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Wrigleyville’s rowdy Christmas bar crawl returns after pandemic hiatus

“TBOX is back, baby,” an employee of The Irish Oak said Saturday as thousands of festive revelers the flooded bars on Clark Street.

Patrons line up Saturday outside Sluggers, 3540 N. Clark St. in Wrigleyville, during TBOX, or “Twelve Bars of Christmas,” an annual bar crawl that was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Patrons line up Saturday outside Sluggers, 3540 N. Clark St. in Wrigleyville, during TBOX, or “Twelve Bars of Christmas,” an annual bar crawl that was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Wrigleyville’s Clark Street was jam-packed with partygoers decked out in Christmas gear for the 25th anniversary of TBOX — or the Twelve Bars of Christmas — the neighborhood’s annual bar crawl that made its return this year after being canceled last year because of the pandemic.

While holiday sweaters, scarfs and Santa hats were in abundance, many in the crowd went along without a face covering, despite a new coronavirus variant spreading around the globe and a steady uptick in infections and deaths in Illinois.

Gabi Wallace, 26, attended the holiday crawl with friends and said she wasn’t particularly concerned.

“I feel like everyone’s vaccinated or has had COVID,” said Wallace, who said she’s been vaccinated.

Gabi Wallace, left, chats on Clark Street Saturday during the TBOX bar crawl in Wrigleyville.
Gabi Wallace, left, chats on Clark Street Saturday during the TBOX bar crawl in Wrigleyville.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

People who have been vaccinated against the virus have much lower odds of catching it and developing serious symptoms, but can still spread the virus to others if they become infected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC also recommends getting a vaccine even if you’ve previously contracted COVID-19 and recovered. While rare, reinfections are possible and a person could spread the virus to others, the health protection agency says.

About 65% of people in Cook County had been fully vaccinated as of Saturday, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. State health officials reported 49,668 new cases of COVID-19 in Illinois in the past week, and 266 deaths since Dec. 3.

Health officials reported Tuesday that the state’s first case of the Omicron variant was identified in Chicago.

Ben Howlett, center, reacts as a fight breaks out Saturday outside a bar on Clark Street in Wrigleyville.
Ben Howlett, center, reacts as a fight breaks out Saturday outside a bar on Clark Street in Wrigleyville.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Not everyone went without a mask at the crawl and some found creative ways to work a face covering into their festive attire.

Ben Howlett made his mask part of his outfit, sporting a Christmas-themed suit and a red mask with a Santa beard glued onto it.

“I like the festivity of it, everyone’s got their best on,” Howlett said of the crawl while waiting in line at Happy Camper.

Feet in front of him, cheers suddenly broke out as a fistfight erupted between two festively dressed partygoers.

Beth Montgomery, 55, and a group of friends traveled from the suburbs to Wrigleyville for “fun and sisterhood,” Montgomery said and her group headed to their fifth bar of the day with plans to be out “all night.”

Beth Montgomery, right, lines up with friends outside a Clark Street bar Saturday in Wrigleyville.
Beth Montgomery, right, lines up with friends outside a Clark Street bar Saturday in Wrigleyville.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Masks weren’t required to be worn by bar patrons inside while they were drinking, or while waiting in lines, but most establishments required them at the door.

Adam Hanzalik, an employee at The Irish Oak, at 3511 N. Clark St., said COVID remains a concern for him and the rest of the staff.

Hanzalik said bar staff at the Irish Oak would be keeping their faces covered.

“It feels as normal as it can,” Hanzalik said. “Earlier I was talking to someone and I said, ‘TBOX is back, baby.’”