If you’ve ever been out to one of our many beer dinners, brunches or really any event involving food at the brewery, you’ve likely indulged in some delicious food prepared by local chef, and friend of the brewery, Kate O’Donnell.
And if you’ve ever been on Stillwell Ave in Coney Island on a Sunday afternoon from November through April, you’ve also likely seen her getting ready to take an icy swim alongside the legendary Coney Island Polar Bear Club.
Fun fact… she’s an official member! But Kate’s years of swimming in subzero temperatures go far beyond her time with the club. Growing up, her family had their very own tradition of swimming on Christmas Day at their house on Shirley Beach on the south shore of Long Island. Another fun fact… theirs was a skinny dip mission. 👀
“When I moved out to Coney from the city, it was literally the first thing I wanted to start doing.”
She made it to 12 swims in her first season and last year swam 22 out of 24 times. What keeps her (and every other bear we’ve talked to over the years) coming back? The camaraderie. Kate compares the first day of the season to the first day of school after the summer. It’s a community that represents the true spirit of Coney Island and it’s entering into its 115th year.
10 Things You May Not Know About the Club
1. Their biggest swim of the year (swimmers in the thousands) is on New Year’s Day but the club swims EVERY SUNDAY for four months… that’s 24 times per season.
2. They meet at 1pm every Sunday and stay in an average of 20 minutes (though that may vary week to week) and you must complete 12 swims to officially join the Coney Island Polar Bear Club.
3. Once you’ve completed your 12 swims, you still need to be “voted” into the club by the other bears… though no one is ever voted down. It’s purely for tradition.
4. The club has never missed a swim because it’s too cold… but there’s always a lifeguard on duty and they might not stay in for as long on those really cold days.
5. Some bears might wear gloves or booties to protect hands and feet but they never wear wetsuits.
6. Costumes are strongly encouraged. Think Santa hats around Christmas, green on St. Patrick’s Day, bunny costumes around Easter and whatever the hell you feel like on New Year’s Day.
7. The first swim of the 2018-2019 season was a balmy 55 degree swim in 58 degree air… Kate wishes she brought her cap to do some laps!
8. The club often hits up Tom’s or other local haunts for brunch after each swim and the self-title “bad bears” often go for beers as well.
9. The club is not limited to just Coney residents. There are bears from Jersey, Staten Island and even Connecticut!
10. They have unofficial swims on SNOW DAYS! So while we’re glued to the couch watching Netflix, they’re heading to the beach to hit the water.
If this sounds like your type of community… you should JOIN THEM (and us!) on New Year’s Day! Our crew will be taking our annual dip to ring in the new year alongside the Coney Island Polar Bear Club and then we’ll be open early for the Official After Party at the brewery… and yes, Chef Kate will be in the house cooking up delicious eats to help you warm up after your swim.
And as always, we will be donating $1 from every pint of The Plunge sold during the event to the Alliance for Coney Island.