There are certain dates every year that bring huge crowds and a scandalous amount of alcohol consumption to the streets of Manhattan. Upcoming St. Patrick’s Day is a big one, followed by Cinco de Mayo. Independence Day is up there, but it’s not nearly as boozy as Halloween or New Year’s Eve.
Local residents usually either join in the fun or batten down the hatches and prepare to spend a weekend battling roving packs of jolly drinkers. But residents of Community Board 6, which encompasses the area east of Lexington Avenue from 14th to 59th Street, are taking a different route and actively trying to staunch the flow of beer taps in their neighborhoods on these revered holidays.
They’re not against drinking and they’re not against business, they say, but they are hoping to cut down on activities that promote excessive amounts of the former while not really helping the latter; one of those activities, according to the board, is the pub crawl.
“We’ve had a growing problem with organized pub crawls and they’ve been getting larger and larger in time with the growth of social media,” said Mark Thompson, chair of Community Board 6. “Last year, it was pretty disastrous for our neighborhood.”
What used to be a fairly small ritual of groups of locals migrating from one watering hole to the next has ballooned into thousands of people from all over the city—and some from farther away—swarming the neighborhoods for an entire weekend.
Pub crawls don’t just bring in revenue to the participating bars. Companies like JoonBug Productions, which owns BarCrawls.com, make a chunk of change by organizing, promoting and charging patrons for tickets to the drinking routes.
Their St. Paddy’s Day Shamrock Shuffle features 17 bars, 11 of which are in the Community District 6 neighborhoods of Murray Hill, Gramercy and Kips Bay. To get drink specials at each bar, customers need to have a ticket. BarCrawls.com sells a $15 ticket for the St. Patrick’s Day crawl or a $20 all-access pass for the entire weekend.
That ticket buys a wristband, a cup and the privilege of buying $2 draft beers, $3 bottled beers, $4 mixed drinks and $5 shots, though the specials vary by place and time throughout the day. The event runs from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., which is typical of most organized pub crawls.
A representative for Joonbug refused to disclose the number of people who bought tickets to last year’s Turtle Bay pub crawl or answer questions about where the ticket sales go or if they have ever reached out to the community to listen to concerns about what the pub crawls might bring to a largely residential area.
A competitor’s site, PubCrawls.com, sells tickets for a massive, Manhattan-wide crawl of 115 participating bars, but a representative said that many are concentrated in Midtown and on the East Side. Last year, they had over 2,000 participants sign up for one or more of their St. Patrick’s Day pub crawl events.
While the pub crawls are obviously many people’s idea of a good time, neighbors complain that cheap booze plus throngs of tourists plus drinking from morning ’til night creates an intolerable atmosphere.
“Pub crawls have become a major issue; last year, the police department had to shut down several streets” over St. Patrick’s Day weekend, said Toni Carlina, district manager of CB6.
“The majority of this district is residential. There are many bars on the commercial strips, and the commercial strips wrap around the residential blocks, anywhere from 100 to 150 feet, with an average of 125 feet.”
According to data from the State Liquor Authority, there are about 120 bars on Third Avenue alone within Community District 6. Second Avenue boasts about 86 bars, and there are dozens more on side streets and other avenues.
CB6 has worked diligently in recent years to curb excessively loud and boisterous drinking along these popular avenues by only approving liquor licenses if certain bars agree to close at 2 a.m. The move to reduce organized pub crawls is an extension of that effort.
Bar owners are now presented with a Change Agreement from the Board when their license comes up for review, something that only happens, Carlina said, if it’s a new license or a renewal where the establishment has a record of complaints through 311 or the NYPD over the past four years. The agreement stipulates that bars won’t participate in organized pub crawls (though no one can stop self-organized groups of pals wandering about, of course), and when it’s signed, it becomes a legal document and part of that establishment’s state license when the SLA approves it.
Some area bars have agreed to the “no pub crawl” mandate voluntarily.
“In the past, obviously, we’ve done it because it does get people through the door,” said Erin Linfonte, the marketing manager at Turtle Bay NYC, a large pub on 52nd Street and Second Avenue that regularly advertises parties and specials. She said they’ve agreed to stay out of organized crawls.
“We always like to comply with the Community Board,” she said. “It’s not really hurting us that much [to stay out of pub crawls]. It just promotes daytime drinking in the neighborhood, and it’s a really a family neighborhood.”
“For the most part, people have been very compliant,” said Thompson. “However, it’s a very difficult thing to control.” If a bar that has signed the agreement violates it, they might have to go before the SLA for a hearing and risk a suspension of their license.
Some bar owners are baffled as to why the board would try to stifle pub crawls.
“I don’t know why CB6 would want to block bar crawls,” said Tony Mykon, manager of Duke’s on Third Avenue. “It brings clientele into restaurants, hopefully gains future business. It’s a good day for most bars, but it’s more marketing, getting the name out, getting new people in.” When bars participate in organized crawls, they get promotion from the companies sponsoring the event, which some say is a small price to pay for offering reduced drink prices.
“We are always going to get revenue, but the bar crawl opens the door to new patrons who normally would not come around here,” Mykon said.
So far, the board has officially got 17 bars to sign the change agreement and opt out of pub crawls, which doesn’t include others who may voluntarily opt out. But with hundreds of bars in the district, it’s a small wedge in a booming celebratory tradition, and locals are still bracing for the upcoming crawl weekend.
Thompson said St. Patrick’s Day is especially tough because the NYPD is stretched thin covering the parade that day.
“Second and Third Avenue are big areas [for bars]. It’s great for them to draw a larger crowd in. Everyone wants to go out on the special day,” Thompson said. “When there’s such a high concentration of people and bars when it’s normally pretty quiet, it just gets out of hand.”
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