Forget mashed potatoes and watery boiled cabbage — Irish cuisine has gone upscale this March with mouthwatering menus featuring Gaelic steak with cream sauce, corned-beef arancini with whole-grain mustard sauce, and succulent Atlantic salmon. If that’s not enough to make you raise a glass of cheer, restaurants across the country are hosting a slew of musical acts, Irish trivia nights, and even sexy kilt contests for a sham-rocking time feting the Emerald Isle’s patron saint. Check out these seven not-to-be-missed St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
O’Lunney’s Times Square Pub, New York, New York
St. Patrick’s Day at O’Lunney’s isn’t just about dinner; it’s about dinner and a show — with a full Irish breakfast to boot. The festivities start at 8AM, and the entertainment kicks off with Irish step dancers and bagpipers streaming through a jolly crowd enjoying the greatest amount of corned beef and cabbage that will be ordered all year. But besides the traditional, they like to add specials, such as a Gaelic steak topped with a whiskey cream sauce served with potatoes, potato and leek soup with bacon, onion soup, and a slew of Irish coffees, says Maureen O’Lunney, whose father Hugh opened the restaurant after moving to New York from County Cavan in 1968. “It’s just packed and so much fun,” she says. “St. Patrick’s Day here has a mighty history.” That included an annual visit from former NYC Mayor Ed Koch every March 17. Make a reservation at O’Lunney’s Times Square Pub.
Fado Irish Pub, Seattle, Washington
With Seattle’s longest-running Irish tune session held every Sunday, Fado always has a bit of the ceoil agus craic (music and fun), but during March, it’s celebrated in spades. Featuring a full musical lineup on parade day on the 12th and also on the 17th, Fado encourages guests to “Paddy Hard,” starting in the morning with special brunch menus, and heartier fare like Guinness & cheddar bread and chicken and shrimp boxty, an Irish pancake made with grated and mashed potatoes. Those needing a time-out from the revelry can take a breather in “the confessional”; this special space in each of Fado’s 13 locations nationwide is dedicated to the father of owner Kieran McGill, whose dad owned The Confessional pub back in Dublin. Make a reservation at Fado Irish Pub.
Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro, Chicago, Illinois
Surely, Ireland’s patron saint deserves more than just one day, especially in a city so spirited as to dye the Chicago River green. For a full 17 days, Mrs. Murphy & Sons puts an upscale spin on such classic county fare as shepherd’s pie with ground domestic lamb and veal, carrots, leeks, pearl onions, and golden brown mashed potatoes, beer-battered Atlantic cod with homemade tartar sauce, curry ketchup, and hand cut chips, Guinness stew with braised Highland chuck, root vegetables, roasted barley, and mashed potatoes, and bread pudding featuring brioche, whiskey caramel sauce, cinnamon cream, and toasted walnuts. If the full schedule of Irish music isn’t enough to evoke the Emerald Isle, surely the surroundings — a painstakingly restored historic space with a bar built in Dublin and shipped across the pond — will. Make a reservation at Mrs. Murphy & Sons Irish Bistro.
James Joyce Irish Pub and Restaurant, Baltimore, Maryland
Though literary scholars know James Joyce is more about reflection than revelry, anything but the opposite is true in Harbor East, where James Joyce Pub has helped revitalize the Baltimore landscape. March is the merriest of months, with music and special events nearly every night of the week, including burger day on Mondays with an Irish black pudding or Guinness burger and Whiskey Wednesdays. Those not ready to join the Guinness 100 Pint Club can get their fix with chef Pedro Flores’s award-winning Beer & Guinness Stew (crowned the best at the Maryland Irish Festival); or dig into Irish boiled bacon with crispy roasted potatoes, carrots, and whiskey mustard cream, bangers and mash, fish and chips, and for those watching their waistlines, grilled Atlantic salmon. Make a reservation at James Joyce Pub.
Muldoon’s Irish Pub, Newport Beach, California
The excitement around St. Patrick’s Day is akin to that of Christmas for Marissa Armstrong, whose parents built Muldoon’s 42 years ago with an outdoor courtyard pub and an indoor Dublin dining room boasting a fireplace that makes this family business even more homey. Mom Sindi Schwartz is the executive chef and serves pub favorites like Bushmills whiskey wings, the Celtic Combo Burger topped with corned beef, Dubliner cheese, and braised cabbage on grilled rye, and Thursday-Saturday specials like potato pancakes and pot roast. The annual Muldoon’s St. Patrick’s Day party kicks off early with music and breakfast, and it goes all through the night, although dinner and lunch can be ordered starting at 9AM. Armstrong’s favorite event is the Sexiest Kilt Contest, though, held during brunch the Sunday prior to the holiday. Make a reservation at Muldoon’s Irish Pub.
Ireland’s Four Courts, Arlington, Virginia
Every Guinness fan knows it’s not only about the taste, it’s about technique, and Four Courts patrons can hone their pouring skills with some tips from the pros during a special pairing dinner on the 15th, the cherry on top of a week’s worth of events that include a road race, parade, Irish trivia night, and the holiday itself. The menu features Maryland crab cakes with chipotle tarter and Guinness Nitro, French-cut pork chops with caramelized apples and onion demi glace with Harp Lager, and a warm chocolate brownie with Irish brown bread ice cream and a traditional pint. Make a reservation at Ireland’s Four Courts.
Brownstone, Boston, Massachusetts
With the country’s largest population of those identifying themselves as Irish and one of the biggest St. Patrick’s Day parades in the U.S., it’s no surprise that 10 Boston restaurants belonging to the Irish Connection kick it up a notch — or two. Brownstone, in historic Back Bay, keeps it upscale with arancini filled with corned beef and colcannon, a traditional mixture of potatoes, cabbage, onion and bacon, served with whole-grain mustard Gruyere Mornay sauce. Nearby Clerys takes the traditional Irish boiled-dinner elements of corned beef, cabbage, and potatoes, and puts a spin on it for egg rolls served with rose sauce; and whiskey connoisseurs can find their happy place at the Black Rose, with up to 40 brands on the shelf, including several limited-edition bottles, at all times. The Rose starts blooming at 8AM on the 17th, with live music, breakfast, and personally engraved Guinness pint glasses for the first 100 people. Make a reservation at Brownstone.
Carley Thornell is a travel writer whose experiences eating street food in Japan, English peas in the UK, free-range steak in Argentina, and Brussels sprouts at Estragon tapas in her hometown of Boston have provided unforgettable culinary inspiration. Shout out at firstname.lastname@example.org.