The Art of the Pub Crawl

Even before the restrictions surrounding the late pandemic unpleasantness, the social event known as the “pub crawl” has suffered the neglect of our busier and fractured lives and lifestyles. That is an unfortunate fact, because a good pub crawl is to craft beer culture as any communal dinner or grass-roots musical event is to their respective social sectors. Pub crawls do not build craft beer culture; pub crawls are a part of craft beer culture.

To serve as a working definition, a pub crawl could be as simple as “any group of friends visiting two or more establishments consecutively” for the express purpose of socializing and enjoying some tasty adult beverages. Of course, this idea includes a great deal of flexibility but the essentials involve a group of people (even strangers) and multiple stops along a day/afternoon/evening of social imbibing. The particulars and preferences are left to those participating.

Even with adaptability built into its very concept, a few key points will make said pub crawls easier and more satisfying for all involved.

Define the scope and theme.

A pub crawl should not be merely an excuse to drink and walk around. As any Tolkien fan will attest, the best adventures are tied together with storied expectations—the more epically exaggerated, the better. Birthdays, marriages, anniversaries, other life events are reliable stand-bys; “quests,” no matter how mundane, are also extremely serviceable. Make the pub crawl a true event to be remembered and in which everyone can participate.

Examples: Collect bar coasters. Photograph all dogs. Find the latest barrel-aged brewery release. Sample at least one new thing (food, drink, cuisine, bar game, language). Have everyone wear a shirt with their favorite band on it, or find other patrons wearing a shirt with your favorite band. Compare and contrast a single craft beer style. Only consume items that begin with a selected letter of the alphabet. Document everything for shared social media.

Develop an itinerary.

Good pub crawls need not be inflexible but they will benefit from a minimum of planning and scheduling. Members of your party may become separated, lost or lag behind, so let everyone know at least a rough sequence of locations (Stop 1, Stop 2, etc) with broadly associated times. Inform all of possible branch points, or allow the possibility of popular votes for some destination decisions. Everyone should be able to plan or accommodate their preferences accordingly (ie, some may elect to leave early, or join later).

Proximity is essential.

Ideally, the entire pub crawl should be easily walkable, with locations accessible without everyone continuously driving, parking, and driving again. (Consecutive mass transit connections can also work, even over long distances.) This may be among the tightest restrictions for such an event, as our part of the nation exists mostly as rural areas or urban sprawl, often discouraging foot traffic of any type. Stops should be nearby or separated by (at most) blocks and not by time-consuming hikes for which everyone is assuredly poorly outfitted.

Caveat: Reality-check your planned route.

In our age of comprehensive mapping apps, planning a pub crawl online is very easy given graphical representation for prospective areas. However, sites separated by a few hundred feet may present accessibility issues that are not immediately apparent. Do physical barriers exist between places, such as waterways, construction, security fences, rail lines with no public access? Does an interstate highway or high-traffic route divide locations? Will adverse weather be a significant factor? Nothing is more discouraging than being within sight of the next stop but unable to reach it.

Know your limitations.

Eager planners may include a dozen places along their initial crawl routes, but realize that this activity does involve consuming alcohol, which brings in basic personal and physical limits. Two stops is the minimum needed for a crawl, with a maximum of usually around four to six (per individual tolerance), assuming a minimum of one drink at each stop. The planned itinerary should be leisurely, not a mad sprint to overindulge an arbitrary and overextended list.

Adopt a buddy system.

Any group progressively consuming alcohol will grow increasingly less attentive to details, including those who may be in your own party. Develop an attitude of “no man left behind,” and keep tabs on where everyone is—especially when changing locations. Get everyone involved in accountability, not just in attendance but also how their physical state is wearing or any potential conflicts with other patrons or staff, and know when to intervene.

Build in variety.

Hardcore crawlers will be satisfied with only beverage-specific locations (bars, pubs, breweries, wineries) but keep the planned stops fresh and varied. Make the featured locations interesting for all parties instead of consecutive retailers selling similar products. Add a local distillery or cidery in the middle of a craft beer crawl. Work in regional landmarks or historical points of interest (especially if they also serve alcohol). At some point during the event, people will undoubtedly get hungry and need a snack, or a water break, or just the opportunity to rest and catch their breath.

Safety first.

As with anything involving alcohol, inherent personal risks do exist. However, there are advantages in numbers, so keep the group cohesive, communicative and alert. Be accountable to each other, and make sure all publicans are respected and compensated for their hospitality. Comply with all local laws and ordinances (even retailer preferences and demands) and never drive after crawling excessively. PH

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