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TBOX: 'Surprisingly Quiet' Pub Crawl Draws 30,000 to Wrigleyville

By  Alex Parker Josh McGhee and Quinn Ford | December 14, 2013 9:00am | Updated on December 15, 2013 5:52pm

WRIGLEYVILLE — Eight hours into TBOX, the day-long pub crawl that took over Wrigleyville Saturday, bar-goers dressed as a wide array of holiday characters were stumbling through the neighborhood.

Perhaps it was the booze, or it might have been partly due to the heavy snowfall that hit the area Saturday, dumping as much as 6 inches on the city. But mostly, it was probably the booze.

Police estimated 30,000 participants descended upon this North Side neighborhood for the annual Twelve Bars of Christmas, or TBOX, pub crawl, involving more than 50 establishments. Organizer Festa Parties said 18,500 people registered, but "thousands" stayed away due to the weather.

The event was highly anticipated by bar-goers, judging by social media posts, and greeted apprehensively by business owners, who took the brunt of mayhem brought on by the 40,000 partiers who attended last year's event.

Saturday's below-freezing temperatures didn't dissuade TBOX bar hoppers, whose costumes ranged from the traditional Santa to sexy snowmen to Macaulay Culkin's character from "Home Alone."

Kelsey Bohman, 23, of Lincoln Park said she waited in line for 20 to 30 mintues to enter her first bar, the Houndstooth Saloon. She did not feel as bad when she exited the bar and the line was twice as long as when she entered.

"Inside was fun and people were going crazy. It's just taking awhile to get in to bars," Bohman said.

Bohman and her friends, who came from Arizona, picked a much shorter line for their second bar, but they said it wasn't because of the weather.

"It's not that cold today and we dressed for success," she said donning a red one-piece outfit covered in hearts. "Plus, the alcohol blanket helps."

Indianapolis resident Kelsi Frank, 22, joined friends who ran track together at Northern Illinois University.

She said she was excited “to meet everybody out here and being part of this huge experience for the first time," as well as to raise money for the Lakeview Pantry, a beneficiary of this year's event. A Festa spokeswoman said the event raised $75,000 for the pantry.

Last year's TBOX, which drew 40,000 revelers, led to complaints of noise, trash and vomiting on the street, and by the end of the night, a man had been stabbed with a broken beer bottle. One sloppy St. Nick punched out the window of a Clark Street comic store.

But all appeared to be running smoothly hours into Saturday's event. Hank Zemola who works at the "command center" that is monitoring community complaints said his team of 200 had been working since 5 a.m.

"We've been constantly shoveling. We haven't stopped yet. We're just trying to keep everyone safe," Zemola said.

So far, he said, no neighbors had registered any complaints.

Chicago Comics, 3244 N. Clark St., had its front window broken last year. But employee Meghan Ansbach said this year had been "surprisingly quiet."

"We were definitely prepared for the worst, and by that I mean expecting it," she said.

Ronda Pilon, co-owner of Bookworks, 3444 N. Clark St., said she was waiting to see what happened after the event ended and security personnel head home.

"It's not during the day, but at 3 a.m. in the morning is when it gets crazy," Pilon said. "TBOX has gone home, all the staff is gone. That's when it gets out of hand."

Pilon said her main fear was a portable toilet docked outside her store. It is locked because it's for city workers, but Pilon believes it will be an "open target" during the late night hours.

On Saturday afternoon, she hadn't run into any problems aside from TBOX attendees banging loudly on her window. The racket is intimidating, she said, although she's happy her window is still intact.

"So far, so good," she said, moving records to check her front window for any damage.

No problems, she said, but no customers either.

"I lose all my business because no one's coming into the neighborhood during TBOX, and the people that do come into my store, they're not interested in buying books; they're too intoxicated," she said.

Town Hall District Cmdr. Elias Voulgaris said 11 arrests were made for incidents ranging from simple battery to drinking in the public way. Police also issued numerous citations for public drinking. He said changes made by organizer Festa Parties appear to have contributed to a more civil event.

There were fewer TBOX participants wandering in the neighborhood, he said.

The event, he said, was "[better] organized this year and [police were] better prepared. We requested several improvements by the organizers and they complied. I wanted to send the message of zero tolerance and this year I feel we succeeded with this message."

Festa Parties more than doubled the security, added portable toilets and hired an all-day private clean-up service in hopes of better crowd control for this year's event. Organizers expected 20,000 to attend, and allowed only ticketed participants to enter bars.

The "cohesive partnership" between Festa, the police department and Ald. Tom Tunney's office "worked well," said Festa spokesman Lissa Christman. "All in all, [it] was the best executed event we could hope for."