St. Patrick’s Day: What’s the craic?

Irish banneSign of the times at Bottom Line by Corinne Whiting

St. Patrick’s Day seems to fall at a good time of year—just after we’ve groggily “sprung forward” and just as we’ve been teased out of our winter hermit holes by the sweet promise of spring. Winter vacation seems a lifetime ago; Memorial Day beach treks couldn’t feel farther out of reach. Truth be told, we’re ready for some good craic.

This holiday always seems an ideal time to check in with Irish mates I haven’t properly caught up with since my last trip to Éire. I write friends based in happenin’ Dublin and off “busy” getting sunburned in fabulous places around the globe to wish them a happy Paddy’s Day. (Note: if you accidentally let slip “St. Patty’s Day,” prepare to be scolded for incorrectly feminizing the legendary saint!) This year I surveyed my friends’ March 17 plans, knowing that the night before would be the big night out thanks to a national holiday on St. Patrick’s Day. Over there March 17 seems a day, at least for my friends, to take it easy—catching up over pints and coffees, cycling into the country and, most importantly, avoiding the chaos of city centre. The downtown Dublin parade, it seems, can be saved for the kids and tourists.

So what then does March 17 (unfortunately not a holiday here) mean for Washingtonians? Perhaps the Obamas will dye the White House fountain green again (touch wood). And while the holiday will no doubt give venues an excuse to charge covers to droves of bar goers on a random Wednesday night, it will also give bar goers an excuse to spend a Wednesday night clinking glasses of green beer, downing Irish car bombs and flaunting real or feigned ancestry (“Kiss Me, I’m Irish” buttons, anyone?). It’s also a day when cultural traditions get a wee bit muddled here in the “melting pot” of America—Scottish and English customs become Irish; anything Celtic goes….

St. Patrick's Day 2010 Boomerang BusBoomerang Party Bus (courtesy Boomerang Bus Company)

Since it’ll be hard to find bars and restaurants not capitalizing on this festive day in some way, find below a guide that merely offers some ideas on where to begin your Irish fun. After the Snowpocalypse cancelled Arlington’s Mardi Gras festival plans, Clarendon and Courthouse are determined to get in the St. Paddy’s spirit with a parade (held rain or shine!) tonight at 8 p.m. that will travel up Wilson Boulevard from N. Barton to N. Irving Street.

Venues in that area hosting parties tomorrow include RiRa, whose “Craic Attack” features musicians like Roanan Cavanaugh from 1 to 4 p.m. and energetic cover band Dr. Fu at 9 p.m. And Ireland’s Four Courts, across from the Court House Metro, opens at 10 a.m. (no cover till around 4 p.m.) and expects big crowds (tables and chairs will get pushed to the side at 2:30 p.m.) thanks to several satellite bars (cash only), a large tent area out back, special menu and an all-day music line-up.

When in doubt, Irish pubs are a pretty solid bet. In Cleveland Park, Ireland’s Four Fields (formerly 4Ps) promises to be a good party, opening its doors at 10 a.m. and with The Burren Band taking the stage at 11 a.m. Irish dancers and the D.C. Fire Department Pipe and Drum Band perform throughout the day, and Ronan Kavanagh rocks the house at 5 p.m. At both outposts of Murphy’s, in Woodley Park and Old Town Alexandria, guests arrive early for pints of Guinness, dishes like Irish stew and fish ‘n’ chips plus live music in the evening. A Boomerang Party Bus decks its riders in green bling and shuttles them between yet-to-be-determined party hot spots. Bus tickets ($28) for this five-hour tour allow for the surreal experience of BYOB on a music-pumping school bus plus the promise of no covers at stops along the route.

AgainnSt.Patty1[1 Irish treats at gastropub AGAINN (courtesy AGAINN)

If looking for other options outside city limits, one of the area’s few Scottish establishments, Wheaton’s Royal Mile Pub, opens its doors for an all-day event at 10:30 a.m. (charging a $4 cover from 4 p.m. on), with an 8 p.m. performance by Paddy Goes West. At Arlington’s Potomac Yard, McGinty’s Public House hosts an all-day, free extravaganza with Carson and Chilli from Mix 107.3 broadcasting live from 3 to 7 p.m., Irish band Trad Routes playing from 5 to 9 p.m., performances throughout the day by The Boyle School of Irish Dance and a live concert from Radio Cumbo at 9:30 p.m.

Farragut Square’s BlackFinn becomes BlackFinnegan’s for the entire week and hosts a 9 a.m. Kegs & Eggs March 17, featuring an Irish menu, bagpipers and the chance to win a trip for two to Ireland. Just down the street at subterranean Bottom Line, folks enjoy specials like $4 Jameson and $4 Baby Guinness shooters. South of Dupont Circle, the “Shenanigans at Public Bar” event starts at 11 a.m. (free admission) with not-so-Irish treats like $3 Bud Lights (in green bottles though), $5 steak burgers and $5 Red Bull vodkas.

Bourbon in Adams Morgan does an “Irish Happy Hour” till 12 a.m. that includes $3 Smithwicks and $4 Guinness specials plus deals on an array of Irish whisky. Across the street from 9:30 Club, Duffy’s opens at noon, charges no cover till 3 p.m., has a DJ spinning Irish favorites all day and honors some great American St. Paddy’s traditions—green beer and green Jell-O shots.

But if, like me, you actually have to work during the day, head out for some evening eats and bevvies at New York Ave’s AGAINN, where the freestanding raw bar will be transformed into a Guinness station, pouring drafts ($5) of Guinness and Kilkenny Ale from 5 to 10 p.m. Patrons also find $5 Irish coffees and Irish Old Fashions topped with Jameson at the bar, while Chef Wesley Morton whips up dishes like corned beef and cabbage and Guinness-braised lamb shank.

Grafton Street
Dublin’s bustling Grafton Street
by Corinne Whiting

Lauded Irish Chef Cathal Armstrong, brings a little piece of home to his restaurants in Alexandria. For a splurge, head to his Restaurant Eve for a decadent, seven-course “Irish Feast” ($125), featuring traditional favorites like Dublin Bay prawn bisque, braised lamb with baby root vegetables and “Mac Black,” black mackerel with fried squid ink risotto and braised cuttle fish. To complement the meal, try one of Todd Thrasher’s concoctions like “Cold” Buttered Rum, made using Kerry Gold for the special day. For a more casual (and budget-friendly meal), visit the area’s one true “chipper” Eamonn’s. The cozy-chic spot serves tasty fish and chips (with an assortment of eclectic sauces), draft Guinness and Smithwicks and even imported candies to round off the authentic experience.

At Trummer’s on Main in Clifton, diners find a special menu ($27) in the bar and lounge that features classic potato soup, corned beef short-rib sandwiches with pickled cabbage, Irish cheddar on a sourdough roll and a dessert of toasted brioche, Jameson whisky, Guinness sherbet and warm Baileys.

If looking for a less raucous Celtic option tomorrow night (think: less drinking, more sitting), the cozy Barns at Wolf Trap hosts Scotland’s Battlefield Band at 8 p.m. The talented lads merge instruments like fiddles, whistles, pipes, banjos and bazoukis to create a contagious sound almost as melodious as their Scottish accents. Also tomorrow, Celtic Woman brings its “Songs from the Heart” tour to the Patriot Center.

In another nod to culture of the Emerald Isle, members of Irish arts organization Solas Nua present the 5th Annual Irish Book Day March 17 from 6 a.m. till 7 p.m. (or until books run out). Look out for Solas Nua at D.C. Metro stations and street corners, where they’ll be passing out free copies of books like “In the Woods” by Tana French and “Let the Great World Spin” by Colum McCann.

Whatever you choose to do this St. Patrick’s Day, pull out those Kelly green duds, be smart and stay safe (find sober ride info here), and find some great Paddy’s Day craic. After all, we’re all Irish on this holiday. Sláinte!

Irish dancersBlur of jigging Irish dancers by Corinne Whiting

Corinne has attempted to sate her wanderlust by living in Strasbourg, France, and Edinburgh, Scotland, and by embarking on extended jaunts to such far-flung spots as Australia and South America. But there’s something about her native Washington that keeps boomeranging her home between adventures. A writer, editor and photographer, she loves spreading the word on the lesser-known gems to be found in this vibrant, international capital. Check out some of her photos at as well as why she loves DC.

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