Get­ting into hol­i­day spir­its, in mod­er­a­tion

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - BAY AREA - By Steve Ruben­stein Steve Ruben­stein is a San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle staff writer. Email: sruben­[email protected]­i­cle. com Twit­ter: @SteveRubeSF

A warn­ing to all San­tas: Don’t get plas­tered.

And yet, Santa will get plas­tered. Thou­sands of San­tas. That’s what hap­pens at San­taCon, the an­nual ad hoc gath­er­ing in down­town San Fran­cisco of wob­bly men and women in Santa and Mrs. Claus suits. It’s un­of­fi­cial, it’s an in­sti­tu­tion, it’s ei­ther charm­ing or ob­nox­ious. Ready or not, it’s on for Satur­day.

In San Fran­cisco, San­taCon is ac­knowl­edged if not sanc­tioned. At Union Square, the un­of­fi­cial North Pole, there will be no sound sys­tem this year. Or­ga­niz­ers did not get a per­mit, be­cause Union Square has al­ready is­sued per­mits for the skat­ing rink and the gi­ant tree.

One San­taCon non-or­ga­nizer, who iden­ti­fied him­self as Santa Tom, said the lack of a per­mit will not and must not stop San­taCon.

“Union Square can’t keep us out!” he said, in a mes­sage to San­tas ev­ery­where. “Show up any­way! San­taCon is not can­celed!’’

Although San­taCon of­fers lit­tle more than red vel­vet an­ar­chy, there seem to be a few ac­cepted rules: Bring a toy to give away. Wear a full Santa suit, not just a hat. Don’t Santa and drive. And don’t as­sume a pa­per bag is go­ing to fool a San Fran­cisco cop.

The main rule is to stay sober. Santa doesn’t al­ways fol­low that one.

Laura Rose­land, a bar­tender at Bartlett Hall on O’Far­rell Street, said San­taCon is “al­ways crazy,” but in a nice way. She said she has never had to cut off a Santa.

“If some­one is too in­tox­i­cated, it’s a bar­tender’s job to tell them they can’t drink any more,” Rose­land said, but so far the San­tas of her pro­fes­sional ac­quain­tance have be­haved them­selves.

Be­sides, only high-end San­tas can af­ford to belly up at Bartlett Hall, where a Tiki-KiYay rum drink costs $14 and a sparkling-wine-hard-cider Christ­mas spritz runs $12.

Bartlett Hall will have ex­tra se­cu­rity guards on duty, Rose­land said, to make sure San­tas re­main good for good­ness sake.

At the Union Square Sports Bar on Ma­son Street, bar­tender Jeremiah Lowe said he ex­pects the San­tas to be shoul­der to shoul­der.

“There are good San­tas and there are bad San­tas,” Lowe said. “We get both. They get started early and then they move around the town.”

Lowe said he would not hes­i­tate to 86 any over-the­limit Santa.

“When Santa tosses his milk and cook­ies, it’s time for Santa to go,” Lowe said.

San­taCon seems to have started in San Fran­cisco in the mid-1990s and moved quickly around the world, some­thing like the red man him­self in his sleigh. The good San­tas, the fun San­tas and the toy-giv­ing San­tas are wel­come. The up­chuck­ing, uri­nat­ing San­tas are anath­ema.

San­taCon is not re­ally an or­ga­nized event, even though it makes enough money for sa­loon­keep­ers to qual­ify. One of the San Fran­cisco web­sites pro­mot­ing the event has links to an on­line cos­tume store sell­ing $37 “cheap” Santa suits on up to a $450 “ma­jes­tic” cos­tume.

San Fran­cisco cops, who will be decked out in their stan­dard blue cos­tumes, say the rules for pub­lic be­hav­ior re­main the same re­gard­less of the cut of the red velour.

Paul Chinn / The Chron­i­cle 2016

The pre-pub-crawl scene in S.F.’s Union Square at the 2016 San­taCon, where re­spon­si­ble drink­ing is the goal.

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