WINTER IS THE most extra of the seasons. Thanksgiving gives us license to stuff ourselves silly while simultaneously reflecting on the things we’re most grateful for. December is for gift giving (always a stressful endeavor) and end-of-year shenanigans (new year, same hangover!). January is fraught with the weight of resolutions — eat better, do better, be better. Valentine’s Day, which should just be an excuse to run around spreading love and affection (or at the very least to eat an absurd amount of heart-shaped chocolate), is nothing but needless pressure, whether you’re partnered up or riding solo.
It might sound counterintuitive, but St. Patrick’s Day is the celebration we all need to wrap up the interminable holiday season. No religion, no romance, no gut-busting meals, no awkward family interactions. And for a holiday that is identified with one specific culture and nationality, St. Patrick’s Day has become a shockingly universal reason to celebrate in our melting pot of a country. Chicago dyes the Chicago River (yes, the entire river) kelly green; New York, Boston, Savannah and a slew of other cities host epic, hours-long parades; street corners the country over teem with bagpipers blowing and squeezing out traditional Irish tunes; the Dropkick Murphys assault the eardrums of every bar-goer for a week on end; and even the most amateur drinkers chase shots of Jameson with pints of Guinness and shout “Erin go Bragh!” at the top of their lungs.
The March 17 celebration ostensibly dedicated to celebrating Irish culture has become synonymous with the binge-drinking of green beer, butchered Gaelic phrases, tacky shamrock décor and the vague notion that the holiday celebrates the Irish. (The irony of “celebrating” a culture by reducing its cultural value to blackout whiskey drinking and head-to-toe green is apparently lost on most of the public, but we’re not judging). However, the true heritage of one of the world’s booziest holidays is, like most of its Pagan-to-Christian holiday brethren, much darker than the cartoon leprechaun-narrated story we’ve been fed.
First of all, St. Patrick wasn’t Irish — he was Roman. Romano-British, to be precise, born sometime before 410 A.D. Known for the missionary work he practiced later in life, the young Patrick seems to have had a relatively charmed childhood — that is, until he was captured at the age of 15 by raiders and brought to Ireland as a slave. Once he’d been sold to his new master, Patrick spent the next half a decade or so herding livestock and discovering God, who reportedly sent Patrick a few messages through an angel, telling him to flee from his master and seek passage back to Britain on a ship. (Fun fact: According to the Saint Patrick Centre of Downpatrick, Ireland, where Patrick is said to have both begun his mission and been buried after his death on — spoiler alert! — March 17, Patrick was not immediately received by the trading ship he sought refuge on, due to his “refusal to swear faith and loyalty to the crew through the Irish tradition of ‘sugere mamellas,’ (meaning) the suckling of the crew’s nipples,” insisting instead on swearing allegiance to his new BFF, Jesus Christ.)
After eventually finding safe passage home on a ship, a 20-something Patrick honed his skills with the Latin Bible and wound up returning to Ireland as a Christian bishop, where he spent the remainder of his days baptizing Druids into the Christian faith, pacifying tribal Celtic kings by bringing them gifts and proselytizing to the masses like a dutiful instrument of God should. (The presence of sacramental wine at these sermons is dubious but I’ll choose to believe there’s at least a tradition of drinking buried somewhere in St. Patrick’s history, if only to justify my own consumption of a fair amount of said wine in his honor.)
In truth, there’s not a lot of concrete evidence regarding Patrick’s life; the man was less than prolific, penning only two surviving letters, both a bit Odyssey-like in their storytelling, so it’s no surprise that many myths regarding his life, and the origins for his namesake holiday, have sprung up in the centuries since. One of the more pervasive fallacies regarding St. Patrick’s Day is that it celebrates St. Patrick’s success in driving all the snakes from Ireland. As Ireland is, today, snake-free, this myth has grown fact-like roots; though all scholars agree that there were never any actual snakes in Ireland to begin with, some believe the snakes represent the Druid people, who Patrick metaphorically drove out by systematically converting as many as he could.
There’s also some foggy info on shamrocks as teaching tools (where the three leaves represent the three parts to the Holy Trinity) but, like most everything else surrounding the saint, the facts are seriously lacking. As for the whole leprechaun thing? While the magical creatures do hold a place in Irish lore, the majority of today’s cartoonish leprechaun iconography pulls more from offensive caricatures of the Irish people drawn during their mass emigration to the United States in the mid-1800s than on any authentic mythology.
So how did such a quaint bible study story evolve into the Bacchanal of a holiday that is our modern St. Patrick’s Day celebration? Well, it doesn’t hurt that, after the Roman Catholic church decided to make the holiday official back in the 17th century, they began the practice of allowing Irish Christians to break the punishing fasts required by Lent. Over time, this one-day reprieve from somber, sober meatlessness has evolved into a dedication to debauchery. Today, the holiday is celebrated for its mostly secular traditions; though many Christians do attend church on the morning of the 17th, St. Patrick’s Day has become a celebration shaped by parading, bar-crawling and feasting. (Though in the spirit of authenticity let it be known: corned beef? Not Irish in the least.)
Which brings us to Key West. If it’s true that Ireland’s patron saint is St. Patrick, then Key West’s is like St. Patrick’s less God-fearing little brother. We are an island that proudly celebrates each day as though it’s March 17 (to the delight of hundreds of thousands of tourists each year). Much like Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day in Key West is a bit anticlimactic; those of us who wear costumes more than four times a month can hardly be expected to get excited about doing so for a few lousy hours in the middle of March.
Nevertheless, our little island is home to a few Irish bars (or those willing to masquerade as such for the day) who are determined to celebrate St. Patrick for his more modern qualities: drinking, dining, dancing and roaming the streets in search of snakes to expel. It’s basi- cally an all-day party, and everyone’s invited. Expect drink specials, green twinkle lights, fiddle music blaring out from every storefront and a crowd of tipsy tourists warbling “Danny Boy.” You can make your way from one end of Duval to the other and enjoy the revelry as you go, but a few watering holes have gone the extra mile to make sure there’s at least a semblance of authentic Irishness in your holiday.
First up, a visit to the local Irish temple of whiskey, Shanna Key (1900 Flagler Ave.) is in order. The bar has lined up a series of live musical performances of Irish music — both traditional and deeply modern — from noon to midnight on Tuesday, March 17, including sets by The Punkabillys, a Celtic Irish folk bluegrass outfit that includes both bagpipe and tin whistle, Southernmost Magnolia and the Tony Baltimore Band. Attendees will be able to pair their Illen pipes (an Irish version of bagpipes) with a menu of corned beef and cabbage, shepherd’s pie, Guinness Irish stew, fish n’ chips, corned beef and swiss on rye, fries and gravy and potato leek soup. (In perfect form, when asked what else they’ve got in store for the holiday, a representative for the bar responded: “Couldn’t tell ya, most Paddy’s days end up in a blur when you’re Irish.”)
The Waterfront Brewery (201 William St.) will be hosting their St. Patrick’s Day Party on the Roof form 11 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. Drop by to check out the brewery’s innovative (and locally brewed!) craft beer options, including the Chocolate Milk Porter and the always refreshing Crazy Lady Honey Blonde Ale, and the fantastic views of the waterfront from their roof.
If you decide to head to Duval Street on Tuesday but want to take a slight detour, consider hitting the sixth annual St. Paddy’s Day Pub Stroll hosted by Tattoos & Scars Saloon (512 Greene St.). Beginning at 1 p.m., the bar stroll kicks off at Tattoos & Scars and proceeds down Greene Street to Duval, hitting Shots & Giggles, The Oriole, Retro Room, Irish Kevin’s, Willy T’s, Mary Ellen’s, 22 & Co., Cowboy Bill’s, Smokin’ Tuna and Tiki House (that makes 11 bars — pace yourselves, for the love of St. Pat). Tickets are $30 and include a drink at every. Single. Bar. Serious props to anyone who makes it to the last stop — I simultaneously salute your renal fortitude and do not envy your Wednesday morning hangover.
As one would expect, Irish Kevin’s (211 Duval St.) is the self-proclaimed “home of St. Patrick’s Day on Duval.” The (in)famous watering hole typically opens up at an already surprisingly early 10 a.m., but on the holiest of Irish holidays, patrons can start the festivities as early as 8 a.m. Live musicians will play all day, including Bradd Shadduck, Jeff Harris, Irish Kevin himselff, New York Pauly and The Jay and Jim Show. As the old adage goes, you can’t drink all day unless you start in the morning…
By far, the holiday’s main event in Key West is the annual St. Patrick’s Day Bar Stroll, which will celebrate its 42nd year this Saturday, March 14. The event began as an actual bar run, during which participants would sprint from one participating bar to another. Runners who had been banned from any of the bars were given special access for the run, hence the event’s original name: The St. Patrick’s Day Bar None Suds Run. According to founder Rick Dostal, the habit participants developed of “purging” their beers in the street in between race legs led to the event’s speed being downgraded to its current “stroll” classification.
It has since become a legendary local’s event, with commemorative T-shirts from previous years’ runs now considered much sought after collectors’ items. This year’s nine participating bars include Duval Street stalwart The Bull, which has participated since the event’s inaugural race, Southernmost Beach Café, Nine One Five, Aqua Bar & Nightclub, Cowboy Bill’s, General Horseplay, Lucy’s Retired Surfers Bar & Restaurant, Rick’s and Schooner Warf Bar, which serves as the final stop and official after-party for stroll participants.
With proceeds to benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Florida Keys and The Cancer Foundation of the Florida Keys, the stroll — which kicks off Saturday, March 14, at 11 a.m. at the Southernmost Beach Café — is the kind of quintessentially kooky Key West event that has somehow remained mercilessly uncommercialized
(well, apart from having to give up the running part) and is guaranteed to draw an enormous crowd. T-shirts and beer tickets are $30, and can be purchased at any of the nine participating bars, the full list of which can be found at www.stpatricksdaybarstroll.com.
We know Duval Street can sometimes feel like amateur hour, so we suggest you go pro at the St. Patty’s Day Pool Party at The Perry Hotel (7001 Shrimp Road) on Stock Island from 1-4 p.m. on March 17. Take a dip in the new harborfront Stock Island Marina Village pool, listen to live tunes by the Marshall Morlock Band, fill up on delicious BBQ from the newly opened Barrel House Brews & BBQ and play the afternoon away under the beautiful Stock Island sun.
And if the thought of simply strolling off the beer isn’t enough, Duval Street’s Irish Kevin’s bar (211 Duval St.) will host a Shamrock Shuffle 5K run/walk on Sunday, March 15, starting at 8 a.m. The race, entrance to which costs $25, will include a costume contest, finisher medals, five-year age group awards and the opportunity to preemptively run off Tuesday’s corned beef and Jameson shots. Packet pickup for the race is on Friday, March 13, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Lagerheads Beach Bar (0 Simonton St.) or between 7 and 7:45 a.m. at Irish Kevin’s the morning of the race.
Run (or drink) swiftly and may the luck o’ the Irish be with you (and your poor, poor liver). ¦