CHICAGO — Over three days, Steve Mosqueda and Sean Benjamin pulled off arguably one of the greatest drinking feats in Chicago's history.
Mosqueda and Benjamin visited 64 bars on Western Avenue — walking about 24 miles from 119th Street to Howard Street — and had at least one pint at every single bar. The pair's achievement was filmed for a 25-minute documentary called "The Western Avenue Project."
"It's an accomplishment I don't think I could ever match again," said Mosqueda, of Edgewater.
Said Benjamin: "I wouldn't do it again."
"And we really approached it as a way of showing a historical side of the city, and to document it," Benjamin said. "It wasn't approached as, let's get wasted up and down Western Avenue."
Mosqueda and Benjamin shot their exploits on Flip cameras. Jamie Budzick was tasked with editing the project.
"I couldn't just make the documentary using the footage they gave me, because it was essentially a long, drunken home movie," said Budzick, of Humboldt Park. "So I went back and did all of the interviews to kind of contextualize this long, insane bar crawl and/or spiritual journey. ... I was happy to do it because I appreciate people who use art to justify their drinking."
After wandering into and drinking at 18 bars from 119th Street to 95th Street on the Southwest Side in the first day — a Friday — the pair didn't think they would make it. Beginning at Chandler's Lounge (Now Bar 118) at 11848 S. Western Ave., friends would drop by while they were drinking and buy them a round. When customers or bartenders heard about the potential documentary, shots frequently were purchased.
"After that first night, we knew we couldn't be drinking that much. We were extremely hungover," Mosqueda said. "Sean threw up that first night and passed out."
After sleeping at a friend's house, they marched on the second morning, starting their next wave of bars around 10 a.m. in 85 degree heat.
"We got right back to work, and we got over that hump; it was like clocking into work," Benjamin said.
They made it to Division Street after the second night, stumbling their way north from the South Side. Benjamin recalled some "interesting" bars, including one on 63rd Street where the bartenders locked in customers to keep them protected from riff raff outside.
But for the most part, Benjamin and Mosqueda — a Mexican-American — never felt nervous during their trek. Benjamin — of Scottish and Irish descent — noted during the documentary that customers would warn them about upcoming neighborhoods or the ones they just left, but their present 'hoods were always just fine.
"People were saying that we might want to have somebody protect you, but it was really blown out of proportion," Benjamin said. "There was never a racially odd vibe. It was more of like, this is crazy that you guys are doing this."
The pair finished their journey on a late Sunday night at Candlelite, 7452 N. Western Ave. on Howard Street, then had a snack at IHOP. On their voyage, Mosqueda said they discovered a bunch of incredible taco joints, danced at country bars and met lots of people who didn't speak English.
Mosqueda said they finished the task "for the city of Chicago."
"We love Chicago, and what better way to celebrate than by drinking our way up the spine of the city," Mosqueda said. "I don't feel like I'm a hero. The hero is the city of Chicago."
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