Our costumed writer tackles the neighborhood bar scene.
Amid September’s first-month fervor, my friends and I decided to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the age-old college quest to get drunk. The premise of our Saturday night escapade was simple: a group of, say, 15 people each pay one person $15. This lucky individual dons a full-body, bright yellow, faux-feathered chicken costume and hides at a bar near campus, ordering as many drinks as they like with the pooled money. In groups of four, participants hunt for the “chicken” who could be at any given bar on a list of eight or so. If a team visits a chickenless bar, all members must finish a drink before leaving for the next destination. The winning group not only receives bragging rights and free drinks until the collective money pot is drained, but also the opportunity to become the chicken during round two.
It was my idea, so it was only right that I volunteered to be the inaugural chicken. While the game came to me algorithmically via TikTok, it was confirmed as an authentic British tradition by my roommate, who had just returned from studying abroad at Oxford. The bars we’d selected made for an almost comprehensive list of Columbia hall-of-famers: Mel’s, The Heights, Amity Hall, Lion’s Head, Arts and Crafts, Dive 106, and Nobody Told Me. Honorable mentions included The Craftsman, The Hamilton, and The Expat, which we agreed may not appreciate a loitering chicken and drunk hunters interfering with their ambiance.
My hunters gathered on a Saturday night, with a mere two of the 16 following the last-minute suggestion to dress as farmers. After allowing some gawking at my glorious felt comb and wattle, I made use of my 15-minute head start and departed for my chosen destination: Lion’s Head. To me, the choice was clear. Not only would the bartenders not bat an eye at a grown chicken-man, but it was far enough from the starting line at East Campus to keep the game interesting.
Being a chicken on the run is lonely work. Fortuitously, I ran into a high school friend on my way to Lion’s Head and swept him under my wing. With money to spare and a newly co-opted drinking buddy, we strutted up to the bartender and asked, “Your most expensive drink on the menu—we’ll take two.”
To our immense disappointment, it was a $13 espresso martini. In my noble effort to keep the game lively for its hunters, I chose an affordable location and squandered a golden opportunity to ball out with my friends’ money. Only at this point did the unamused bartender look me up and down. “I’m gonna need to see some ID.”
. . .
We sat in the back, far from any windows, sipping on our espresso martinis (and a few consolation IPAs each). Next to us, a posse of five older army veterans could not get over the chicken costume. It took just 10 minutes before the first group arrived, followed by the second a few minutes later. Lion’s Head came alive amid jeers and a frantic hustle to the bar to order on “the tab of that chicken over there.”
My friends in the winning group—my favorites—insisted they had an instinct that Lion’s Head was the optimal spot: Beer, cheap drinks, and a bar culture accepting of a roaming chicken made my coordinates obvious.
The runners-up had also thought strategically: Lion’s Head’s shots were $5. If they had guessed wrong, they could pound some tequila and keep it moving. They also told me they were confident because “What other animal lays eggs besides a chicken? That’s right, a lion.” Perhaps they pregamed a little too hard. Group three crossed the street from Amity Hall; while perhaps too nice for a chicken, the size of the bar, they insisted, would have led me to pick it for our large group. A couple more beers made their way round the table and the pooled money was drained.
The bankrupt final group arrived about 40 minutes later after going to The Heights, Dive 106, Mel’s, and Nobody Told Me. Evidently, their decision to route down Broadway before cutting over to Amsterdam brought their downfall. When they asked The Heights’ bouncer if he had seen a chicken, he remarked: “A chicken? If I saw a chicken walk in here, I would have had to take my phone out and take a photo!”
With the group reunited, we decided to make a pilgrimage to The Heights to end the night, the reliable fall back for frozen margaritas and an open rooftop. As we entered, the bouncer informed the Group four folks behind me, “The chicken is here now!”
What people don’t tell you about chicken costumes is that they are, if you will, a chick magnet. After chatting with The Heights’ bartender, we learned it was her last night working. To honor the auspiciousness of a chicken visiting on her final night, she connected her phone to the bar’s speakers to blast the Chicken Dance song for all of Broadway to hear. I embraced the ethos of my character one last time and danced in all my felt-feathered glory on The Heights’ roof for the captive student onlookers.