CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The rain only dampened spirits in uptown Charlotte temporarily Saturday night, during a record-setting pub crawl in which more than 15 thousand people bought tickets to get into uptown bars for free.
Hakan Bilsen and three friends from Turkey have lived in Charlotte for five years, but joined the crawl to get an “American experience.”
“I need some American culture, Irish culture,” said Bilsen. “That's why I bought tickets.”
The crowd came early, starting a noon check-in at Dixie’s Tavern. The Dixie’s parking lot – and surrounding streets – looked like a sea of green as people donned event T-shirts that were their tickets to the bars.
“We printed 14 thousand shirts and thought that might be enough,” said Jeff Bennett, one of the organizers. “Even accounting for growth, even that wasn’t enough. It’s pretty exciting.”
Last year’s event attracted roughly 8,900 people. This is the 12th year for the pub crawl sponsored by Rich & Bennett, the organizers.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police added extra patrols because of the number of people they expected, and because St. Patrick’s Day is a holiday so closely associated with alcohol. They’re keeping a close eye on drivers.
“Our concern is to make sure we stop them before they get in their vehicle and go home and drive impaired,” said Lt. Joe Carey, a Response Area Commander for the uptown police district.
Bennett said he and his business partner also arranged discount rates for patrons at three uptown hotels, and a discounted fare for a service that drives partygoers and their cars home. The itinerary for partiers also includes a list of cab companies.
Security for the event moved beyond the streets into the bars too. Bennett said each of the 30 bars that participated added extra security.
“When you have enough staff normally you can keep people pretty safe,” said Bennett. “It's when you’re not prepared for the numbers that problems can happen.”
Partygoers said they also came prepared. Many boasted of hotel reservations, designated drivers, or just plain walking to uptown for the crawl.
“It’s just about being responsible and safe,” said James Bilicki, “and hopefully I have good friends that watch out for me when I get out of line.”
As of 11 p.m. Saturday, police reported only three arrests for the day.