When patrons of Old Town Scottsdale's numerous bars and clubs spy a throng of rowdy revelers dressed as jolly old Saint Nicholas coming towards them on Saturday night during Santarchy, the foremost thought in their minds will probably be along the lines of "WTF?"
When the proprietors of said drinking and dancing dens witness the same sight, however, they'll probably be thinking something else altogether. Like maybe, "Here comes the money." That's because the annual Santa-themed bar crawl, which is organized by the Arizona Cacophony Society, equals hundreds of beer-swilling Kris Kringles invading their establishment, filling their registers, and instantly amping up the already wild atmosphere.
Christopher Lykins, a member of the Arizona Cacophony Society that helps organize Santarchy, says that Old Town club owners not only enjoy visits from Santarchy participants they actively encourage the costumed bar crawl, where participants dress as Santa Claus or in other Christmas-themed costumes, to make stops at their joints.
"They've contacted us out of the blue asking us to come to their bars," Lykins says. "And were more than happy to oblige."
Sometimes the massive crowds of kooky, costumed Kris Kringles can completely overwhelm a bar, Lykins says. Like during 2011's Santarchy, when he claims that so many participants crowded Barney's Boathouse that Scottsdale Fire Department officials had to turn people away from entering the premises.
"It's been getting bigger and bigger each year," Lykins says. "Last year, we basically shut down Barney's when we were having the after-party there. There were so many Santas there that the fire department actually prevented anyone else from coming in."
That's not stopping Lykins and other organizers from encouraging as many people as possible to participate in the overwhelmingly popular event. In fact, he's encouraging participants in the Charity Santa Crawl, a similarly themed celebration that's taking place earlier on Saturday in Old Town (albeit at different bars), to join up with them later in the evening.
"The Charity Santa Crawl that also happens each year is a lot smaller than [Santarchy] because they charge $50 per person. And they're done at 7 o'clock the same day and that's usually about the time when we start. So they're hopefully going to join our group afterwards," Lykins says.
He doesn't view the other crawl as competition, however.
"Not at all. Cacophony events are inclusive where if you have the wherewithal to put on an event then it should never be a competition," Lykins says. "We've always basically tried to make [Santarchy] a free event and have people bring a toy to donate, but not it's never been a strictly charitable thing. We're just trying to have fun and do something good at the same time."
In order to spread things out and prevent overloading a particular establishment, Lykins says each of the stops along Santarchy's route this year will consist of groups of three bars in close proximity. For example, one stop will be at Giligin's and nearby clubs Martini Ranch and The Firehouse. Afterwards, the crawl will hit Shotgun Betty's and its neighbors Social Tap and DJ's of Scottsdale.
"We're breaking things up this year by using bars that are right next to each other just so the sheer number of Santas that are participating can all be accommodated," he says.
Another change to the event taking place this year relates to the entertainment. During the 2011 version of Santarchy, participants stopped in the middle of the crawl to watch a spectacular Nightmare Before Christmas-inspired performance on the Paolo Soleri Bridge by the fire-dancers of MourningFyre. This time, however, the troupe may instead present "something interesting" along the route.
"It's still being worked out, but they're not going to have a big performance like last year and will maybe have some surprises planned for along the way," Lykins says.
One thing that is certain about the event, however, is that costumes are not only encouraged, but required. While Santarchy attendees don't necessarily need to wear a red suit and a bushy beard (reindeers, elves, and other Santa-inspired outfits are acceptable), Lykins says they shouldn't just throw on a red hat and call it good.
"To me, a big part of Santarchy is that sheer impact of seeing hundreds of people dressed as Santa Claus and not being half-assed and wearing a red shirt and a Santa hat. That's kind of lame," he says. "It really doesn't cost a lot. You can get a whole range of bad Santa outfits ranging from $18 to $30. Some people go crazy and get the real Salvation Army-looking Santa outfits. And there's ladies dressed as Mrs. Claus and then a few people come as Hanukkah Harry or as elves or whatever. We'd never turn anyone away, but its definitely encouraged to wear a Santa outfit."
And then there are the creative variants that turn out every year, like the Pimp Santa or Samurai Santa who participated in 2011.
"I've been Darth Santa before and I might wear it again this year," he says. "There's definitely some good ones that come out to Santarchy every year."
Santarchy 2012 starts at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Dos Gringos in Scottsdale. Participation is free (although donations of new, unwrapped toys are encouraged). Visit the Arizona Cacophony Society website for the route and more details.
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