By Sebastien Malo
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Waves of revelers dressed in Santa Claus outfits invaded Midtown Manhattan on Saturday as part of New York's version of SantaCon, a massive pub crawl that organizers scaled back this year in part to prevent conflicts with a nearby protest march.
The loosely organized event, which moves every year to a different neighborhood of the city, has become notorious for leading to public drunkness and rowdy behavior by some of its participants.
This year, merrymakers gathered at midmorning in Times Square, one of Manhattan's busiest crossroads, after organizers posted online the list of taverns that were officially participating this year.
"This is my second time," Joe Fox, 23, an engineer from Long Island, said as he sipped an alcoholic drink while waiting in Times Square for the festivities to begin. "I'm going to be crawling home."
After indications that SantaCon would come to Brooklyn's Bushwick section this year, some bars in that neighborhood asked to be excluded from the event rather than deal with unruly patrons.
Organizers announced this week that they were scaling back SantaCon's presence this year, limiting the event to a narrower list of 30 Midtown watering holes.
The gesture was in part a response to widespread complaints about public urination and vomiting by SantaCon revelers in years past. But it was also an effort to separate the event from a huge rally and march against police violence planned for Lower Manhattan.
Vinnie Connors, the manager of Jack Dempsey's, a narrow Irish pub on 33rd Street, said early Saturday afternoon that his patrons have been well behaved so far.
"I haven't had one issue," he said. "But it's still early in the day."
Outside, there were long lines of revelers, costumed for the most part as Santa Claus - but also as elves and reindeer - waiting to get into three bars on the block. Curious onlookers snapped pictures from across the street.
Volunteers providing security were more numerous this year, said Mike, a former Marine who asked to be only identified by his first name. He was part of a group of volunteers assigned to call police in case of disruptive behavior.
"Before there was 20 of us altogether," he said. "Now there are 15 of us just in this bar."
(Reporting By Frank McGurty)