a few days early!” says the website. “Rock your red, white and blue and get ready for a day full of Star Spangled shenanigans and bar-hopping in Clarendon with thousands of your closest friends.”
In June 2014 a naked man led police on a chase through Clarendon during that year’s All American Bar Crawl. A month later the Arlington County Board passed new regulations that required crawl organizers to pay for a stepped-up police presence at the events. Both attendance and arrests dropped at subsequent bar crawls.
Someone apparently brought their baby blue Bentley to Saturday’s Halloween bar crawl in Clarendon — but didn’t pay enough attention to the temporary no parking signs on Wilson Blvd.
The $200,000+ coupe, with New York tags, was towed by Redman Fleet Services, the towing provider to the Arlington County Police Department.
No additional information was immediately available.
Photo courtesy Clarendon Nights
The annual Clarendon Halloween bar crawl will be back for another year this year, although it will be taking place after Halloween itself.
Halloween is on Monday, Oct. 31. The bar crawl is scheduled from 1-9 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 5.
“Bust out your best costume and get ready for a spooktacular party like no other this season,” says the website for the crawl. “The Clarendon Halloween Crawl celebrates the scariest time of the year in Arlington with thousands of your closest friends!”
Revelers will get a “souvenir haunted mug, access to Clarendon’s best bars, exclusive drink and food specials, free pictures of the event and a raffle entry to win great prizes.”
Participating bars include Mad Rose Tavern, Clarendon Ballroom, Clarendon Grill, IOTA Club and Cafe, Whitlow’s, Mister Days, Spider Kelly’s and Hunan One.
Tickets are $15 online or $30 at the door.
This weekend’s Shamrock Crawl in Clarendon will be no exception.
The police department will hold a “Pass the Keys Anti-Drunk Driving Event” from noon to 9 p.m. Saturday, during the bar crawl. Expect a mix of fun activities and serious public education, along with some live tweeting.
As a result of the anti-DUI event, police will be closing 11th Street N. from N. Highland Street to N. Garfield Street.
The Candy Cane Crawl is planned from 1-9 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 19.
“Thousands of participants will quench their thirst on exclusive drink deals as they explore Clarendon and celebrate the holiday season one bar at a time,” according to the event’s website.
Tickets are $20 online or $30 at the door. That gets revelers “a refillable signature Santa mug, access to some of Clarendon’s best bars, exclusive drinks & food specials and a raffle entry to win great prizes.”
Participating bars include Mad Rose Tavern, Clarendon Grill, Clarendon Ballroom, Whitlow’s, IOTA Club and Cafe, Mister Days, SoBe, American Tap Room, Spider Kelly’s, Hard Times Cafe and Hunan One.
(Updated at 4 p.m.) The Clarendon Halloween Bar Crawl will return this year with an extra hour of revelry.
The bar crawl is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 31 — Halloween — from 1-9 p.m. The start time is an hour earlier than last year. Just like last year, participants are encouraged to come in costume.
“We recommend wearing your spookiest, scariest or most creative costume!” says the event website. “There will be costume prizes for the most festively dressed participants.”
Tickets currently are available online for $20, and a limited number of tickets will be available at the door for $30. The fee gets participants a souvenir mug, food and drink specials at bars in Clarendon and a raffle entry.
Bars along the crawl include Whitlow’s, Mad Rose, Clarendon Ballroom, Bracket Room, Don Tito, Mister Days, Spider Kelly’s, Hard Time Cafe and Hunan One, among others.
Last year, the Arlington County Police Department live tweeted the Halloween-themed festivities. It was deemed a relatively quiet affair, crime-wise, with thousands of participants and only 9-10 arrests.
The event will run from 2:00-9:00 p.m. on Saturday, June 27. Tickets are $20 in advance or $30 at the door.
“The All American Bar Crawl celebrates America’s birthday a few days early!” said the bar crawl’s website. “Rock your red, white and blue and get ready for a day full of Star Spangled shenanigans and bar-hopping in Arlington with thousands of your closest friends.”
Participants will get a “signature freedom mug,” “patriotic party beads,” a raffle entry, free event photos, prizes “for the most festively dressed participants” and, of course, food and drink specials around town. While the drink specials cannot be advertised, per Virginia law, the food specials include $2 cheese pizza slices from Bronx Pizza.
Participating bars include Clarendon Grill, Mad Rose Tavern, American Tap Room, Clarendon Ballroom, Spider Kelly’s, Hard Times Cafe, Hunan One, Whitlow’s, Mister Days, SoBe, Don Tito and IOTA Club and Cafe.
The crawl is being organized by Project DC Events.