Zombie Pub Crawl conquers all
Twelve days before Zombie Pub Crawl, Taylor Carik is in a familiar state of aggravation.
A bearded 32-year-old with thick-framed glasses, Carik is standing outside Surdyk's Deli in northeast Minneapolis, still reeling from a particularly frustrating meeting at City Hall. He'd already agreed to shell out $20,000 for 46 off-duty police officers to act as security — 34 more than last year — but now they wanted him to get even more.
Carik's phone buzzes, and he's instantly immersed in the next of a series of never-ending and seemingly unsolvable problems.
"This is why I have gray hairs in my beard," he says, jamming the keys on his phone.
A few minutes later, Carik is in a BMW with two of the event's other organizers, Chuck Terhark and Jonathan Ackerman, heading to Carik's house in south Minneapolis. Then it's a road trip to New Ulm, where Schell's Brewery is canning Premium "Brain Belt" beer. Carik can't even make it out of the Surdyk's parking lot before he's on his phone again.
"This is an impossible event," he says after he hangs up.
"It really is," Ackerman concurs from the front seat.
Planning Zombie Pub Crawl wasn't always so frustrating. When Carik and three friends started the crawl in 2005, it was the party of the year. But as time passed, their creation mutated into something bigger than anything they could have imagined, peaking in 2011 with more than 27,000 zombies in attendance. The organizers' growing perturbation with the event is evident in how they have chosen to name it over the years: In 2009, they titled it "It's Starting to Stink." In 2010, it was, "It Just Won't Die."
This Friday, they are expecting between 30,000 and 40,000 attendees — more than six times bigger than what Guiness defines as the world record for largest pub crawl. The culmination of nine months of planning, the event will take two cities,13 bars, 200 volunteers, and 202 port-a-potties to pull off. There will be a 50-foot inflatable zombie. DMX will be there, as will the Gin Blossoms.
Throw an unlimited supply of alcohol in the mix, and a real zombie apocalypse might be more manageable.
"Every day I get up and it's Zombie Pub Crawl until I either have to go to bed, or I can't sleep because I'm trying to go to bed and I'm stressed about it," says Ackerman. "We have nightmares about zombies, but just that we're not entertaining them."
The inspiration for Zombie Pub Crawl can be traced back to horror director George A. Romero.
On a summer evening in 2005, Terhark and Claudia Holt went to the since-shuttered AMC movie theater in Block E to see Romero's Land of the Dead, a post-apocalyptic zombie flick starring Dennis Hopper.
When the movie ended, they found themselves hunched over, lurking out of the theater and groaning like the undead on the sidewalks of downtown Minneapolis.
"And then we were like, 'Hey, this is actually really fun, to walk like zombies,'" recalls Terhark.
They had also just attended the Light-Rail Pub Crawl, an event beginning at the Mall of America and ending in downtown Minneapolis, stopping at bars along the train line. This gave Terhark, Holt, Carik, and Ken Tyborski the idea of starting their own pub crawl, but with zombies.
The event was never supposed to be a moneymaker, or anything more than a night of binge-drinking in costume. If 15 people came, they would consider Zombie Pub Crawl a success.
So it was a shock when more than 80 zombies shambled in to Logan Park in northeast Minneapolis, where the crawl began. One guy drove up in a hearse and climbed out the back to make it look like he was crawling out of a coffin. Another brought a cooler of raw meat, and asked everyone to pretend to eat it off him, as if he was being ravaged by zombies.
Then there was the guy wearing a hockey mask straight out of Friday the 13th and carrying what may have been a real machete.
"He showed up, and he was super scary," Carik recalls. "And I remember thinking, 'God, maybe this was a bad idea, because this could get real weird.'"
But by the end of the hazy night, the group of friends knew they were on to something.
"We felt like heroes," says Holt. "We were having so much fun."
Over the next few years, the popularity of Zombie Pub Crawl mushroomed. By year two, 200 zombies participated. The next year, the event had to relocate to the West Bank to accommodate more than a thousand. The masses of undead continued to grow exponentially every year.
"I DJed [years three and four] and was amazed by the lack of organization," says Ackerman, who started helping out in 2010. "It was crazy and everyone there is trying to have the best time possible. It's everything I want in a party."
But as the number of zombies grew, so did the chaos. Bars received citations for going over capacity. Windows got broken.
"We were telling bars, 'We're coming. You have to have a bunch of staff. It's going to be crazy,'" remembers Carik. "And then, like, a fucking thousand people show up, and it's just pandemonium.
By the time the sun went down on October 9, 2010, Carik knew they had finally gone too far.
This was the first year they started charging admission for the crawl, and they thought the $5 fee would thin the crowds from the previous year, when a record 7,000 zombies showed up.
Then 12,000 people came.
Even in the darkness, Carik could see the hordes of blood-soaked zombies ready to destroy the West Bank, their gray and white makeup reflecting brightly in the street lights. A car drove by, and zombies swarmed it, jumping on the hood and vomiting fake blood on the windshield.
We're fucked, he thought. The riot police are on their way, and we are all going to jail.
"We gotta shut it down! We gotta shut it down!" Carik called out to his friends. "We gotta get these people outta here!"
But it was too late — if they tried to call it off now, the mob would descend into bedlam. Instead, the organizers herded the masses down Cedar Avenue toward the Cabooze, away from the busy streets of Seven Corners.
The cops never came that night, but the next day the entire West Bank was coated in fake blood, and plastic fish bowls from Sgt. Preston's signature drink filled the intersection. Grumpy's had to replace its floor due to damage from the crawl.
"It looked like a war zone," says Holt.
After that chaotic night, Zombie Pub Crawl finally caught the attention of city officials. Ever since, hosting Zombie Pub Crawl has been a full-time job. What began as an excuse to get drunk and act like a zombie with friends is now one of the biggest annual events in Minneapolis, and takes months of planning.
"We're in this world of shit," says Carik, noting he's been trying to sell the crawl. "It takes thousands of hours of discussions.... There's nothing we can do that's going to make some people happy with the event."
Driving to New Ulm in Carik's Ford Bronco, Ackerman passes the time by reading aloud some of the messages people have sent them through Twitter and Facebook.
One woman was charged for eight tickets instead of two, and complained that Zombie Pub Crawl was responsible for her not being able to pay rent.
A collective sigh passes through the car.
The most common gripe is about the price, which began at $20 this year, and recently graduated to $22. There's been so much dissent about the admission this year that someone actually started a counter zombie pub crawl in Anoka.
"They're like, 'I didn't pay the first five years, why should I have to pay now?'" says Holt. "And we're like, 'Because now there's 30,000 people there.'"
By the time they reach Schell's, the brewery has already finished canning the Brain Belt, and is prepping the 50,000 cans for shipping. An employee leads them through the building to where the cases are kept, and everyone lights up at the sight.
"It's pretty awesome," says Ackerman. "It's like, fuck yeah!"
Ackerman posts a picture of the gold, zombie-stamped can to Facebook, and it's quickly met with a deluge of likes and positive comments. Even the normally dour Carik is excited to see the final product.
"How cool is this?" he says, as the Schell's employee begins to give them a private tour of the brewery.
But asked whether the signature beer can changes his mind about the event, Carik catches himself.
"I still hate Zombie Pub Crawl."
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