I’ve lived in both Ireland and Chicago, and though I’ve celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, I gotta say: St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago is in its own league. After all, the Irish don’t dye the River Liffey green.
While many may use the holiday to do a wee bit too much drinking, there’s plenty of fun to be had without overdoing it, or without drinking at all. Chicago celebrates this holiday the weekend before the feast of St. Patrick (March 17), so here are some ideas for how to participate in one of the best traditions of the city without making it all about green beer.
You gotta see the green river.
The Chicago River cuts right through the heart of the city, and you may never see another sight quite like its entire flow turned bright green. On Saturday morning, the local plumbers’ union cruises the rivers in boats that array a secret sauce (presumed to be a green vegetable dye) up and down the river in the morning. With the city streets, bridges, and riverwalk wrapped tightly around the water, you can get a great view of the green water and snap some fun photos and videos from plenty of great spots.
You can also enjoy the sights and sounds of downtown Chicago before, during, and after the St. Patrick’s Day parade. It starts at 12:45 p.m., and heads down Columbus Avenue along Grant Park. That puts you close to the lakefront, so if the weather cooperates, you could take a breezy stroll along Lake Michigan, on Navy Pier, or around the parks.
For folks who are a big fan of parades, the South Side Irish Parade steps off the next day! Check it out on Sunday, March 13, starting at noon from 103rd and Western.
Check out a big Catholic party.
The fine folks at Old St. Pat’s — a historic and aptly named Catholic parish just west of downtown — are throwing a big party. You can enjoy Irish drinks there if you want to, but the Shamrock’n the Block will also offer tasty pub fare, live entertainment, and activities for kids and families. Different packages are available so you can choose your own adventure, and donations can be made to support the kinship missions of the parish community.
Our Grotto Chicago community will be meeting up at this party, so come to connect with our team and some new friends — find our table and we’ll share some fun swag!
Visit the Irish-American Heritage Center.
An enjoyable destination at any time during the year, this community does it up special for St. Patrick’s Day. Their holiday fest is another great spot for Irish drinks and food, but particularly for the Irish dance and music.
Visiting the center is a great way to check out their exhibits and events calendar and make a note of reasons to come back!
Enjoy an Irish pub meal.
For my money, there is no better Irish pub in the city than the Galway Arms on Clark St. in Lincoln Park. From the menu to the look and feel of the tables and rooms, this spot brings you a little slice of Ireland. If you’re craving a legit soundtrack for your meal, this is where you’ll find a proper slate of Irish music, with great live performances regularly.
If you’re downtown, consider popping into Lizzie McNeill’s for a bite — it’s where my wife and I celebrated our engagement after I popped the question on the riverwalk! Or, settle into the pub atmosphere at Timothy O’Toole’s.
Visit an authentic Irish shop for fun items and food.
There are some great spots to gather up authentic Irish items, from woolen clothes and cabby hats to imported foods and drinks (including properly prepared Irish sausages):
- Southwest: Winston’s Market, Tinley Park
- West: The Irish Shop, Oak Park (near the Oak Park Green Line station)
- Northwest: The Irish Boutique, Long Grove
- In the city: Celtica Gifts, Montrose Ave (near the Montrose Brown Line station)
With a little thoughtful shopping, you can skip the crowds and lines and invite a few friends over to enjoy your Irish sundries. March in Chicago means it won’t be a stretch to imagine yourself cozied up to a peat fire under a thatched roof on the Irish coast. Throw together a shepherd’s pie casserole (mix 1 lb. browned ground beef with 1 can of peas and carrots, cover with 2-3 mashed potatoes, bake at 350º for 30 min), or some corned beef and cabbage in your Instant Pot. Then snuggle under a wooly blanket to watch an Irish movie.