WRIGLEYVILLE — The bars, the costumed crowds and, of course, the cereal are making a comeback this weekend.
The 22nd annual Twelve Bars of Christmas, or TBOX, takes place from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 9, on Clark Street between Grace and Roscoe.
Whether you’re a participant, neighbor or business owner, here’s everything you need to know about the notorious bar crawl:
TBOX has been known to draw crowds of up to 40,000, but with no official tracking method. For context, though, The Guinness World Record for most people on a pub crawl is currently held by Crawl of Cancer in Kansas City at 4,885 participants.
This year, TBOX founder and organizer Chris Festa hopes to snag the title, estimating about 12,000 people will attend on Saturday.
“We have badges with QR codes, and we need to scan them and get at least that many people to go to 10 bars,” Festa said. “We have a team of workers in bright yellow T-shirts who are going to be scanning everyone’s badges, and a person from Guinness World Records is flying in from New York to adjudicate the attempt.”
If TBOX tops 4,885 pub crawl participants, it will be awarded a certificate, and Festa said he will print certificates for every participant who helps it qualify.
“We thought it would be a fun thing for the participants to bring the title officially to Chicago,” he said.
Something else that’s new this year is how clean-up will be handled.
This is the first TBOX since the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce took over the area from Chicago View, and Chris Jessup, director of public safety and community affairs for the 44th Ward, said he thinks complaints about trashed streets will be less of an issue because of it.
“The Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce will be doing maintenance this year, which I think is a really good thing because they handle maintenance every day, so they know what to anticipate,” Jessup said. “I mention that because, for some reason, it’s fun for these people to throw cereal everywhere. So it can be kind of a messy event, but there will be better clean-up than there has been in the past.”
IF YOU’RE ATTENDING …
Because TBOX is such a massive event, there are some logistics of which to be aware if you’re planning to attend.
First, tickets are on sale online at www.tbox.org. Tickets are $35 each and are discounted the more you purchase, and they include general admission to the event and a T-shirt.
After you purchase a ticket, you must pick up your wristband and other materials from Murphy’s Bleachers 3655 N. Sheffield Ave. Murphy’s will be open at 9 a.m. Saturday for packet pick-up.
Your wristband will be color-coded — either red, blue or green — and will place you in a group to help spread out participants. You’ll be given a map indicating where you should start the pub crawl based on the color of your wristband.
If you want to start the day even earlier than 10 a.m., opening ceremonies will be held at the Cubby Bear at 9 a.m. There will also be a closing ceremony in the same spot, where the Guinness World Record certificate will be presented, if TBOX manages to earn it.
And, finally, and obviously, you’re encouraged to dress up. This year’s theme is Christmas Vacation, in reference to National Lampoon’s classic holiday film; so while you should probably avoid bikinis in the freezing cold weather, keep the theme in mind when you’re picking your outfit for the day.
In addition to logistics, Festa and a couple TBOX veterans emphasized that using common sense during a 10-hour pub crawl is imperative.
“We just want people to pace themselves and to drink responsibly,” Festa said.
Katie Carole, who has been a Lakeview resident for about 10 years and who has attended TBOX in the past, said the day will be much more enjoyable if it’s treated like a marathon, not a sprint.
“You can get drunk really fast,” she said. “Part of why I think the community sometimes is not a big fan of it is because it’s a bunch of drunk people running around all day, and some of them are overly drunk. I wouldn’t recommend drinking a variety of alcohol, like shots and beer and wine and mixed drinks; although I don’t think most people will follow that. But you can still give them the advice.”
At the end of the day, TBOX is just supposed to be a fun party perfect for meeting new friends (or soulmates — Festa said more than 100 couples have gotten married after meeting at the event).
“Enjoy the sights and scenery of the whole thing,” Festa said. “Dress in a really wild, crazy costume, and then drink responsibly and in moderation. Everybody is really social, really friendly, and you should try to meet and mix with as many people as you can and not just with your own group.”
Ryan Johnson, who has been a Lakeview resident for two years, has attended TBOX in the past and will be attending again this year, said the best thing about the pub crawl is the chance to meet new people.
“The thing I like about TBOX is the fact that people let their guards down and become friendly to complete strangers that they meet,” Johnson said. “I wish there were more days like that. Social interactions these days can seem so cold, and TBOX can really bring out the best in everyone.”
IF YOU’RE A NEIGHBOR …
While TBOX may be the highlight of the year for attendees, it can be overwhelming, to say the least, for bystanders.
If you’re not planning to participate in the pub crawl, it’s probably best to avoid Clark Street between Grace and Roscoe — both by car and on foot — all day Saturday.
Jessup said in addition to a police presence, numbers for which he said are not publicly available, 200 security officers will be in Wrigleyville during and after the event. Event organizers have also hired around 30 traffic management aids.
Carole said while her days of participating in TBOX are over, she tries to remember the pub crawl is a positive thing for attendees.
“It’s all about having a good time,” she said. “And they also raise money for charity, so there’s a good cause underlying everything. It’s gotten very big, but that also says that people are enjoying it. It’s one day a year, so for all the people who aren’t a big fan, take a deep breath. It’s over in a day.”
IF YOU’RE A BUSINESS OWNER …
TBOX can certainly be messy, but it’s also undeniable that Wrigleyville businesses can use a boost after the baseball season is over, said Maureen Martino, executive director of the Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce.
“From the perspective of a business, TBOX brings a lot of people into the neighborhood, and it brings a lot of commerce to the bars, especially now that more competition is coming in,” Martino said. “In winter especially, after baseball season is over, it’s always more difficult to get people to come down to Clark Street to enjoy all the diversity of the businesses. So bringing these larger events during the offseason really helps the economy.”
Still have questions? Visit www.tbox.org for more information.