SantaCon’s massive band of red-suited revelers will arrive in New York on Dec. 9, but no one seems to know where.
The controversial bar crawl keeps its starting point secret until the night before, a move that has “rankled public officials” like State Senator Brad Hoylman. With little notice, they don’t have enough time to tell their constituents “to get out of the way,” Hoylman told us.
Reports of SantaCon’s locations have leaked in the past, but this year not a creature is stirring. Captain Vincent Greany, commanding officer of the 9th Precinct, said Monday that he has learned that SantaCon will initially show up in Manhattan “below 59th Street, but we don’t know in what precinct. When it gets closer, we’ll know more. If any [East Village bars] participate, we’ll have that covered.”
Either way, Greany doesn’t seem worried about the bad santas who, every year, strike terror in the hearts of residents worried about fistfights and public urination. He noted that SantaCon “used to be a little rowdy when it first started, but it’s become a well organized event.” Last year, there were 145 summons issued and no arrests.
Hoylman admitted last year’s mob scene was “better than previous ones.”
Norman Siegel, the famed civil rights lawyer, began representing Santa Con in 2014 on the condition that organizers clean up “inappropriate behavior” by participants. He told us there have been “few problems” with the group in the last couple of years and described a 2015 SantaCon gathering of 1,000 at McCarren Park in Williamsburg as a “wonderful event on a warm December day.”
In the next days, Siegel and his clients will share this year’s plan with police as well as with the city’s Department of Transportation, which may need to adjust bus routes. “The police need to know, so they can prepare,” Siegel said. “If they have objections, we will try to work that out.”
Jesse Bodine, district manger of Community Board 4, which covers Hell’s Kitchen and Chelsea-Clinton, said he hasn’t heard from SantaCon this year, noting the event “used to be heavier in our area. It peaked.” Bodine believes the SantaCon organizers have “diversified their areas so they don’t fill up any one. They were building up in Hell’s Kitchen and the Midtown area, but the bubble burst about a year ago and created an impact on the quality of life. I think the organizers did a lot of work reaching to their customers so they aren’t impacting one specific area.”
Even so, the event continues to pose concerns for prominent East Villagers like Susan Stetzer, district manager of Community Board 3. During a meeting of locals last Tuesday night at the 9th Precinct’s stationhouse, she made it plain that SantaCon’s revelers were not a welcome presence in the neighborhood, although she didn’t mention the group by name. Addressing the meeting, which included bar owners, Stetzer said that “almost every new bar in the East Village” had signed stipulations agreeing not to host pub crawls. “Many do follow the stipulations and when they don’t, it’s very frustrating,” she said. “We will try to resolve this and hold them to their promises.”
Stetzer told us the stipulations were created by the board because of complaints from the community about pub crawls and said new bar owners had “voluntarily” agreed to them. “They’re not a ban and they’re legal,” she said. “This is an issue about pub crawls. It’s not just about SantaCon.”
However, Stetzer criticized SantaCon for keeping its route secret. “I suspect they know that most [communities] don’t want to be run over by drunken people in their neighborhoods.”
Siegel, who claims SantaCon is not a pub crawl, says the event maintains secrecy because its plans are generally “in formation” and things can change. “We don’t want to announce plans if there’s a problem.”
Siegel noted that bar owners can keep prospective patrons out of their establishments if they’re inappropriately dressed. But “if bar owners are excluding people, it will have to be consistent with human rights law,” he said. “If they are not [acting] legally and constitutionally, we will consider filing a complaint.”
Bob Gormley, district manager of Community Board 2, which covers the West Village, Noho, and parts of Chinatown and the Lower East Side, said he hasn’t received any notification thus far from SantaCon organizers on where participants will begin their tour. “We don’t have any control over it,” he said. “Sometimes it causes problems. It’s kind of out of control.”
Community Board 1, which covers the Financial District and Battery Park, passed a resolution a few years ago “opposing” SantaCon, said Paul Hovitz, the board’s vice chairman, who also didn’t know when or if SantaCon drinkers would descend on his neighborhood.
Hovitz called the event “out of control” as well and said it raised troubling issues about besmirching the legacy of St. Nick– as when, for example, a “mother walking with her two children sees Santa Claus lying on the sidewalk drunk and the kids what to know, ‘What’s wrong with Santa?’ This happened on Fulton Street a few years ago,” he said in a phone conversation. “We certainly support the business that goes to local bars and restaurants, but ordinarily it should be a welcome sight seeing Santa Claus. This [event] puts a slur on the jolly old man and becomes a pitiful example of overdoing it.”
Siegel insisted that scenarios of wretched excess are the stuff of Christmases past. He added: “The First Amendment gives people the right to have fun.”