Bringing people together

Say the words "pub crawl" and people tend to think it means gathering a few friends to go drinking and staggering from bar to bar -#8212; but that is far from what John Crowley said the upcoming Feb. 8 Petaluma Pub Crawl is all about.

A native of Dublin, Ireland, Crowley defines the word "pub" (public house) as a place where people gather to talk about the issues of the day, meet new people, have fun and create a sense of community. A pub crawl adds the fun of visiting different venues while making new friends. It's not about the drinking, it's about human connection.

"I grew up in an Irish pub, and it was considered a community center," said Crowley. "It had all ages in it and everyone in the community met there. The attitude in America toward drinking establishments is a little different. People look down on pubs, but when they go visit one in England or Ireland they come back telling me that they had the best time and ask, 'Why are there no pubs like that here?'"

Inspired by those comments, Crowley started the first pub crawl in Petaluma 15 years ago. His goal was to create community and provide something for residents to do at a time when there wasn't much going on around town for those not interested in the night club scene.

"I wanted to get out and see what's new in town," said Crowley. "I was wondering if Saturday night had denegrated to going to the video store or seeing what's on TV. I wasn't happy with that."

The first pub crawl had just 15 participants, but it grew in size and peaked a few years ago with 300 people schmoozing and having a good time.

"The age demographic was mainly 40s back then," said Crowley.

The pub crawls involved walking to a few different venues around downtown, which often included galleries, antique shops and even artists' studios.

"It was a win-win for everyone," said Crowley. "You'd have a glass a wine and get to look at different things. And, it's always great for a business to have 200 people walking through and talking about your business."

The crawls slowed to a stop a few years ago as more activities around town began conflicting with it.

"We took a break," said Crowley. "There's so much going on around town now, but it really does have its niche. You meet a lot a people on these crawls. A lot of people have great memories of them. It changed peoples' lives. People met their wives and husbands through it. People found places to live, found jobs and got businesses started through people they met at the crawls."

The decision to bring back the pub crawl was reborn after a recent conversation with Val Richman, a deejay who mentioned to Crowley that Petaluma was sorely lacking in places where the over 22 crowd could go to dance.

The time seemed ripe for reviving the crawl, which Crowley said will be held a few times a year and include visits to several downtown venues.

The Feb. 8 pub crawl begins at 7 p.m. at a yet to be determined location, and continues until about 2 a.m. Participants can come along for parts of the crawl, or stay for the entire event.

As with the original pub crawl, there is a theme. Participants are encouraged to wear purple and bring a book or CD to trade or give away.

"The theme just helps facilitate the fun," said Crowley. "It's an icebreaker. Sometimes it's difficult to start a conversation with someone. This makes it easy. The whole point of the crawl is to meet someone new."

Stops for the upcoming pub crawl include Taps at its new River Plaza location on Washington Street, and Zodiacs on Petaluma Boulevard.

"We will be getting a sneak preview of Zodiacs on their opening night," said Crowley. "It will be our last stop on the crawl at around 10 p.m. DJ Val Richman is going to be deejaying and then there will be live music by a Sonoma County band Jug Town Pirates as well."

Crowley added that there will be one or two more stops on the crawl that are yet to be confirmed. Those interested in learning the complete itinerary should go online to aqusnews.com for updates.

"It's that human connection we're trying to create," said Crowley. "There's no substitute for that. It's what we're all searching for. It makes the place where you live a lot more interesting."

(Contact Yovanna Bieberich at yovanna.bieberich@arguscourier.com)