News & Politics

Arlington Board Cracks Down on Rowdy Bar Crawls

The decision comes after recent bar crawls ended in fights and public nudity.

Photograph via Shutterstock.

Bar crawls are something of a civic tradition in Arlington, with events drawing hundreds or thousands of young drinkers looking to get besotted as they skip from tavern to tavern. But a few recent crawls that ended in chaos prompted the Arlington County Board to clamp down on the festivities.

At its meeting Saturday, the five-member board voted to make bar crawl organizers responsible for any additional police costs that their events incur. Several bar crawls have led to fights, public disorderliness, and arrests. A St. Patrick’s Day event that drew about 5,000 revelers ended with 17 brawls, ten people caught urinating in public, and 25 people arrested.

The board gave Arlington County Police an additional $42,000 for bar crawl-related costs after the St. Patrick’s Day chaos, but the hits kept coming. During a Clarendon bar crawl last month, a young man disrobed, jumped into a car to escape police, and, after hitting several parked vehicles, was tasered and restrained by officers. Soon afterward, the Arlington board began to look into regulating county nightlife.

In voting Saturday, board members updated Arlington’s policy on “special events,” which would include the bar crawls that can attract as many as 500 mostly young drinkers, clogging sidewalks and straining the county police department’s ability to monitor them. Besides requiring organizers to cover any county-provided services (such as police and trash pickup), the new law requires them to obtain special-event permits, which would allow the county to regulate how many similar events occur in the area each year and provide enough crowd-control and cleanup help.

Even with the crackdown, the board still acknowledged the role bar crawls play in Arlington, which is home to more than 75,000 people between 20 and 34 years old, one of the highest concentration of so-called “millennials” in the country.

“They are the creative class, and they’re having a good time,” Jay Fisette, the board’s chairman, said before the vote. “These are people that help drive our economy.”

Arlington County spokeswoman Mary Curtius tells Washingtonian the county has been working closely with Arlington businesses, and that they have been receptive to the possible changes. These businesses realize that a safe environment is better for them, too, she says.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.