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The Travel Blog

Chicago Saint Patrick’s Day – Green Beer and Green River

Image Title: Dyeing the River Green in Chicago [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Dyeing the River Green in Chicago [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: The Shannon Rovers Bagpipers ON THE BAR at Emmit's Irish Pub in Chicago. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
The Shannon Rovers Bagpipers ON THE BAR at Emmit's Irish Pub in Chicago. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Saint Patrick's Day Brunch at the Dearborn.  Hash & Eggs with Bloody Mary/Beer Back. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Saint Patrick's Day Brunch at the Dearborn. Hash & Eggs with Bloody Mary/Beer Back. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Sunset on Chicago from Lake Michigan. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Sunset on Chicago from Lake Michigan. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Chicago Skyline from Navy Pier. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Chicago Skyline from Navy Pier. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Skyline Shadows from The Signature Lounge on the 95th Floor of Hancock Tower. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Skyline Shadows from The Signature Lounge on the 95th Floor of Hancock Tower. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

Image Title: Authentic Chicago Neighborhood Irish Bar, the Shamrock Club. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]
Authentic Chicago Neighborhood Irish Bar, the Shamrock Club. [Photo: Open Door Travelers]

It’s Thursday March 15th, 2018 at 8:00pm.  We are having a few pints in Emmit’s Irish Pub.  There are Bagpipers from Chicago’s Famous Shannon Rovers – ON THE BAR.  It’s going to be a looong weekend. We have come to Chicago to see the dyeing of the river and to check out Chicago’s Saint Patrick’s Day Party. 

We found a three bedroom contemporary apartment on the 26th floor of a new high-rise building in the West Loop district for $350.00 per night  It was a cool apartment and our Airbnb Super Hosts, Michelle & Marc, really were Super. Chicago is an easy city to get around with plenty of Taxis and active Uber and Lyft services serving the downtown area as well as the clean and easy Chicago Transit Authority infamous “L” elevated train system.  And, Chicago has  A LOT to offer tourists besides a drunken pub crawl on Saint Patrick’s Day. From our apartment we walked to Lou Malnati’s for famous Chicago deep dish pizza which was fabulous. The next morning was spent exploring the L, touring Millennium Park, and enjoying the remarkable Art Institute of Chicago which is full of important works from 19th century Impressionists to Early 21st century Modern artists. Walking back to our apartment before dinner, it would have been rude not to stop for a pint at the Shamrock Club, one of Chicago’s most authentic neighborhood Irish Bars. We had booked dinner reservations for Friday night into the hottest culinary ticket in Chicago, the Girl & the Goat. This restaurant books up 2 to 3 months in advance for weekends and you will understand why if you are lucky enough to get a table.

Saint Patrick’s Day arrived with a dusting of snow, so we layered up and headed out to the watch the dyeing of the river.  Dyeing the Chicago River Green is a spectacle everyone should experience at least once in their lives. At 9:00am on Saint Patrick’s Day, with 400,000 people lining the streets and bridges and buildings along the river, the Plumber’s Union Local 130 begins spreading the orange, vegetable based powder that turns green when mixed with water. The actual dye is said to be, “A proprietary, environmentally friendly compound,” but the actual chemical formula is a carefully guarded secret.  Whatever it is, it definitely works.  With one boat spreading the powder and a few chase boats motoring up and down to churn and mix, it takes about 45 minutes to complete the transformation.  This year, the river was still bright green at sunset, but was back to normal the next morning.  The best place to see this spectacle is from the east side of the bridge at Michigan Avenue, or on Upper and Lower Wacker Drive between Columbus and Lake Shore Drives, but remember you will be there with 400,000 of your new BFF’s so go a little bit early.

The - infamous - Saint Patrick’s Day pub crawls in Chicago are a morning affair, starting at 8:00am and going through the early afternoon. This kind of means you have to choose the River and Parade OR a Pub Crawl. We made a rookie mistake of expecting to do the River and Parade in the morning and Pub Crawl in the evening. Fortunately we were able to recover by booking a Sunset Cruise that had a well-stocked bar and plenty of shamrock-clad partiers to make up for missing the proper Pub Crawl. There are plenty of opportunities for self-guided pub tours, but with 400,000 people with the same idea, it might be best to pay a few shekels for an organized event to get into several pubs.  You can be sure every bar in Chicago is Irish on Saint Patrick’s Day and the flow of green beer matches the flow of the green river.

After nearly freezing while watching the river turn green, we ducked into the Dearborn for a traditional Chicago Breakfast of Hash & Eggs with a Bloody Mary/Beer Back. Delicious! After breakfast , ok - brunch, it was time to find our reserved seats for the Parade that had been booked through the Eventbrite Website. Reserved seats were a score. In addition to being able to sit down for the three hour parade, they came with designated porta-potties (again, you are there with 400,000 friends). The Parade had over 150 entries which included every state and local current and aspiring politician; Fire Trucks; Police Officers; Beauty Queens; Bagpipe Bands; High-School Bands from all over the country; Irish Families like the O’Connors, the Callahans, the Mahoneys, and the O’ Sheas, including one with a public marriage proposal; and lots of Union Locals like Plumbers, Bricklayers, Pipefitters, Electricians, Stack Testers, and Garbage Haulers. Interestingly, there were no floats and no giant balloon figures. All-in-all, the Parade was nice, but we have to give the nod to Dublin with a more entertaining Parade. After lunch at a Crab House on Navy Pier, Saint Patrick’s Day was rounded out with the Sunset (Booze) Cruise mentioned above and then capped off with green Jello shots at Paddy O’Fegan’s Irish Bar across the street from our Airbnb apartment.

One of the great things about Airbnb is you can sleep off a decent hangover and cook your own Sunday morning breakfast at a civilized hour. Following said home cooked Sunday morning hangover breakfast, ok – brunch again, we spent the afternoon at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History. Sue the famous Tyrannosaurus Rex was being moved to her own permanent exhibit so we missed her, but we were able to see very well curated exhibits of other dinosaurs and a cool 3D movie about Egyptian Mummies. After a full day of Natural History, it was time for a famous Chicago Dog at Portillo’s. To be brutally honest, Portillo’s was more tourist gimmick than legit hype. To drown our sorrows, we walked down the Magnificent Mile to have cocktails in the Signature Lounge on the 95th floor of Hancock Tower.  The 360 degree views at sunset were stunning and the cocktails were top shelf.

So that’s our Chicago Saint Patrick’s Day long weekend story. All-in we spent about $2,000 per couple before airfare for 5 days/4 nights, great meals, quality attractions, and all the green beer we could stand at a final count of 13 bars for the weekend. Since we’ve started our Travel Blog, we have had a running joke about every village in the world having a Church and an Irish Bar and Chicago is no exception. We have found Irish bars in every town and village we have visited in Italy, Spain, France, Croatia and Slovenia.  We even had nice Irish Stew at the Irish bar in the Faroe Islands and have had a pint of Guinness at an Irish bar in Puerto Natales, Chile. In talking to other people at the parade, some people travel around the world to compare Saint Patrick’s Day parties. If this is a thing, we’re in.

So - where do you suggest we go next year and do you want to come with us?

 

Phil & Diane

[Disclosure: No goods or services were exchanged for feature in this article.]