When I first went to Ireland, I thought everyone was on drugs — over and over, I’d hear the phrase “I had great crack last night.” I expected the whiskey and Guinness, but I wasn’t expecting the crack. Turns out, it was “craic” they were after, which is Gaelic for “a good time.” And isn’t that what we’re all looking for come March 17, when much of the world turns Irish? It’s surprising how often percentages are mixed into conversation that day, as in “I’m like 33.789 percent Irish.” Back in New York, where I’m from a half-and-half family (Irish and Italian), St. Paddy’s is, well, kind of a big deal — inevitably, the parade is shrouded in some controversy, and at regular intervals all day long, inebriated party goers spill out onto the sidewalk from Irish pubs on practically every block. The bagpipes go till 4 a.m.
Here in Los Angeles, the parade is a little smaller, the pipes go only till 2, and you have to really dig to find the shamrock action. Even some Irish pubs don’t do much celebrating — at one, I was told, “We’re not doin’ nothin’ special; our doors are open, same old same old.” A lot of Angelenos blow their corned-beef-and-cabbage loads the week before St. Paddy’s, at the annual Irish Fair and Music Festival in Pomona. Maybe after a weekend of riverdancing and sheepherding competitions, there’s just no Danny Boy left. But if you like to celebrate your St. Pat’s on St. Pat’s, or didn’t make it to Pomona, then grab your bodhran, and use this guide to local green beer and, of course, great craic.
Rolling in Green
Sure, you can start your festivities watching the procession at the Los Angeles St. Patrick’s Day Parade — or you can catch a ride on the double-decker bus from Casey’s Bar & Grille, drink beer and snack, while gawkers gaze upon your Irishness. Back at the bar — on Saturday too — Casey’s is also celebrating with corned beef and cabbage, green beer, bagpipers, and Irish tchotchkes. The Bar & Grille has been around for more than 30 years, and it’s a helluva good-looking space. It has the slick feel of a movie set, with its brick stairs, tin ceilings and 60-foot mahogany bar — in fact, a bunch of movies were filmed here, including Good Night, and Good Luck. It’s like a modern New York City version of an Irish pub, though it was originally built in 1913 as a Turkish bathhouse. After various other incarnations, the space became Casey’s, and took off right away. It’s the hot spot for bankers and traders downtown, and come St. Patrick’s Day, home to many drunks of dubious Irish heritage looking for green beer. Casey’s Irish Bar & Grille, 613 S. Grand Ave. (downstairs), downtown, (213) 629-2353; double-decker bus, $50 per seat, includes beer and snacks. No cover to enter the bar. Los Angeles St. Patrick’s Day Parade starts Fri., March 16, at 11:30 a.m., at Main and Arcadia streets; for more details, see https://lafd.org/stpats.htm.
No doubt, Molly Malone’s is the first place in L.A. you think of when you hear the word “Irish.” The bar has been around for 32 years as a music venue and a great pub. The beer is never green here, not even on St. Pat’s. The Dublin pub décor of wood and Emerald Isle green feels authentic in a Temple Bar district sort of way, no leprechaun pot-o’-gold-ness here. Molly Malone’s started as a place to celebrate Irish singers and players, and the tradition of Irish drinking songs, but, along the way, expanded to allow all kinds of music. Well, not all kinds. Molly’s welcomes rock, but not heavy metal, rap, or, as the Web site explains, “anything too loud or heavy.” On St. Patrick’s Day, the celebration features bagpiper Thomas Allen and traditional Irish music from Sons & Daughters and Western Shore during the day, then the sounds move into Celtic-rock territory with Slugger O’Toole, the Mighty Regis, the Dirges and Suite 69. Molly Malone’s, 575 S. Fairfax Ave., L.A., (323) 935-1577. Cover $10. St. Patrick’s Day Irish music 12:30-5 p.m., Celtic rock 5:45-7:45 p.m.
One Night at McCool’s
Finn McCool’s is sure to be the hipster St. Patrick’s Day party, with Indie 103.1 broadcasting live from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. There will be music and Irish dancing, and the Celtic rock band La Rocca is set to play live. Located on Main Street, in that part of Santa Monica that really should be Venice, Finn McCool’s is filled with real Irish souls, from redheaded waiters to thick-brogued bartenders to the bar itself, which was shipped from Ireland to Santa Monica. Finn McCool’s is your local version of a Galway pub — it lacks the poshness of Dublin, it’s bright and cheery like a Western Shore alehouse, and there’s something a little Irish country about it. And then, of course, there is the same seaside salt in the air. This place would get my vote for best Guinness in L.A. Its Guinness stew ain’t bad either. Finn McCool’s, 2702 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 452-1734. Bands play 11 a.m.-3 p.m.; Irish musicians and dancers 3 p.m.-5 p.m. Cover $10 after 1 p.m.
A Decent Pint
O’Brien’s is a Westside Irish pub with a mixed crowd, 20- to 60-year-olds, and a low-key vibe. It’s the kind of space that reminds me of a real NYC neighborhood Irish bar, like a Westie hangout in Hell’s Kitchen. When I first moved to L.A., this is where our expat group went to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The pub, dimly lit and filled with old wood, looks as if it’s lasted through a Five Points brawl. Though the bar isn’t planning anything special for St. Patrick’s Day, you can get a decent pint, and if you’re an East Coaster, despite the lack of Erin Go fanfare, it feels like home anyway. Besides, more than 50 varieties of scotch make up for the lack of tin whistles. O’Brien’s, 2226 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 829-5303. Bar open until 1:30 a.m.; food served until 11 p.m. No cover.
The Main Event
The other O’Brien’s, O’Brien’s on Main, is a short walk from Finn McCool’s. Making a trek from one to the other would make a brief but fun pub crawl. O’Brien’s is a dive bar with dark-green walls and lots of wood. It feels well-worn, like a North Dublin bar. You can get your Irish on any day of the week here, with standup comedy, trivia contests, Guinness on tap, Irish lamb and other fare. On St. Patrick’s Day, O’Brien’s doesn’t screw around — there’s even a St. Paddy’s Eve party, featuring the Twylight Lords. On the actual holiday, there is a full lineup, with the Lads (Celtic rock, 1-4 p.m.), Irish singer Andy Woods (4-7 p.m.) and the hardest-working Irish band, Slugger O’Toole (9 p.m.), who appear here only a few hours after their show at Molly Malone’s. O’Brien’s on Main, 2941 Main St., Santa Monica, (310) 396-4725. On March 17, from 9:30 p.m. until closing, there is a $10 cover.
St. Elmo’s Fire
I like St. Nick’s Pub. Its dark wood walls, frat-boy/sorority crowd and beer-soaked floors remind me of my college days. So it’s fitting that St. Nick’s St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are spent pumping beer from a keg into red plastic cups. No doubt, everyone in here is still in college, but if you live in the neighborhood, you grow to love St. Nick’s, your friendly neighborhood St. Elmo’s fire. There’s no beer on tap, and the bar can run six deep, but sometimes you just want a little of those glory days and cheap green-beer goggles. St. Nick’s Pub, 8450 W. Third St., W. Hlywd., (323) 655-6917. Bar open 3 p.m.-2 a.m. No cover.