Former Peoria man makes virtual bar crawl a Web hit

DeWayne Bartels
After over-celebrating at the Mars Bar April 5, Wombacher went home, collapsed and fell out of his loft bed and snagged the corner of a bookshelf on the way down with his eye.

Marty Wombacher is a character, a character so large Peoria could not contain him.

Seventeen years ago, in July, he left the river city to seek fame and fortune in The Big Apple.

Fortune has alluded him, but he has found a modicum of fame. And, a good deal of it comes from drinking.

“I came here to write. I love Peoria and the surrounding areas, but I lost most of my money on my old magazine, People Of Peoria, so it seemed like I had kind of played out my act in Peoria, and New York seemed the logical place to move to,” Wombacher said.

“I cashed in my pension plan from where I worked and made the move. I’ve never regretted it.”

While in New York, Wombacher has written several books and published a magazine, Fishwrap.

His latest foray into publishing is with a virtual pub crawl called “A guy walks into 365 bars,” accessible at www.aguywalksinto365bars.com.

So, why is Wombacher going into 365 New York City bars and writing about it?

“A lot of people ask me this. The main reason is I just want to do it. I always say one of the benefits of writing is being able to do crazy things and not get called out for it,” he said.

“Because there’s a ‘project’ attached to this makes it OK in most people’s eyes. I’ve always liked bars and meeting people, and this allows me to experience these two things on a nightly basis. Most nights it’s a lot of fun. And to quote the Beatles, ‘Fun is the one thing that money can’t buy.’”

And, Wombacher said this effort has redeeming social value.

“I’m kind of a one-man stimulus package for taverns in New York City,” he said.

He has yet to see any fortune from this effort, but fame is coming. 

“The number of Web followers goes up and down. I’ve had as many as 5,000 in a day and as little as 16. It all depends,” he said.

“Due to some publicity lately, the average tends to be between 500 to 1,000 unique visitors a day, which is really cool. It’s nice to know people are enjoying what I’m doing and that I have an audience.

Wombacher said there are more than 2,000 bars in New York City. So, did he select the 365 he is going to?

“I just pick them day by day. I try to go to different types of bars every night,” he said. “For example if I go to a dive bar one night, then the next I try to go to a nice lounge-type place and then maybe an Irish bar the next night. I try to mix it up.”

His self-imposed rule is he has to consume three drinks at each bar.

Wombacher said he made that rule “Because I want to stick around and have a real bar experience. I don’t want to have just one drink and run. I want to hang out and meet the bartender and people in the bar and get a real feeling for the place. Also, if I were to get sick or if my liver were to act up, then I’ll have three non-alcoholic drinks for awhile.”

His favorite experience, so far, according to Wombacher, occurred recently.

“I spent Easter Sunday in a true dive bar called Mars Bar. The place is a legendary Lower East Side hangout for hard-drinking artists, musicians and writers, and it can be a tough crowd,” he said.

“I wasn’t sure how they’d react to me coming in and taking pictures. It was a little chilly at first, but I bought a couple pizzas from a nearby pizza place and it really turned into a fun night and quite a party. It was probably the best Easter I’ve ever had.”

This is not Wombacher’s first experience with alcohol and writing.

In 2002, he wrote a book called “99 Beers Off The Wall.”

It was his chronicle of drinking 99 beers in 99 bars over seven days.

He wrote reviews of the bars and an ongoing travelogue of his adventures wandering around the island of Manhattan in, his words, “a somewhat drunken stupor.”

Not all of his experiences were good ones in that effort.

Wombacher said he is not hoping for a better experience this time.

“I’m not hoping for or planning anything. I never really do, maybe that’s why I’ve led such a kooky life,” he said.

He fears only missing a night.

“The rules say then I have to start back at square one. Now that I’m closing in on 100 nights in a row, I don’t want to have to start all over!” he said.

So far, the experience, he said, has delighted him.

“I was written about in the New York Daily News and a lot of blogs have written about me, so every once in awhile, I’ll run into someone who’s following the Web site. It’s always cool to meet someone in a bar who’s a reader of what I’m doing,” he said.

It has also frustrated him.

“I do this after work, so some nights I’m really tired and don’t feel like going to a bar and trying to be the life of the party, but it’s got to be done,” he said.

“Some nights I would rather go home and just go to sleep.