By Eric Marks | Feature Image by Ty O’Neil
A This Is Reno investigation
Buyer beware: Local crawl company says new crawls advertised in Reno are coming from shady operations with no ties to local community
Amidst the ever-swelling population of Reno, many out-of-town companies are taking advantage of booming opportunities and growth. From property developers to “craft” alcohol venues, Reno is seemingly a bottomless pit of quick cash and trendy gentrified outlets. The alcohol industry is no exception, with an influx of outside companies capitalizing on the success of established local businesses.
Bar crawls have gained in popularity in the U.S. over the last two decades, from the New York City West Village Pub Crawl to the current world record-holder, which according to guinnessworldrecords.com “involved 4,885 participants who visited 10 pubs in Kansas City’s Power and Light District on 1, June 2013.”
Reno is no exception to this national trend. Long associated with cheap alcohol opportunities, the Reno bar crawl scene has been expanding steadily for several years. But the majority of companies running crawls in Reno aren’t local. In fact, the largest of these companies currently holds an ‘F’ rating with the Better Business Bureau.
Who is who?
As a Reno resident, local crawl coordinator Ed Adkins is one of the main crawl operators in Reno. His company, Crawl Reno, boasts almost 20,000 followers on its Facebook page and has a wide local support network. Officially established in 2015, the business ran their crawls predominately from their headquarters location on West Second Street before relinquishing the physical building. Crawl Reno still successfully operates the majority of bar crawls in Reno.
Adkins says Crawl Reno has also encountered much confusion with national crawl companies, specifically Better Bar Crawls and Bar Crawls Unlimited, the latter of which not only has an ‘F’ rating with the BBB but also has an almost unanimous one-star rating on Yelp (37 of 39 reviews).
Adkins, who is not surprised at this rating after his encounters with BCU, explained that in his experience, the effect they are having on Reno is completely negative.
“Out-of-town companies like Bar Crawls Unlimited are setting up several events in Reno and they are known to be disorganized. People are confusing them for our events and they threaten local businesses that support local tourism,” he said.
With the names of these out-of-town companies being so similar, it is easy for an unsuspecting consumer to confuse them with Crawl Reno, Adkins said, suggesting they are capitalizing from his rooted presence in the community.
Adkins is acknowledged by venue owners and crawl patrons to be an established supporter of local officials and business and is clearly disturbed by the effect and confusion Bar Crawls Unlimited is having on his business.
“They have such a trail of destruction, that I was like, ‘Holy shit,'” he said. “They have more reviews saying it’s a scam than I could count, and are not based here, so they don’t care about the damage they create.
“They don’t understand the area so they send people miles between venues and are creating confusion for events that are locally-based and have been working in the community for years.”
Adkins’ concerns seem apparent for the upcoming “Taco & Margarita Crawl Reno.” So far, the event has only three confirmed venues: Pigeon Head Brewery, Davidson’s Distillery and Antonio’s Mexican Grill. According to a Google Map search, this route totals 1.1 miles of walking.
It also takes a “taco and margarita”-themed event from a “production brewery specializing in lagers and fine ales” to a self-described “ass-kicking biker bar.”
Adkins said: “It takes a tremendous amount of work to do these right. There is a huge difference in doing it wrong and doing it right — to keep people safe, to understand the impact you have, to be mindful about it.
“I am invested in Reno’s future, and that’s why I think my events work. I know where I’m sending people, I know my end result is to help the community. And if you lose that, you have no business running a drinking event.”
Run, don’t crawl, for your refund
Another problem with companies not based in Reno is the last-minute cancellation of their posted events. Better Bar Crawls announced on February 9 the cancellation of an event scheduled for six days later. When asked for a statement, the company replied via Facebook.
“Full refunds were issued to all ticket holders just before the announcement was made, and we apologize for any inconvenience the cancellation may have caused. We recently held successful events in 22 other U.S. cities, but we have no future Reno plans at this time. Our ticket provider is Eventbrite and we used their platform to refund everyone 100%. Refunding all ticket holders is a requirement for cancelling events through Eventbrite, at least that’s our understanding. We had to manually refund each order before there was an option to cancel the page.”
This is a historically different approach from Bar Crawl Unlimited, which also operates under the alternate business names Desert Sky Event Planning and Pro Artist Agency. As of April 2019, the BBB showed that BCU was dropped by their ticket agency, SimpleTix.
According to the BBB, “If you purchased tickets for the event and have not received a refund please make sure to contact your credit card company or financial institution. There is a pattern of complaints regarding Desert Sky Event Planning & Pro Artist Agency.”
The bureau’s response indicated that the pattern of complaints included issues with refunds and exchanges as well as service and delivery. BBB also says it has yet to receive a response from BCU to resolve any issues.
BCU is now operating through Eventbrite Ticketing.
The pattern of complaint against BCU is also openly apparent on Yelp.
Repeated attempts by This Is Reno to contact the identified owner of BCU, Adam Dobres, were unsuccessful. Dobres was either “traveling” or “unavailable,” according to a company employee who identified herself only as Melissa.
Melissa, who is an event organizer for BCU, said the BBB rating and Yelp ratings are not very concerning for the company.
“Every weekend we probably do like four to five events of around 1,000 people,” she said. “For a bar crawl company, a lot of the time people don’t go looking for their Yelp or Better Business. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t; people don’t look us up before the event actually happens.”
They’re all created equal. Buy your cup, treat bartenders and bar patrons all over town like shit, and throw away your cup.”
When asked about the owner’s thoughts on existing ratings, she said, “We have talked to the BBB about possibly raising our rating and they suggest ‘just reply and it raises it.’ I really can’t speak on our BBB rating because I haven’t been around for most of the complaints, but we do have four to five events every weekend, so of course every now and then we are going to get a bad crawl.
“When people go online and they see those [reviews] from the old ones, and they had a bad time with our recent ones, they piggy back off them, I suppose,” she added, referencing a bad event BCU produced in Detroit.
That response, however, is contradictory to the Yelp review locations, which come from 15 different states, some from within the past few weeks.
The locals’ take
Local venue owners, bartenders and patrons all have different experiences with the crawls. The patrons and bartenders seem to have less concern for who are running them.
One local bartender at Ferìno Distillery, Joshua Berreman, described the crawls this way: “They’re all created equal. Buy your cup, treat bartenders and bar patrons all over town like shit, and throw away your cup.
“The entitlement that comes with those cups is outrageous. Bryce at Dead Ringer Analog Bar was on the last (Santa) crawl map despite never signing up. So people come in wanting some special shit they think they were promised and are pissed when they don’t get it.”
This insider perspective to the crawl was also acknowledged by Dead Ringer owner Bryce Tomberlin, a relative newcomer to the Reno bar scene and whose first experience with the Santa crawl was actually not negative.
“In 2018 we participated. In 2019 we decided not to, but [the organizer] just assumed that we were. He put on there that we had live music and a band. I never agreed or wanted to be on it, and in fact was out of town.”
Tomberlin said that, “understandably, people were confused and upset, and having to explain the situation to crawlers who may be potential new clients or regulars makes us look like assholes.
“It makes us look bad. He (the operator of Reno Santa Pub Crawl) is a guy from the Bay. He’s been in Reno a decent amount, and he started Santa Crawl here. And don’t get me wrong: Santa Crawl is huge, and it’s more local than these Arizona crawls, but the thing is there’s a problem with every single type of crawl.
“Santa crawl people just get way too hammered. He throws [venues] on there and says things that aren’t necessarily true, just trying to get it out there,” Tomberlin added.
Multiple attempts by This Is Reno to reach Reno Santa Pub Crawl for comment were unsuccessful.
But Tomberlin also had issues with the structure used by other crawl entities, along the lines of Berreman, who described the overall crawl system as “Whaaaaack.”
Tomberlin said that with other crawls, “It’s a rip off to the bar, because the bar has to pay money, but then they get swarmed with people wanting $3 and $4 drinks, so let’s just say you sell 1,000 drinks: that’s a shit ton and you’re only pulling in three or four grand. The amount of work is huge, and the quality is compromised.”
Quality of his product was of obvious concern to Tomberlin.
As a newer bar in an older building, it is located in a notoriously difficult area to benefit from foot traffic. His potential customer base was virtually non-existent until recent gentrification projects brought new business development to his area. Tomberlin said he takes extreme pride in his venue and product both, refusing to compromise either for a crawl.
“It doesn’t really promote long-term business, and can actually chase away your regulars. Being a $3 or $4 cocktail thing, and then shitty Coors Light and stuff, we can’t do what we do.”
A potential way forward
Tomberlin is exploring different options for crawls with Adkins that would be beneficial to bar and patrons alike, and also different from other downtown crawls.
Tomberlin said he has a solid opinion about the potential for crawls, though, using restructured models and emphasizing venue profitability and client product quality.
He feels these basic good business practices are in direct contrast to the upcoming “Taco & Margarita Crawl Reno” hosted by BCU. Tomberlin said he feels that it is “unfortunate that out of the three crawl companies that are happening, the only one that is worthwhile for us to do with the current system is the one I just passed on, because they don’t make us pay anything.
“They defer all the advertising costs on to the crawlers,” he added. “The unfortunate thing is this crawl is coming to Reno now no matter what, and now it’s a shitty crawl. You pay 20 bucks for those three venues.”
Tomberlin then offered a potential viable solution, including strategic marketing plans and target demographics. He feels that would benefit the patrons and owners both, and hopes it will come to fruition for future local crawls.
He also echoed Berreman’s experience tending bar for his employees.
“I don’t know anybody who works crawl nights and likes working them. Nobody makes good money,” he said. “The biggest problem is with trying to fit value in one $5 cup. I have done this, and realized ‘Oh this is all the fucking cup gives me’ and then just punt the cup in the middle of a casino, because at that point I realized I was just charged $5 for a cup I don’t need: to get into the bar, to get the special, or anything like that.
“It’s more of a souvenir for like 20 to 25 percent of the people at most. And then it’s just a way to get the crappiest drinks ever.”
The end result
From the ever-growing popularity of crawls, it is apparent that they won’t be going away from Reno anytime soon. Also apparent is the division and confusion among the crawl-promoting entities. But for consumers such as John Shoaf, who has attended both Leprechaun and Santa crawls in Reno, the chaotic nature of the organizations and events aren’t a concern.
“You go to the outside bars, the periphery bars,” he explained. “You don’t go to drink, you go for the atmosphere, because you’re going to stand in line the whole time.”
With the similarity in names and obvious confusion it presents, consumers should be aware of the companies that operate events.
From local crawl companies with tens of thousands of likes and supporters, to out-of-town “stick-and-move” companies that operate on national levels, it can be a buyer-beware situation that can leave many people with a bad impression, regrettably, often because of another company that has no involvement with the locally owned crawl businesses.
“All someone has to do is look up ‘bar crawl scam,’” Adkins said, “and they have pages of results to check out. It’s a done deal. They (Bar Crawl Unlimited) even put out an FAQ and the second question is ‘Are you a scam?’”
EDITOR’S NOTE: After this story was originally published, representatives from Reindeer Charities, which operates the Santa Crawl, demanded This Is Reno remove statements made by sources in this story. In the interest of free speech and transparency, we refused.
The Reno Santa Crawl is an annual charitable fundraiser for local schools and is owned and organized by Reindeer Charities, a Nevada non-profit. The charity is run by our incredible volunteers and has no employees which allows us to give all of the funds raised to local teachers. Over the last 19 years, Reindeer Charities has raised and donated close to a half of a million dollars to the community.
While one of our board members does currently live in San Francisco, he is a third generation Nevadan, with a large family in the area, and works hard for us in order to give back to a community that has given him so much. Dead Ringer Analog Bar participated in the 2018 Santa Crawl.
A Dead Ringer employee informed our volunteers that they wanted to also participate in the 2019 fundraiser. Despite the fact that Dead Ringer Analog bar had failed to make the agreed upon donation in return for participating in 2018, our organization acted in good faith and provided them withe the 2019 promotional materials and we included them in our maps which are printed up to a month prior to the event.
On the Friday before the Santa Crawl, we were informed that they did not want to participate due to a miscommunication between employees and management within Dead Ringer Analog Bar. We explained that the printed maps reflected their participation. In an effort to create a solution, we offered to allow them to participate in Santa Crawl for free and waived their $100 donation to the charity. The staff at the bar agreed to our solution. On the morning of the event, Bryce Tomberlin had an online exchange with the board member regarding their participation in the fundraiser. Our staff member apologized for the charities’ part in the misunderstanding and promised not to include Dead Ringer on future fundraisers.
We have already updated our communication processes for participating businesses to prevent this type of error occurring in the future. While the downtown businesses do bring in millions of dollars in revenue participating in the Santa Crawl, we understand that not all businesses want to directly participate in raising money for the fundraiser.
Reindeer Charities looks forward to upcoming the Reno Santa Crawl which just happens to be our 20th year. The Reno Santa Crawl will be held on December 12, 2020 and will continue to be the premier holiday event of the year. Thank you again for support the Claus.
Born in 1971, Eric Marks was fortunate enough to grow up in a time and family where photography and literature were normal parts of his life. His parents were always enthusiastic and supportive of his photography as a child, and encouraged him to read and write as much as possible. From 2005 to 2012 he owned an award-winning, international, high definition video production company, and has produced video and photography in over 14 different countries on four continents. Eric majored at the University of Nevada, Reno in English/Writing and Art, graduating with English and Photography degrees in 2013, and again with an Art degree in 2018. He teaches all genres of photography at Truckee Meadows Community College, is a freelance photojournalist for several publications, and offers private photography instruction.