Having listed the Santa Monica Zombie Crawl in our calendar of Los Angeles Halloween event for the past four years, Hollywood Gothique finally took the drive out to the Pacific Ocean last night to witness first-hand the zombie takeover of the Third Street Promenade. We saw severed limbs, wounded heads, shambling corpses, and undead monstrosities of every species. And drink specials - lots of drinks specials.
The one-night-only annual event began at Rusty's Surf Ranch on the Santa Monica Pier, where eager participants checked in, received a list of participating venues, and enjoyed a beverage or two before taking to the streets. Most were in costume, but almost everyone took advantage of the on-site makeup artists (complimentary with admission) in order to achieve an even more convincing resemblance to the living dead. The makeup crew were happy to execute any idea you desired or to make suggestions if necessary. (We opted for a phony tan - a la the zombies passing as human in the iZombie tv show.)
The cards listing establishments with Zombie Crawl drink specials also indicated the rules for participants: walk with arms extended, drag a leg, moan and growl. However, there were no zombie police to enforce the rules, so compliance was variable: some enthusiastically played their roles, shambling along at a corpse's pace, while others raced ahead to the next whistle-stop.
There was a fair amount of walking involved, though not enough to dissuade the indefatigable living dead. The first couple stops were on or near the pier; the next were on streets leading toward Third Street Promenade, and the last few were on the Promenade itself (a pedestrian-only walkway). No map was provided, but the places were easy to find, especially with a smart phone acting as a GPS.
The printed list included suggested times for each location, but these were purely voluntary; the drink special were available all night long at every stop. Sticking with the schedule merely insured that the zombie horde did not thin out too much. We skipped a couple that were too crowded and stayed longer at one or two that appealed to us.
The venues offered something for everyone, from cozy and laid-back to slick and upbeat. At most, the Halloween ambiance was mixed with more of a free-wheeling party vibe: regular patrons mingled with participants, dancing in a most un-zombie-like manner. The exception was Ye Olde King's Head pub, whose brick-and-stone interior provided a perfect stand-in for the kind of inns one sees in old horror movies, where frightened villagers cower while listening to the sound of Count Dracula's carriage races by outside through the night. The pub bills itself as having the "best Halloween decorations in Santa Monica, and though we cannot speak for the whole city, this was the venue with the most extensive Halloween decorations we saw on the Zombie Crawl, making it our favorite stop of the night.
As one expects during a pub crawl, the discount menu included beer, wine, and well drinks. The prices were very reasonable, but with each bar offering such its own indigenous options, it was tempting to forgo the discounts and go off-menu. We imbibed a rather salty Bloody Mary at Rusty's. At Del Frisco's Grille, we sipped a delightful pineapple-infused vodka over a tasty plate of guacamole and chips. And we sampled a variety of drinks at Ye Old King's Head: Queen's Cosmo, Union Jack, Lord's Lemon Drop.
The Zombie Crawl culminated at 1212 Santa Monica, with an after-party that went till 2am. Here, zombies ascended to the second floor for DJ music and a few more final rounds before finally giving up the ghost. By the end of the evening, the distinction between the living and the dead was negligible at best.
The Santa Monica Zombie Crawl is more Halloween Festival than March of the Living Dead. The event draws a young crowd, eager to lurch from one bar to the next in search of libations rather than brains. Mixed in with other costumed revelers along the Santa Monica Pier and the Third Street Promenade, participants may be disappointed to find that they are not part of an overwhelming zombie horde, but that disappointment will dissolve into the first round of drinks, and by the final round, make-believe zombies may find themselves starting to feel like the real thing.
Check out a slideshow of the sights along the Zombie Crawl. Photos copyright 2016 by Yuki Tanaka.