New York Times
February 21, 1999

Runners Chase Scent of Beer

Runners Chase Scent of Beer

The New York Times
February 21, 1999, Sunday
The City Weekly Desk

It all begins when someone yells, ''Oy oy oy oy oy oy!'' That someone is known as the hare, whose job is to create a path for the chaotic jaunt to a dive bar where the Hash House Harriers guzzle beer and down greasy pizza.

The group, which calls itself the ''drinking club with a running problem,'' meets several times a week for a social event that originated with a group of Australian expatriates in Kuala Lumpur in the 1930's. Now there are more than 1,800 such clubs throughout the world. The New York City chapter, which claims about 200 men and women as members, was founded in 1984.

At 3 P.M. on a recent February afternoon, a light snow did not stop some 40 hashers from gathering at 96th Street and Central Park West to follow the trail the hare had set. No more than five minutes into the run in Central Park, they faced a puzzle. Instead of an arrow on the ground, there was a circle with an X, meaning the trail could pick up anywhere.

Suddenly, everyone dispersed, like a group of frenetic mice just set free. One cluster of hashers ran north. Another headed west, up a hill.

''On, on!'' someone finally yelled, signaling that the trail had been found. The runners headed up an embankment and down slippery rocks through a paved path in a tunnel, and then up a high promontory. A double-headed arrow indicated a short cut over the top of a hill. Half the group ran north, and the rest went down a steep muddy slope.

An hour and several miles later, the hashers found what they were looking for: the words ''Beer Near'' in chalk on the ground. That meant the dive bar was close at hand. Inside the Australia Bar on First Avenue between 89th and 90th Streets, was beer and pizza and clean, dry clothes brought by the hares.

After circulating, the hares called everyone to the back of the pub to dole out punishment to those hashers who had made some mistake along the way, like getting lost, or wearing new sneakers. The disgraced are required to drink a pint of beer without taking air, while the other hashers sing, ''Down, down, down, down.''

Alex Reyes, 37, a professor at New York University, was required to do a ''down, down'' because he was a new hasher, but he seemed cheerful about it.

And while the New York chapter does seem to have plenty of marathon veterans, one need not be a runner to join. When David Croft, a computer consultant, was invited to his first hash several years ago, he said, ''I was not a runner at all, but the drinking sounded interesting.''

''Now, I'm living proof that hashing can actually be good for you,'' Mr. Croft said. ''I lost 30 pounds, and before I couldn't even run a mile.''

Copyright 1999 The New York Times Company

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