Last week, I had the chance to celebrate my favorite holiday in a brand new city. As my most recent post said, I hold Saint Patrick’s Day to a higher regard than most. I see the magic in the holiday and respect the importance it has had in my life. Saint Patrick’s Day gives me an excuse to celebrate my favorite culture without anyone else blinking an eye. For the last four years, I have had truly memorable Saint Patrick’s Days and this year kept the tradition going.
I started off the day on the North Side of Chicago. A college friend was kind enough to let me crash on her couch while I was in the city. If you have friends or family living in a city you want to visit, see if they’re willing to let you stay with them. Couch-surfing gives you the opportunity to catch up with loved ones and also gives you the opportunity to see the city you’re visiting through the eyes of a native. Avoid the tourist traps by asking your family or friend what they like most about their home. It’ll give you a chance to see what makes a city special outside of the things you’ll find listed on your standard top 10 lists.
Knowing Chicago’s affiliation with Saint Patrick’s Day, I knew I had to see the river dyed green. My friend is also a Saint Louis native and this was her first Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago, so she was game to check out the festivities as well. We hopped on the Red Line around 8:00 a.m. so that we would make it into the city in time for the river dying at 9:00. Little did we know that we had picked the perfect time and train car for Saint Patrick’s Day.
It was a quiet ride for the first couple of stops. This wasn’t a big surprise seeing as my friend lives pretty far down the Red Line. Suddenly, at a stop often calm and unassuming, a massive group of burly bearded men boarded our car. Maybe it was the luck of the Irish or maybe it was just a happy coincidence. Either way, we were suddenly surrounded by the biggest party I’ve ever experienced at 8:30 a.m. The men quickly turned the car into their own party bus, decorating the overhead poles with lime green, Kelly green, white, and orange streamers. They even handed out Jello shots among themselves.
The standard silence you often find on public transport evaporated when these men entered the car. There was instant joy and excitement. It only got better when we hit a slightly off-kilter bit of track, which turned our overcrowded car into a brief amusement ride. The men only added to it by making whoops of joy every time we tilted far to the left or right. This was when we made our first five-minute friend of the day.
A guy sitting beside me leaned over and in a lightheartedly, albeit twisted, manner said, “This would be the day the L fell off the tracks.”
“The headline would read, ‘Party Car Leads to St. Patrick’s Day Massacre’.” I quipped. He started talking about specific stops on the line and I gave a nervous smile, turning to my friend for help. The two of them shared a few lines that only people who live in Chicago would really appreciate and, before we knew it, we were in the heart of Downtown.
I highly suggest adding the dying of the Chicago River to your bucket list if you can. It’s a quick tradition, but it’s definitely worth seeing. If you don’t want to do it for the novelty of the event, do it for the people watching. Some people take their Saint Patrick’s Day costumes very seriously in Chicago.
An honorable mention goes to a woman who made herself looked like the end of a leprechaun’s rainbow. She was in all black outside of her rainbow stripped tights. She even decked out the rims of her boots with plastic gold coins so that they looked like pots of gold. The true costume MVP has to go to Reptar, hands down. Nothing says, “I’m here to party” more than a neon green 90’s reference.
We watched the boats go around the river a couple times, then decided to grab a drink. The two of us had decided that the parade was a no-go, both knowing parades are kind of the worst. Plus, we were behind in the drinking department. According to my friend’s co-workers, a good chunk of Chicago’s 21 and up crowd start drinking at 7:00 a.m.
Our first bar of choice was Downtown at the Elephant and Castle. The deciding factor? There wasn’t an insane line at the door. We got in at just the right time, giving us easy access to the bar while also feeling like we were still a part of the celebration going on outside.
While there, we tried Goose Island’s Green Line Pale Ale. It’s a local specialty that went nationwide in 2016. It was the first time my friend or I had ever tried it and we were both pleasantly surprised. It was a hoppier beer than I expected, but I liked it all the same.
After a few pints and some good conversation at the Elephant and Castle, we headed to our next must-see destination of the day. Both of us had read online that a local bar had transformed into Paddy’s Pub from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and this was the last weekend it was open. Neither one of us wanted to miss out. The bar didn’t open until noon, but do to our personal excitement, we got there around 11:30 a.m. We diverted our plans and headed to the closest Irish bar we could find: Vaughan’s Pub.
Our stop at Vaughan’s was brief, but memorable. This pub was a place I fell in love with almost instantly. The overall atmosphere was cozy and welcoming. The food looked delicious and they even had the England vs. Ireland Rugby game playing on the television. I had hoped I would see a few minutes of the game, but had doubted it would happen. Thanks to Vaughan’s, that little Saint Patrick’s Day wish came true. It felt right that I drank my only Guinness of the day while there.
Replay/ Paddy’s Pub was next. Replay, on an average day, is an arcade bar filled with dozens of pinball machines. The bar was busy but had a relaxed vibe, even with it being Saint Patrick’s Day. This was probably because we got there within the first thirty minutes of the place opening. Our “Always Sunny” loving hearts wanted to get there as soon as we could and the bar did not disappoint.
From the iconic Paddy’s sign to the German Shepard paintings, Replay had taken every detail into consideration. Half of the TVs in the bar were playing old Philadelphia Eagles games while the other half played reruns of the show. Then, of course, there were the drinks. As a beer/ whiskey drinker, I rarely order specialty drinks, but I am a sucker for themed anything. I had to try some of the beverages the bar created. I had two: the Rum Ham and the Fight Milk, with each drink costing $11. I can’t say I would spend $22 on two average-sized drinks again anytime soon, but they were pretty tasty. The Fight Milk was my favorite. It was essentially a large White Russian mixed with a little bit of cold brew (no crows required).
We made our next five-minute friend while chilling at Replay. It had been a while since either my friend or I had played pinball and we decided to give it a shot while we enjoyed our drinks and surroundings. We started looking for change when another player stopped us. He let us know the pinball machines don’t cost anything and that all we had to do was press start. We thanked him and then passed our new found knowledge on to the next unknowing pinball player we ran into.
At this point, it was time for food. Chicago is a gyro town, so we decided to make it our mission to find some gyros and fries. I have to be honest here– I have no idea where we stopped. We had complete tunnel-vision on our quest for food. I can say, from personal experience, that the best food comes from the least expected places– typically hole-in-the-wall places like the one we found. The next time you go somewhere new, try and find a mom and pop shop. You’ll be surprised by what kind of great (and often affordable) grub you’ll find that way.
Our final location of the day was The Kerryman. This was the only bar we had to wait in line for and the only bar that had a cover (three out of four ain’t bad, I guess). This was also where we made more five-minute friends– unsurprisingly in line. Two guys and a girl were chatting in front of us when the girl casually invited us into the conversation. Come to find out, the girl was also a Saint Louis transplant. One of the guys was visiting from San Francisco while the other lived in Chicago. I bonded with Mr. Chicago briefly when we both found out we worked in the publishing industry (I proofread as a day job). It’s amazing what you can learn about people while you’re all stuck in a line together.
The Kerryman turned out to be a hybrid of Vaughan’s Pub and a dance club. It was two stories and really kept the 90’s and early 2000’s music coming. Seeing as our day had started off with Reptar, the day really had gone full-circle. This bar felt like the right location to try green beer for the very first time. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but green beer is an Irish American tradition and it’s time I accept it, albeit begrudgingly.
Chicago is one of the top Saint Patrick’s Day destinations for a reason. In more ways than one, this day was perfect. I can’t thank the city of Chicago or the people I met enough for making it so memorable. Until next time, Chi Town (and let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later).
Do you want to hear about how I ended up spending an unexpected extra day in Chicago? Check out the blog Thursday, March 29.