St. Patrick’s Day falls on Thursday, March 17, 2016, but the real celebration begins the previous Saturday, March 12, with the tradition of dyeing the river green. This free 9 a.m. event kicks off Chicago’s annual St. Patrick’s Day festivities, followed by the downtown St. Patrick’s Day Parade at noon. For those wanting to make Saturday an action-packed day, don your best green gear and head downtown for these two events.
You’ll want to arrive at Wacker Drive between Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive well before 9 a.m. to watch the dyeing take place. There’s always a large crowd, so get there early to secure an unimpeded view of the Chicago River. When you’ve had your fill of green water and Instagram-worthy photos, head south to Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park to grab a spot at the viewing stand for the annual parade (it’s free too!). Get ready for a seriously fun event, filled with bagpipes, leprechauns, Irish dancers, and even more green. Be sure to dress for the weather, because they march in rain or even snow – and you won’t want to miss the show.
If after the parade ends and you’re ready to imbibe, there is no shortage of bars and pub-crawls to choose from. Since Chicago is a large city with great Irish pubs and local bars throughout, it would be wrong to suggest that remaining downtown is your only option for a good time. But it is such a large city, so we’ll focus in on what you can do downtown and in the Wrigleyville area.
Instead of trying to find the perfect bar, consider joining an organized pub-crawl like the St. Paddy’s Day River Crawl, which runs from 8 a.m. to noon. This is a great way to celebrate the day with other partygoers while snagging discounts on booze and not having to worry about cover charges. Your ticket purchase includes free entry into seven bars in River North, and they’re all conveniently within walking distance of the Chicago River and each other. Drink specials are included, like $5 Jim Beam Apple and Jim Beam Kentucky Fire, as well as five $5 gift cards to spend during the pub-crawl. There will even be bagpipers and live music to boot!
The pub-crawl only goes until noon, so if you’re looking for another watering hole to visit afterward, head to Emmit’s Irish Pub in River West. Patrons rave about the friendly wait staff, fun atmosphere, and not-over-the-top Irish pub decor. This two-level, spacious spot also has a solid selection of draft Irish beer beyond standard Guinness. Expand your Irish beer horizons with the likes of Harp Lager, Smithwicks Ale, and Guinness Nitro IPA, as well as Magners Irish Cider on tap.
For those wanting to get an authentic meal in before partying like the Irish, head over to O’Shaughnessy’s Public House. In the spirit of the day, go for the full Irish breakfast, which is served until 4 p.m. If you miss the cutoff (or are squeamish at the thought of eating black and white puddings), O’Shaughnessy’s offers plenty of other meals from across the pond, like shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash, corned beef press sandwich, and traditional Irish curry. Wash it all down with a cold brew from their extensive beer menu. They plan to have food specials as well as $4 Paddy’s whiskey shots and $6 Harp, Guinness, and Smithwicks pints.
If you’d rather get your daydrinking on at multiple bars, join the Chicago Shamrock Crawl in Wrigleyville, which goes from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. For six hours, you can enjoy the vibe, the beer, and the people at more than 10 local bars. Ticketholders won’t have to pay a cover charge at participating bars and will receive discounts on alcohol, access to a breakfast buffet, a t-shirt, and loads of other freebies.
St. Patrick’s Day wouldn’t be complete without belting out a few Irish songs. Whether you choose to join in on traditional tracks, like “Danny Boy,” or contemporary songs, like "I’m Shipping Up to Boston," you should familiarize yourself with a few so you aren’t left in the dark when they come on at the bar.
No matter how you decide to spend your St. Patrick’s Saturday, be sure to cheers to the good health of those around you at the bar with a hearty Irish, “Sláinte!”