I am not Irish. But I grew up in an Irish neighborhood, in an Irish city, wishing I was. For awhile, I suggested my last name was O’Shindler, in the hope that I would pass.
When I got out of college, I made a beeline for Dublin, where I spent many happy days (and nights) wandering from pub to pub, drinking Guinness and listening to old fellows (in Dublin, everyone seemed to be an old fellow) telling long tales about the old days and old ways. I never got tired of listening. I suspect in part it was the strong Dublin accent, which makes all stories sound profound and sententious, even apocryphal in their depth of meaning.
In New York, I would go to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and listen to the bagpipers play, as legions of policemen marched on by. In Chicago, I watched in wonder, as the Chicago River ran emerald green; no one worried much about the fish back then. In San Francisco, I ate green bagels with green corned beef on them. The green bagels were fine. The green corned beef was a bit concerning; meats really aren’t supposed to be green.
I drank too many Irish Coffees, still one of my favorite cocktails in the world, a joyous potion first introduced to America at the Buena Vista Bar in San Francisco.
And in Los Angeles…I head for a wide and wondrous assortment of pubs where the wearing of the green is required, where the air is filled with the sounds of Tommy Makem and the Clancy Brothers (“Rising of the Moon” is one of my favorite songs, has been since I first heard it performed, though a proper Danny Boy still brings a tear to my eye), and the assiduous bending of the elbow. Like Cinco de Mayo, St. Pat’s is fueled by strong liquids. Though less so in these enlightened times than they used to be.
I suppose you can spend St. Pat’s chewing on culinary clichés like corned beef & cabbage, Irish soda bread and Irish stew — as long as they’re washed down with a proper pint of Guinness, not too cold thank you, with an impressive creamy head floating above the Stygian darkness of the brew. But for me, after all these years of celebrating with an excess of excess, it’s struck me that the day is about companionship, camaraderie, that generously shared sense that for one day of the year, we’re all Irish.
A popular button reads, “Kiss Me I’m Irish.” But it could just as well read: “Kiss Me, I’m Irish Today.”
Where do I like to go to get my Irish on? Let me tell you….
8 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach, 310-372-5759; 313 Manhattan Beach Blvd., Manhattan Beach, 310-546-4813; 1712 S. Catalina Ave., Redondo Beach, 310-540-8443; www.hennesseystavern.com
With its many branches throughout the South Bay (and Southern California as well) Hennessey’s Tavern has long been the destination of choice for those who show up for a wearing of the green, and a proper celebration of the memory of the man who chased the snakes out of Ireland.
Depending on the location, expect St. Patrick’s Day openings not long after dawn — and a line to get in by mid-morning, if you earlier. Several of the branches have live music as well. But whatever the entertainment, the most entertaining thing about Hennessey’s are the crowd, who grow more rambunctious as the day goes along, reaching a fever pitch by evening — at which time, a saint is truly needed to forgive them their transgressions.
Patrick Molloy’s Sports Pub
50A Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach; 310-798-9762; www.patrickmolloys.com
Not surprisingly, the car-free section of Pier Avenue is ground zero for St. Paddy’s. And right at the center of it all is Patrick Molloy’s Sports Pub where the beer & bacon mac ’n’ cheese, Irish nachos, corned beef Reuben slider and the shepherd’s pie will be flying out of the overworked kitchen, and washed down with tankards of green beer. Kegs ’n’ Eggs are served early in the morning, for those in need of something to line the stomach, before a deep-drive into indulgence.
Paddy O’Brien’s Irish Pub
1517 Aviation Blvd., Redondo Beach; 310-372-4532
With as name like Paddy O’Brien’s Irish Pub, you really have no choice but to run hog-wild come St. Pat’s. And based on past years, that wildness will be barely restrained, if at all.
Despite being several blocks from the beach, the beach vibe is everywhere at Paddy’s — which means loose and madcap, on the verge of rolling right over the top of propriety and sanity. To hold the overflow, and there’s much of it, they tent the parking lot, fill the air with the pungent aroma of corned beef & cabbage, and even put Jameson Whiskey in their drink-dispensing holsters, which can definitely leave you singing “Whiskey You’re the Devil”…over and over again.
There are bagpipes too, played by actual bagpipers, who remind us with every blaring note that the bagpipe was originally a weapon of war, meant to terrify the enemy. It still terrifies to this day. I’ll drink to that!
154 International Boardwalk, Redondo Beach; 310-376-9951; www.najasplace.com
Naja’s Place isn’t specifically an Irish pub. But what the heck — it sits on the harbor, and has a beer list that runs to 88 taps, served under the motto, “Fear No Beer.” There’s food too, but the kabobs — and very good they are, too — tend to pale in the face of all those brews.
This is where leprechauns go to chill out after a day of too much green. And yes, there’s Guinness on the list. It’s #85.
3600 Highland Ave., Manhattan Beach, 310-545-8811; 52 Pier Ave., Hermosa Beach, 310-318-0004; www.sharkeez.net
If you grow frustrated trying to join the festivities at the Pier Avenue or the Highland Avenue branches of Hennessey’s, you might send a member of your party to stand on line at Baja Sharkeez, which in both cases sits adjacent, and in both cases is a fair competitor for the title of most manic destination for St. Patrick’s.
The menu is, of course, Mexican. But what the heck? The beer is cold, the music is loud, the celebration is full-throated. And with any luck, after a beer or three, and some nachos, your scout will be able to get you into Hennessey’s, making for a celebration that happily moves from country to country.
St. Patrick’s Day Parade
And if you can’t bear the idea of a St. Patrick’s Day without a St. Patrick’s Day Parade, it will commence on Saturday, March 16, the day before the day, at 11 a.m., following a seven-block route along Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach. The parade begins at City Hall on Valley Drive, and heads for Hermosa Avenue and 10th Street. Expect marching bands, bagpipers from the Emerald Society, and a crowd that runs to about 20,000 locals. New York may have the biggest parade. But Hermosa does us proud.
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Send him email at email@example.com.