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Everything You Need to Know About Santarchy 2017 in Downtown Phoenix

Santarchy participants at last year's event.
Santarchy participants at last year's event. Benjamin Leatherman
The Valley’s first-ever Santarchy in 2005 was a wild affair.

Just ask the event’s co-founder Chris Lykins, who remembers the inaugural edition of the Christmas-themed costumed bar crawl as being an evening of debaucherous fun and crazy antics.

“The first year we ever did it, we wound up renting a double-decker bus and started it at a strip club, Bourbon Street,” he says. “There were like 60 people dressed up and we had Santa Claus onstage hula-hooping.”

Santarchy has changed a lot since those days. Over the last decade, the bar crawl has grown from an urban prank and flash mob-style event featuring dozens of Santas hitting up a few Scottsdale bars into a massive roaming party that’s free to attend and includes thousands of revelers dressed as all manner of holiday characters.

And Santarchy is about to change again. This time, it’s moving to a new location for the 2017 edition, which takes place on Saturday, December 9.

After more than a decade of invading Scottsdale’s nightlife district, Santarchy is relocating to downtown Phoenix.

According to Lykins and others members of the Arizona Cacophony Society, the local social group behind the event, there are a few reasons they’re moving Santarchy to Phoenix. First off, Lykins says, Santarchy’s crowd sizes in Scottsdale have gotten too enormous and almost unmanageable at times.

“It was getting gigantic,” he says. “At its most popular, it got kind of crazy. I think there were more than 1,000 people at some points, and we’d be filling up entire bars.”

Santarchy’s popularity and massive crowds led to another issue behind its move: the rise of competing events with a similar theme.

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Santarchy participants at last year's event.
Benjamin Leatherman
Over the past few years, Lykins says a number of bar crawls inspired by Santa and Christmas have taken place in Scottsdale on the same day as Santarchy, including some boasting an admission charge.

This year, there are two events scheduled to take place in Scottsdale during the same weekend as Santarchy: the first-ever Scottsdale Santa Crawl on the afternoon of Saturday, December 9, followed by SantaCon 2017 on Sunday, December 10. (A third event, Tempe Santapalooza, will take over Mill Avenue on Saturday.)

As a result, Lykins and other organizers decided to take it to downtown Phoenix.

“I think it was time for a shakeup,” he says.

Santa-themed bar crawls admittedly aren’t a new concept. Santarchy itself was started by urban pranksters as a counter-cultural event in San Francisco back in the mid-1990s that later spread to cities throughout the world, including the Valley.

“There's nothing certainly clever or original about dressing up like Santa Claus,” Lykins says. “Obviously, it began in San Francisco and it's pretty much went everywhere else, so really it's an event that anyone can do out of their own free will. We didn't invent the event, we just brought it to [Arizona].”

While Lykins believes that Santarchy’s popularity led to competing events, he says it’s understandable.

“If you’re something that’s as popular as this has been, at some point you're going to get taken over by some commercial entity who wants to make money from it,” he says. “Everyone becomes a victim of their own success sometimes.”

Ultimately, Santarchy’s organizers want to distance themselves from other Christmas bar crawls, both in location and ethos. Hence the move to downtown Phoenix, where it will continue to be a free event.

“I think downtown is ripe for an event like Santarchy,” Lykins says. “I think it finally has enough venues to support it, and it was totally time to bring it to Phoenix.”

And organizers are promising that it be like any other Santarchy, including countless people dressed in costumes, which are mandatory. Outfits at past events have run the gamut from regular old Santas, elves, or reindeer to anything and everything even remotely connected to the holidays, wintertime, or the vast Kringle canon, ranging from Jack Skellington to Ralphie Parker in his pink bunny suit.

According to Lykins, Santarchy 2017 will include stops at a half-dozen bars, including the starting point at The Park.

He expects the crowds on Saturday will be be a bit smaller than in recent years, however.

“I think switching from Scottsdale to Phoenix there will be a drop-off in attendance because it's just different, but that’s okay,” he says. “I live in Phoenix, I love Phoenix, so it's time for Phoenix to become a little more vibrant."

What else should you expect at Santarchy 2017 on Saturday night? Here's a rundown of everything you'll need to know.

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Santa Troopers at last year's Santarchy.
Benjamin Leatherman
When and Where: Santarchy 2017 takes place on Saturday, December 9, in downtown Phoenix. Participants will gather at the starting point at The Park, 3 South Third Street, beginning at 7 p.m. and the crawl will go into the wee hours.

Locations: According to organizers, the crawl will hit a number of bars and clubs in the downtown area, starting with The Park beer garden and the Whining Pig before ending up in the Scarlet Lounge at Monarch Theatre.

Stops will last approximately an hour. Participating bars include The Kettle Black, Hanny's, Bar Smith, Melinda's Alley, Cornish Pasty, Valley Bar, and Seamus McCaffrey's. See below for the entire schedule or check out Santarchy’s event page on Facebook.

Prices: It's completely free to participate in Santarchy. Even better, none of the participating bars will have a cover. You’re required to pay for your own drinks, however.

Age Limits: Seeing as Santarchy is a bar crawl, it's strictly for those 21 and over.

Weather: You might want to wear a costume with some layers or extra padding as things will be chilly throughout Saturday night, with temperatures getting as low as 49 degrees.

Getting There: Since the crawl takes place downtown (and you’re likely going to be drinking), we recommend using the light rail to get to and from the event. It’s cheap ($2 for a single ride, $4 for an all-night pass), easy to use, and operates until 2 a.m.

Parking: If you’re coming by car, have a designated driver or alternate transportation arranged for getting home afterward. That said, there are parking spaces to be had in downtown, albeit for a price.

The Suns will have a game on Saturday night, so street parking spaces might be a little scarce. If you can find 'em, however, street parking is available for $1 to $1.50 per hour and the meters run until 10 p.m. Meanwhile, several parking garages and lots are located within walking distance and will run you anywhere from $10 to $30 for the evening. YMMV.

Getting Around: A number of pedicabs are operating each weekend in downtown and can take you to the next stop on the crawl. They typically charge anywhere from $10 to $20 per person, depending on the distance.

Food and Drink: Each of the stops will have a surfeit of spirits and libations for sale. Some might even offer specials of some sort. And depending on the location, there also might be eats available, ranging from small plates and appetizers to a full menu.

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All sorts of Christmas-inspired costumes can be found at Santarchy each year.
Benjamin Leatherman
What to Wear: First off, costumes are mandatory for all participants. You don’t necessarily have to dress as Santa or a member of his retinue, Lykins says, but some sort of holiday-inspired costumed is required.

“People get really clever,” he told New Times in 2015. “But anything you’d like to wear that belongs to Christmas or the holiday spirit is cool. There are elves and reindeer, abominable snowmen, Christmas trees, Hanukkah Harry, and a little bit of everything else. The more you put into your outfit, the more people will interact with you and it's a nice way to make new friends."

It could even be something only tangentially connected to the holidays. Heck, one year some dressed up as a character from Die Hard, which is definitely a Christmas movie in our opinion.

What to Bring: A new, unwrapped toy for donation, which will be collected at Whining Pig and The Park and given to local underprivileged children. Beyond that, an ID, some cash, a fully charged cellphone are always a good idea during any bar crawl. You might also want to bring some candy canes or other sweet treats to hand out to other patrons. After all, it’s the season of giving and would-be Santas should probably have something for others.

Don't Bring: Any kind of a holiday sweater, ugly or otherwise, since Santarchy isn’t one of those kinds of bar crawls. You’ll also want to leave your bad attitude at home, as it’s supposed to be a fun and happy event.

Schedule and Stops: Want to know where everyone will be drinking and when? Here’s the lowdown.

7 p.m.: Event begins at The Park and The Whining Pig

8 p.m.: Crawl moves to Monarch Theatre for a “Santa dance party”

9 p.m.: Participants can head to several bars, including The Kettle Black, Hanny’s, Dust Cutter, Melinda’s Alley, or Bar Smith (where there’s no cover if you're in costume)

10 p.m.: Everyone will move to such spots as Cornish Pasty Co., Valley Bar, and Seamus McCaffrey's (which will have $3 domestic and mystery shots)

11 p.m.: The crawl heads back to the Scarlet Lounge at the Monarch, where DJs will perform and $4 mistletoe and hot toddy cocktails and $5 candy cane martinis will be served.

Keep in Mind:
Just like at any other bar crawl, any sort of drunken or disorderly behavior won’t be tolerated at Santarchy. While it’s true that the event has its roots in the countercultural scene (and has “anarchy” in its name), organizers are against destructive or disruptive activities.

According to the event page: “We do not condone or encourage any kind of vandalism or violence at a Santarchy event. Our Santas do not destroy property, steal merchandise, or do harm to others.”

And like any weekend night at a bar, it helps to be patient, especially when waiting for drinks amid a crowd of Santas eager for a drink.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional event and bar info since its original publication.
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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.

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