Last Saturday, I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus. Then I saw Santa grope Mommy. Then I saw Santa dangling upside down from a rail fence, slurping from a beer bong, stumbling through the streets slurring indecipherable expletives, and finally, horking his guts up by the curb.
Just another successful installment of Detroit’s Santarchy.
A national, time-honored phenomenon (santarchy.com), now in its 10th year, Santarchy began in San Francisco, founded by a group of miscreants who call themselves the Cacophony Society. It’s essentially a bunch of drunken riffraff who decided it would be really funny to do a Santa bar crawl. The idea stuck — how could it not? — and Santarchy spread far and wide throughout the land. Each year, Santas, Mrs. Clauses, and a smattering of reindeer and elves relive their youth and their keg days at North Pole U. by storming a string of bars, consuming copious amounts of booze, and painting the town red — and green.
Detroit Santarchy (detroitsantarchy.net) was founded five years ago by Len Puch, musician, Michelangelo of metalwork (speedcult.com) and local celebrity/mad scientist (he built a rollercoaster in his backyard, among other creations).
Puch first learned of Santarchy from a friend in New York, and decided to form a Detroit branch. For the virgin run, only a dozen or so people showed up, but the event has grown exponentially each year; last year drew more than150 Santas.
Each year Puch draws up a list of Detroit bars, with 45 minutes allotted for each stop. Ten bucks gets you transport on one of the Santa buses, and entry to each bar. The only rule: You must be in a Santa suit (or elf, or some other derivation) to ride the bus. Puch warns the bars ahead of time so they have enough staff on hand, but he says they’re always welcoming.
“They love it now,” Puch says. “You have 45 minutes of Santas who drop a grand on booze and then leave.”
So I’m there at 8 p.m., Saturday, when this year’s Santarchy begins at the Lager House, before moving to the Gaelic League, LJ’s, Harry’s, the Comet Bar, the 2500 Club, Alvin’s, and then back to the Lager.
Things get off to a rip-roaring start: Several Santas lip synch and play air guitar to KISS on the empty Lager stage, while a lip-locked pair in the corner share the yuletide spirit — and a whole lot of spit.
“Ho ho ho, it’s time to fucking go!” a Santa with a megaphone screams.
On the bus I meet Mike Lupton, a pilot from Columbus, Ohio, who flew up for the event. It’s his first Santarchy.
“I’m expecting lots of holiday cheer, and to maybe meet the future Mrs. Claus,” Lupton says. “Or just get shitfaced.”
I suggest a nice elf or perhaps a reindeer.
“Yeah, I could go for a little tail,” Lupton says enthusiastically.
9 p.m., the Gaelic League
We encounter Laura Decloedt and Margo Ramirez seated at the bar, looking slightly overwhelmed. The two were sitting there, peacefully sipping their beers, when a cavalcade of Santas stormed the door.
“This is great,” Ramirez says. “I’m scared.”
Santas are clinking Guinnesses, and the traditional Irish folk band is joyfully ripping through a set of Christmas carols. Santa with a Mohawk just grabbed my ass. I can’t find my date — he’s the one dressed like Santa.
9:35 p.m., LJ’s
Oh, no. There’s karaoke.
The surreal-o-meter is flashing bright red. LJ’s is just a tiny neighborhood bar, and it’s packed to the bursting point with Santas well on their way to getting jolly red gin blossoms. Mrs. Claus is singing Alanis Morissette and getting booed heartily. Two Santas in the crowd replace the lyrics with ho ho hos, beer spittle festively flecking their dollar-store beards.
I find Puch in the four-person-deep line at the bar. His tattered and smudged Santa suit, ravaged by five Santarchys, is held together by duct tape.
10 p.m., en route to Harry’s
Santa with a megaphone is back. As we travel down Cass Avenue, he opens a bus window and acts as our tour guide, pointing out the locals: “Ho...ho...ho...”
10:15 p.m. Harry’s
A Grinchy customer is overheard muttering the following: “All these fucking Santas, I can’t even get a fucking beer, man!”
There’s more karaoke. AC/DC’s “Back in Black” becomes “Back in Red.”
Santa is hitting on me — again.
11:00 p.m., The 2500 Club
Santas are swing dancing. Reporter’s notes no longer legible.
11:30 p.m., Alvin’s
We’ve achieved Kringle chaos. There are perhaps a dozen people who aren’t in Santa suits — everyone else is bearded, suited and knee-deep in the eggnog. Walking back out to the bus, I see Santa hunched over, expelling his Christmas cheer into the street. A bum does a triple-take as he stumbles past an army of Santas stumbling past him.
Lupton, the pilot from Columbus, teeters by, and reports on his first Santarchy:
“It was better than Cats!”Sarah Klein is the interim arts & culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].