Any city with a lot of Irish blood will get into the party spirit for St. Patrick’s Day. But New Orleans, forever proving that it’s not just any city, does things up in such a big way for Ireland’s patron saint that the March party calendar looks like some kind of St. Patrick’s season.
The ensuing revelry will tempt –– and surely in many cases break –– Lenten vows of temperance pledged in the grip of post “Lombardi Gras” hangovers a few weeks ago, and it will fill the streets with parades and beads and crumpled carnations. On Friday, the Jim Monaghan St. Patrick’s Day parade starts and ends at Molly’s at the Market, the pub founded by the parade’s late legendary namesake. The Mardi Gras-size Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Club’s parade will cut loose around Uptown on Saturday, and the Jefferson Parish version lays green-and-white siege to Old Metairie on Sunday.
There’s so much going on, in fact, that one could easily get burned out before the actual feast day for St. Patrick rolls around on March 17. That would be a shame because the big day itself is when the celebrations distill to their most intense form. Naturally, they concentrate at our Irish pubs.
Among the local crop, the best-known, most heavily attended pub party must be the annual bash hosted outside Parasol’s Restaurant & Bar. The crowd is enormous, so much so that it’s not even right to say it spills out the doors of the tiny Irish Channel pub. Rather, the crowd converges outside around the intersection of Third and Constance streets and laps against the bar or its temporary outdoor serving stations, seeking beer, cabbage and corned beef and Parasol’s roast beef poor boys. It’s a raucous, open-air blowout, though it’s also an early one, starting at 11 a.m. and shutting down at 7 p.m., so the hardcore take the day off from work while others race down to Constance Street at quitting time to join the finale.
The party at Finn McCool’s Irish Pub in recent years has approached block party proportions itself, though it’s still mostly contained within the pub’s rambling old Banks Street building and the wide apron of pavement outside, helpfully set with picnic tables and folding chairs. Run by genuine Irish expats, Finn McCool’s sends up all the goofy ethnic stereotypes of the day with a zeal that only natives can pull off. So this is where you’ll find the Irish Olympics, a program starting at 4 p.m. that includes such challenges as Guinness pint relays, cabbage bowling and potato-eating contests. The band Rites of Passage performs inside, while the kitchen pumps out traditional dishes, including what’s being promoted as “spuds a million ways.” There’s even the World’s Most Wee St. Patrick’s Day Parade, led by a crew of costumed characters, which begins at 7:30 p.m. and wraps up by 7:31 p.m.
But it’s down in Bywater where the pub and the parade come together in full four-leafed bloom on St. Patrick’s Day. While other parade groups roll on the weekend closest to the holiday, the Downtown Irish Club always holds its marching parade on St. Patrick’s Day, starting at 6:30 p.m. at Markey Park (corner of Royal and Piety streets). The procession wends its way through the narrow streets of the Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods on its way to Bourbon Street, making plenty of stops along the way at pubs and bars. The first stop, just a few blocks from the parade’s starting point, is Markey’s Bar (640 Louisa St., 504/943-0785), the Bywater’s hub of all things Hibernian. Blues guitarist St. Louis Slim and a backing outfit called the Large Band will start things up at 5 p.m.
Markey’s underwent a substantial renovation a few years back that streamlined the whole operation, tidied things up a great deal behind the bar and paved the way for so many new flat-screen TVs that the place handily fills the role of Ninth Ward sports bar. But first and foremost, Markey’s is a pub, a place embraced by its wildly diverse and constantly changing neighborhood. Next Wednesday, days after the big weekend parades have rolled Uptown and in Old Metairie, the Markey’s crowd will be outside along Royal Street, juggling libations, beads and green carnations between their hands and cheering the Downtown Irish Club’s march to the Quarter.