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The Two-Minute Guide to TBOX

The holiday bar crawl that Chicagoans love to hate

TBOX map illustration
Illustration: Hawk Krall

What it is

For some, Twelve Bars of Christmas — a.k.a. TBOX — is a return to the glory days of frat parties in their Midwestern college towns. To others, it’s a reason to avoid Wrigleyville for an entire debauched December Saturday. In its most basic sense, TBOX is an annual Christmas-themed bar crawl along North Clark Street. Thousands of Chicagoans don their ugliest Yuletide sweaters and snowman-print onesies to binge drink in the name of holiday merriment. The event includes swag giveaways, contests, free breakfast buffets, and unironic stickers that say things like “TBOX Virgin” and “I Like Happy Endings.” Last year, about 12,000 people took part. I was not one of them.

How it got started

Christopher Festa organized the first TBOX in 1996: a 12-bar crawl through Lincoln Park, attended by his friends. The party grew over time, until the first “modern” (i.e., widely publicized, ticketed) TBOX in 2006.

Why it persists

That’s an existential question for the ages. Is it the masochistic need to act on the desires of our id, if only for a day? A collective effort to bolster Wrigleyville’s fragile off-season economy? Sheer, unbridled affection for highly flammable holiday garb? Or maybe the real answer is a simple one: I just turned 30 and I’m no fun anymore.

What to expect this year

A lot of folks dressed as the Kombucha Girl. This year’s TBOX theme is memes, meaning attendees are invited to dress up as their favorite internet joke. Is it still a holiday-themed bar crawl? Yes. Is it a holiday-themed bar crawl with an additional theme of memes? Uh-huh. We’re confused, too.

Drinking on the cheap. The 30-plus participating bars will offer beer and drink specials ranging from $4 to $7. Let’s bypass the painstaking task of listing all the bars here and just say this: You can’t step off the Red Line at Addison without inadvertently partaking in TBOX.

Cereal shots. What are those, you ask? It’s when someone dumps Lucky Charms on your head. Obviously.

The details

When:December 14. Opening ceremonies begin at 9 a.m. (yep — as in, 9 in the goddamn morning) at the Cubby Bear. Closing ceremonies are also there, at 7:30 p.m. Rewards are given to those who do the whole day.

How much:Tickets are $40, or $135 for a pack of six. That doesn’t include the booze, but it does include entry to 12 bars of participants’ choosing. (TBOX is like a Choose Your Own Adventure book soaked in peppermint schnapps and public urination.) Those brave enough can grab tickets at tbox.org.

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