IS IT SERIOUSLY MARCH? ALREADY? It feels like just yesterday I was simultaneously opening Christmas presents, tossing confetti at midnight on New Year’s Eve and going HAM on a heart-shaped box of chocolates (a box is absolutely a serving size; I won’t hear any different). So what better way to take a break from the endless holiday season than with … yet more festivities?
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 while shouting “Erin go Bragh!” at the top of their lungs.
But 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, he 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 crews’ 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. 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.
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 snake-free today, 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.
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, it 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 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 day shaped by parading, bar-crawling and shameless feasting (though in the spirit of authenticity, let it be known that corned beef is 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 more 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.
That said, St. Patrick’s Day itself is basically an all-day party to which everyone is invited. Expect drink specials, green twinkle lights, fiddle music blaring from ev- ery storefront and tipsy tourists warbling “Danny Boy” as they bob and weave down the sidewalk.
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 their festivities.
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 on Sunday, March 17, including a set by Tony Baltimore, Chris Guastelle, Hiram Garzaro and Henry Lysy Jr. Attendees will be able to pair their music 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.”) On the other side of town, the local sailors’ waterfront hangout Schooner Warf Bar (202 William St.) has lined up a live music set of its own, headlined by Charlie Raggs & His Lucky Charms. The restaurant will feature Irish-themed food and drink specials as well. With an abundance of open-air seating and its unpretentious atmosphere, Schooner Warf could be your best bet for getting off Duval Street without leaving the St. Patrick’s Day party altogether. Costumes are, of course, wholeheartedly encouraged.
Next door, The Waterfront Brewery (201 William St.) will hosts its annual St. Patrick’s Day Party on the Roof. Drop by to check out the brewery’s innovative (and locally brewed) craft beer options, including the always refreshing Crazy Lady Honey Blonde Ale, and the fantastic views of the waterfront.
If you decide to head to Duval Street on Sunday but want to take a slight detour, consider hitting the fifth annual St. Paddy’s Day Pub Stroll at 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 Street, hitting Shots & Giggles, The Oriole, Sandbar, The Green Room, Tiki House, General Horseplay, Mary Ellen’s, Willy T’s, Cowboy Bill’s and 801 Bourbon (that makes 11 bars — pace yourselves, for the love of St. Pat). Tickets (which run a mere $30) 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 Sunday morning hangover.
By far, the holiday’s main event in Key West is the St. Patrick’s Day Bar Stroll, which celebrates its 41st year with an 11 a.m. kickoff Saturday, March 16. It began as an actual bar run during which participants would sprint from one participating bar to another; those 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 speed of the event being downgraded to the “stroll” classification. It has since become a legendary locals’ event, with commemorative T-shirts from previous years’ runs now considered much-sought-after collectors’ items.
This year’s participating bars include Duval Street Stalwart the Bull, which has participated since the inaugural race, Aqua Bar & Nightclub and the aforementioned Schooner Warf Bar, which serves as the final stop and official afterparty 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 starts at the Southernmost Beach Café — is the kind of quintessentially kooky Key West event that has somehow remained mercilessly uncommercialized and is guaranteed to draw an enormous crowd.
T-shirts and beer tickets for $30 can be purchased at any of the 10 participating bars (find the full list at www.stpatricksdaybarstroll.com).
And if the thought of simply strolling off the beer isn’t enough, Irish Kevin’s (211 Duval St.) hosts a Shamrock Shuffle 5K run/walk starting at 8 a.m. Sunday, March 17. Registration for $25 includes a costume contest, finisher medals and the opportunity to run off the previous afternoon’s corned beef and Jameson shots. Packet pickup for the race is 4-6 p.m. Friday, March 15, at Lagerheads Beach Bar (0 Simonton St.) or 7-7:45 a.m. on race day at Irish Kevin’s. ¦