Not the Night of Drinking and Debauchery It Once Was

Bar Owners Still Expect Big Crowds the Night Before Thanksgiving

By Will Rubin

The “Tower Crawl” used to be an annual tradition unlike any other in downtown Centralia.

Each year on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, people returning to the area for the holiday, many of them college students or young adults, would hop between one of the many bars along Tower Avenue starting at the Tower Tavern and working their way northward.

A generation ago, it was impossible to drive down Tower Avenue due to the size of the crowds stumbling between the Olympic Club and the Gas Lantern. Even five and six years ago, the revelry was enough to motivate the Centralia Police Department to stage its riot gear and SWAT truck — just in case.

Today, the Crawl still exists, though largely in the past tense. Hoards of old friends and former classmates still descend on downtown the night before Thanksgiving, but they’re more likely to stay in one spot and chat a while rather than break out a pair of beer goggles.

“When I first bought the bar in 1997, I think there were 12 bars up the strip around Tower,”Tower Tavern owner Dave Freeman said. “We were just talking about it as a staff and I asked if we’d staffed up for the Crawl, and of course we hadn’t, because it’s really dropped off over the years. We’ve got about four (bars) now and once you leave one, it’s hard to get back in, so people just tend to stay put.”

That’s not to say the night resembles a normal Wednesday for the establishments still slinging booze on Tower Avenue. Police officers make regular passes through the bars to ensure things remain under control and enforcement officers from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board show up as well.

O’Blarney’s owner Jeff Malloy said that by the time his Centralia outpost experienced its first Tower Crawl night, it had already been open for nearly a full year, so the staff knew how to handle busy nights.

“That night on the calendar is in my opinion always a busy night in the bar business just for the fact everyone is coming home for the holiday,”Malloy said. “I hear stories from customers about what it used to be back in the day, and we have a great time and a lot of fun each year, but I don’t have anything to compare it to.”

Freeman doesn’t expect the downturn to become cyclical and for the old fervor to return anytime soon.

With more establishments opening in Chehalis, he figures more people who live there may forgo the traditional Tower Crawl stops altogether.

That doesn’t mean there will suddenly be more open seats at the bar come the night of Nov. 21.

“It’s still going to be a busy night,” Freeman said. “We don’t really have to promote it, because it promotes itself.”