The Cotati Crawl: Cotati's wildest, weirdest tradition and what it's like to go
Go out on a Thursday night in Cotati and you can't miss it - throngs of stumbling Sonoma State University students making their way from bar to bar on a weekly mission to have a good time in a decades-old student tradition known as the Cotati Crawl.
Four bars along Old Redwood Highway are the go-to spots: Spancky's, Friar Tucks, The Tradewinds and The 8 Ball.
While these places generally serve a much older crowd on every other day of the week, each completely transforms into a drinkers' Promised Land for one night only.
"I like that it's a way for us to all be in one place and see each other," said Courtney Bagg, a senior at SSU who frequently attends the Crawl. "We all are busy throughout the week... Thursday nights are just a way for us to all see each other and have a great time," she said.
Whether you want to participate or you just want to know what it's like to be 21 again, here's a look at a night out:
Keeping in mind that there's no rhyme or reason to the way the crowd ebbs and flows through each of the pubs, where you start and where you end is entirely arbitrary.
If you're arriving from the north end of town, the first bar of the Crawl will be Spancky's.
The line won't be too bad, depending on when you get there, most people don't get there until around 11 p.m.
Before going in, a bouncer at the door will take a look at your I.D. to make sure that you're really you and that you're really 21; standard protocol at each stop. If you're neither you nor 21, steer clear – these guys know a fake I.D. when they see one and California's Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) unit has been known to pass through fairly frequently.
"Our Santa Rosa office covers from the Golden Gate Bridge all the way up to Oregon," said ABC agent David Cesaretti. "For our Santa Rosa areas, (the Crawl) is definitely the biggest (drinking event) and it's because of, obviously, Sonoma State; the majority of people that we run into and that we talk to are students."
The bar has a fun-sized venue for a live band, only nobody will be playing live music tonight. Tonight will feature a current mix of twangy pop music and redundant hip-hop blended up and served loudly through the bar's sound system.
Whatever you're drinking, don't expect it to exceed your expectations. Beer is usually the drink of choice for Crawlers, anyway.
As you zig and zag your way out of a swelling Spancky's, you may not be sure where to go next.
If you want to avoid Friar Tuck's seemingly endless line, next head over to The Tradewinds, one of the Crawl's quieter stops. Well, “quiet” in terms of attendance, not in terms of decibel level.
There's little-to-no wait, and you might actually be able to get up to the bar to order a decent drink, including several spins on classic cocktails.
Inside, the bar has moved out tables and other clutter that would otherwise be hard to get around. Expect to see lots of dancing, some spilled drinks on the floor and maybe a few people who've had too much to drink at this point in the evening.
You may recognize the place from the Spike TV series, “Bar Rescue,” where host Jon Taffer helps turn down-on-their-luck bars into profitable businesses. The bar appeared on the show in 2016.
Owner Don Thompson said that while his staff made “an ass out of (themselves)” on TV, the bar reported a 20 percent increase in overall sales by the end of its turn on the show.
A wooden plaque above the Crawl's most popular stop of the night, Friar Tuck's, implies something unresolved: “The Inn of the Beginning.”
A little research reveals that in the late 1960s, it functioned as a coffee shop and bar where Neil Young and Van Morrison supposedly once played, although it's safe to assume that Friar Tuck's doesn't – or no longer – provides lodging.
It does, however, provide a full menu on nights that aren't Thursday. For the Crawl, the tables get taken out, the kitchen closes down and the music gets turned way, way up.
Don't be surprised if the entrance seems excessively guarded. Several members of Rohnert Park's police force, dressed in street clothes, often work with bar security to fish for fake IDs and open containers.
Inside, the music's blaringly loud and you may not be able to hear someone talk, but you didn't come to a pub crawl for conversation, right?
The patchy dance floor's relatively lively, there's pool in the corner and the back patio's Vape City. It's everything you'd imagine a Millennial and Gen Z party to be, love it or hate it.
Like Spancky's, don't expect the drinks to be top-notch. It's quantity versus quality.
The 8 Ball
The 8 Ball, a popular stop for the local motorcycle community, features a few pool tables and lots of TVs.
That's about it – no frills. The bar changed owners last year, but its tradition as a billiards-and-brews dive bar continues unscathed.
The line to get in here usually not bad, particularly later in the night. You'll be in within moments more often than not and the crowd's generally pretty easy to get through.
Regardless, it feels like a hometown bar, both in amiable spirit and unwavering popularity.
Get a drink from one of the sociable bartenders, shoot some pool on the newly reupholstered tables and watch all the end-of-the-night antics going on around you. You might even be able to hear yourself think again.
Maybe this is the drinkers' Promised Land you've undoubtedly heard so much about?
Who knows? Just be sure to get a ride home.