Whatever you may think about themed bar crawls, the NYC Zombie Crawl is not that.
Now in its 11th year, the event takes hordes of people elaborately costumed and made up to look like the undead through the streets of Brooklyn in the summer (this year on Sunday, July 2) and Manhattan in the fall.
Ironically, for many of them, acting like the walking dead is their life.
“I personally spend half the year dressed like a zombie,” says Doug Sakmann, the founder of NYC Zombie Crawl.
Sakmann has been in the zombie business a lot longer than AMC’s monster hit series “The Walking Dead” has been around, as a professional special effects artist for 17 years and co-owner of the production company Backseat Conceptions. The zombie boom has sent him to all kinds of places, from Mets games to the Cannes Film Festival, and every year he leads an ever-growing gang of zombie fans down the streets of New York.
More than a themed excuse to drink (not that there is anything wrong with that), the Zombie Crawl started almost like a networking event, and half the attendees remain professionals in the entertainment business. The rest are fans of the genre, which creates a community feeling.
“Since we’ve been doing this for so long, we have families who met on the zombie crawl and got married, they’re bringing their kids out,” says Sakmann. “It’s a celebration of zombie culture and special effects culture. You don’t necessarily have to drink to be a zombie.”
To participate, you’ll need the stamina of the undead — the event goes for 10-12 hours. Beginning at 4 p.m., attendees gather at Williamsburg’s The Charleston, where some who had already spent up to five hours on their own transformation apply prostheses to more casual attendees for $10. Or you can just opt for Sakmann’s method of getting you on-theme.
“Right before we go out, I always have some kind of ‘blood propulsion system’ to spray down whoever does want to get covered in blood,” he says. Past methods have included a Super Soaker and a water cannon. (That said, “If you don’t want to have blood on you, you don’t have to be covered in blood.”)
At 6:30 p.m., it’s off through McCarren Park for games and the traditional zombie family photo op, then to A Bar and finally the 21+ afterparty at Brooklyn Bazaar, where Sakmann emcees a variety show with music, sideshow acts and special guests, including a rare East Coast performance by the psychedelic retro arts collective Everything Is Terrible (you may know them as the group collecting the world’s supply of “Jerry Maguire” VHS tapes in the hopes of building a pyramid in the Nevada desert). The crawl is free to attend; advance tickets to the afterparty are $20.
This year, the zombies even have a grand marshal: Ben Kissel, professional urban myth debunker on “Last Podcast on the Left” and now a candidate for Brooklyn Borough president. “When it comes to criminal justice reform, people are braindead,” Kissel tells Metro. “If I can convince the zombies, I’ll do great with the rest of Brooklyn.”
Although they do occasionally eat brains — there was a (lamb) brain-eating contest last year — that’s about the extent of their gross activities. Sakmann says the NYC Zombie Crawl has never had an arrest, and one of the bars they’re hitting up over the weekend has been on the crawl route since the beginning.
“We’re not just letting everyone loose in the city,” he says. “In the 11 years we’ve been doing these two events, we’ve not had one problem.”
Ironically, Sakmann thinks of the NYC Zombie Crawl as a chance to be less like the walking dead. “[Zombies have] unintentionally become symbolism for how the world is,” he says. “On a normal day when there are no zombies, everyone is acting like zombies as it is because they’re just looking at their phones and not paying attention to what’s going on, and this kind of forces you out of it.”
Think of it as a little survival prep, too: “If you keep looking down at your phone in a zombie apocalypse, you’d just be eaten right away, so if anything this is training.”