By Jonny Grave
Make no mistake, while St. Patrick is indeed the patron saint of Ireland, the celebration we call St. Patrick’s Day is a uniquely American phenomenon. The first St. Paddy’s Day parade actually happened in New York. Over the years though, the party escalated, and soon got out of control. Now, every year, the pub crawlers come spilling out into the streets. They’re decked out in green from head to toe, sporting plastic leprechaun-y bowlers, temporary tattoos of four-leafed clovers (not shamrocks, of course– that would be the correct thing to have) on their cheeks, and their t-shirts loudly proclaiming “KISS ME, I’M IRISH!” Sadly, these are the images we normally associate with St. Patrick’s Day in the United States. My name is Jonny Grave, and I’m here to help.
Best Bets for Bars on St. Patrick’s Day
If they serve green beer, you’re going to want to pass
Despite the number of craft cocktail bars, Asian-fusion restaurants, small plates joints, and cupcake shops the District has birthed in the past five years, there are still a good number of Irish-style public houses. Be warned that every bar in the District with the slightest trace of an Irish name will be crawling with people. That said, here are the bars I’d visit on the 17th, some being more Irish than others:
4 F St NW
Unfortunately, this bar is usually reserved for having a beer shortly before or after a train ride from Union Station. If you ever have the chance, this bar would be ideal for a gathering of ten of your friends. On St. Patrick’s Day, however, this bar will probably be the emerald jewel. Music, laughter, dancing, and a lot of beer.
Lost & Found
1240 9th St NW
Brian Leonard opened this bar just a few months ago, after about three years of trying to get proper permits and licensing from the city. The long wait paid off pretty successfully. Inside, you’ll find a spacious, but not cavernous, dark bar with some of the best craft beers on draft. Party Like It’s is playing all night long. If you’d like a bar that’s a little less covered in green, this one’s for you.
911 Ellsworth Dr, Silver Spring, MD 20910
The only non-D.C. bar on the list, and for a reason. This is a behemoth bar, and not even a decade into being open, it’s become a neighborhood fixture. Their trad session is one of the best in the area, and they serve what I believe to be a beautiful Irish breakfast. Again, St. Paddy’s Day will likely be a shit show, as it’s the only Irish bar in Silver Spring. If you can stand the crowd, though, it’s well worth it.
The Bottom Line
1716 I St NW
Unpretentious, and wonderful. Want to avoid loud crowds, obnoxious youngsters clamoring for shots, or an exceedingly loud and badly placed sound system? Great. Go here. No idea what they’re doing for the 17th. Probably nothing. I don’t think they’ve turned the calendar over in three years, and I like it that way.
3319 Connecticut Ave NW
Another neighborhood pub, which tends to go all-out on St. Paddy’s. Their menu is pared down to only a few items, and their tap lines are shut off, save for the Guinness, Harp, and Smithwick’s handles. The biggest attraction isn’t the beer, or the food, though. It’s the neighborhood, and the people. This is a locals bar, and they pride themselves on an aspect of community that takes decades to cultivate. I’m playing guitar from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m.
At Home, by the Hearth
Corned Beef and Cabbage Aren’t Irish, but Still Delicious
What’s that? You want to stay home for the holiday? Sounds perfectly fine. Why not invite some friends over, have some food and drink, share some music, and enjoy an evening in? Beyond just getting a good bottle of Irish whiskey (see below), here are some simple dishes you can make at home to assist in the merry-making:
Shredded potato, flour, buttermilk, butter, an egg, maybe some scallions, dropped into a hot cast-iron skillet, with a knob of butter… It’s a latke. No, really, that’s all it is. It’s just a latke. And it’s delicious. You should have one or six.
Lamb, root vegetables, maybe some potatoes. Slow cooked in a pot for about two hours. It’s amazing, and will definitely stick to your ribs. This is important if your day is to be spent drinking.
Minced beef and veggies, under a mashed potato “crust.” It’s delicious.
Ireland’s an island in the Atlantic, after all. That means tons of seafood, readily available, and for not a lot of cash, too. When making the sauce, drop in a bit of Irish whiskey for seasoning. It has a less acidic quality than the typical white wine reductions more commonly used with mussels.
Okay, honestly, this dead horse has been beaten enough, so I’ll make this brief: Corned beef and cabbage isn’t Irish. It’s Irish-American. The massive influx or Irish immigrants to the US in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries led to a lot of cross-over cuisine, or, as José Andres calls it, “fusion.” You have to remember that large numbers of Irish were sharing neighborhoods with large numbers of Jewish immigrants, and they all shared their cuisine. It was difficult for the Irish to get a hold of good back bacon for the traditional bacon and cabbage dish, but corned beef was cheap, available, and made a damned delicious substitute. They’re boiled in the same pot, and come out tasting fucking divine. It’s not Irish, and I don’t care.
Notes on Irish Whiskey
Bottles that aren’t from Bushmills or Jameson
Right out of the gate, let’s dispel a myth, shall we? Firstly, there’s a widely held belief in this country that Jameson is Catholic whiskey, and Bushmills is Protestant. Personally, I think this is as silly as saying Jim Beam is Baptist and Jack Daniels is Methodist. Geographically, this myth may have some merit, as the Bushmills distillery is located in County Antrim, Northern Ireland (Protestant Country), whereas the Jameson distillery is located in County Cork, Republic of Ireland (largely Catholic). Furthermore, the Bushmills distillery was set up in 1608 by King James I, which to some, take that as reinforcement to its ties to the English Crown. However, the current Bushmills Master Distiller (a real title), Colum Egan is Catholic. Also, it’s worth noting that John Jameson, the founder and namesake of the whiskey, purchased the Bow Street Distillery just after immigrating from Scotland– historically speaking, given the timeline of the reformation, this would make him almost undoubtedly a Protestant. Both companies are owned by large-scale conglomerates, neither of which have any religious affiliation.
With that said, I remind the readers that whiskey was devised primarily for drinking. So, here are a few whiskies I’ve had the pleasure of tasting, that I would recommend to anyone for any day of the year, not just St. Paddy’s:
Woody front, a very easy palate, citrus finish. A very “clean” whiskey, that leaves almost no finish. The upside to this is that it pairs remarkably well with beef or pork, and would be good on the rocks before and during dinner. The downside is that because there’s no lingering taste, you’ll quickly forget how it tastes, which will leave you going for more glasses than usual.
Sweet front, dried fruit finish. This one is best neat, and without food, not because it’s so delicious that it needs to stand alone to be tasted properly, but because it honestly can’t pair with anything. For those who love the taste of the unique, and quirky, this one’s for you.
Green, almost grassy front, spicy finish. An adventurous, new whiskey. Best on the rocks, or even with a splash of water. This is a whiskey that kept me warm through most of this past winter. If you can get your hands on a bottle, it’s well worth the price… and the hype.
Floral front, charred oak finish. Easily one of the best, one of the most inexpensive, and certainly one of the most difficult to find Irish single malts on the market. Try it neat, or on the rocks. Pairs nicely with light foods. Good for early springtime late-afternoon. Drink it in the sun, if you can.
Nutty and slight traces of bark on the front, sweet finish that lingers. Remember that redhead at the party a few weeks ago? No, not the one who was trying to find an outlet behind the couch to plug in an iPhone charger. No, I mean the one who laughed at all of your jokes, told you stories about traveling abroad in college, and gave you a kiss on the cheek goodnight? Yeah, that one. That’s what drinking Redbreast is like.
Don’t order this drink. It’s outright offensive, even if you’re blissfully unaware of Ireland’s bloody history. The Troubles, as they’re called, raged on for the better part of a century in Ireland. On July 21, 1972, the IRA carried out one of its bloodiest attacks with 22 car bombs. This set the Irish Republic’s agenda back several years, and allowed England’s law enforcement to crack down even harder on a largely helpless Irish population. At best, it’s culturally ignorant and offensive. I heard stories about an Irish bartender who, when asked to make a car bomb said, “Don’t serve those, but I’ll make you something similar.” And he proceeded to pour two shots of Everclear, and a half pint of Bud Lite. He lit the two shots on fire and said “there you go– it’s the twin towers.”
A Suitable Playlist for St. Patrick’s Day
Fuck Everything About Riverdance
Whether you decide to stay home, head out to the pub after work, or spend the whole day out and about, here are some tunes for your St. Patrick’s Day.Sláinte, dear hearts. May the road rise up to meet you.