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St. Patrick's Day tales from Irish pubs around NYC

Any New Yorker headed to a pub on St. Patrick’s Day expects some rowdy behavior from the Guinness-imbibing, green-clad masses gathered there.

So when we reached out to traditional Irish bars around the city, asking longtime owners and managers about the craziest things that have happened at their establishments on March 17 through the years, we were expecting stories of mischief and debauchery.

Instead, we were regaled with tales of literary breakfast parties, burly firemen playing bagpipes on bar counters and a Vietnam vet with dance moves and old-school style.

May they give you the same warm, glowing feeling as a few pints of beer and the lilt of Irish laughter:

An Irish dance troupe and Freddie, the dapper bachelor, at Irish Haven Bar

When owner Matt Hogan reflects on all the
Photo Credit: Endrit Selimaj

When owner Matt Hogan reflects on all the things that have happened at one of the last Irish bars remaining in Sunset Park on St. Patrick's Day (since he and his partners, Mike and Maureen Collins, took over eight years ago), it's an impromptu Irish dance performance that first surfaces as the most memorable.

"We had a packed bar and a troupe of Irish step dancers arrived unannounced," Hogan recalls.

The team of teenage girls and their assistant coach -- arriving in full costume from what Hogan assumes was a competition -- cued up a couple of ceili songs on the jukebox and put on a five-minute show in the pub's backroom. "They lined up and danced in a circle and they put their arms across each other shoulders like a kickline... People were cheering and it was pretty amazing," says Hogan, 42, of the squad trained by the Donny Golden School of Irish Dance in Brooklyn.

But it's one individual dancer that the Bay Ridge resident will be thinking of this Saturday: a handsomely dressed, lifelong bachelor and Irish-born Vietnam veteran named Festus "Freddie" Cohill.

"Freddie passed away on October 13, but he was our guy, and St. Patrick's Day was his holiday," says Hogan, who started an Instagram account for his friend of 15 years in 2017.

On March 17, Cohill would typically arrive at Irish Haven dressed to the nines in a tweed blazer, white dress shirt, tie and shined shoes. A "ladies' man" and a "flirt," as Hogan described him, Freddie loved partner dancing with any young woman who'd agree to it. His signature move: stopping short, taking off his patchwork hat and placing it on his partner's head.

"This is our first year without him," Hogan notes, but patrons can still expect a DJ in the evening, an authentic representation of the neighborhood's Irish, Hispanic and Chinese communities in attendance, a few familiar political faces and hundreds of pounds of complimentary corned beef, potatoes and cabbage.

A Yeats party and a Jewish banjo player at Coogan’s

For a 15-year stretch ending in 2005, Coogan's
Photo Credit: Ivan Pereira

For a 15-year stretch ending in 2005, Coogan's co-owner Peter Walsh showed up to work every St. Patrick's Day at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. He needed time to prepare for the annual holiday breakfast party, hosted at the Washington Heights mainstay by a cardiologist with an expertise in Irish poetry. The price of admission to Dr. Michael Cohen's fete? Only the recitation of a William Butler Yeats poem.

"That was my favorite way to start St. Paddy's Day," says Walsh, 71, of the tradition.

"In an Irish Catholic-owned bar in a Dominican neighborhood next door to Harlem, when a Jewish doctor has a party that you have to recite from a Protestant poet, I think that's really American on the march."

The notable charm of St. Patrick's Day festivities at Coogan's is its diversity, according to Walsh, who runs the 32-year-old bar with co-owners Dave Hunt and Tess O'Connor McDade.

"I think what's really great about our St. Paddy's Day here is, as a child of Irish immigrants, I'm celebrating with Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, African-Americans... who completely get into it, everything from the Irish music to wearing the green hats," says Walsh, 71.

Speaking of Irish music -- that's another unique Coogan's tradition.

"The same band has been playing for us for 25 years, and it's Larry Siegal, my favorite Jewish banjo player, who does all the Irish music. On that day, he's Larry O'Siegal," Walsh says, joking. "People look at him and go, 'Oh man, that guy really knows all the Irish songs. Where's he from? And I go, 'County Tel Aviv.'"

Randy the leprechaun and rival firehouse bagpipe bands at McFadden's

Things tend to get
Photo Credit: Hollie Steffensen

Things tend to get "wild" at McFadden's Saloon in midtown east on St. Patrick's Day, general manager Hal Hood tells us: "It's kind of like our Super Bowl."

That makes the pub's mascot a little person who arrives every year in "full leprechaun gear" -- a green jacket and knickers, with naturally, a pot of gold.

"His name is Randy, Randy the leprechaun," Hood explains. The association began with a mutual acquaintance, "but now he just shows up every year dressed in his leprechaun attire," Hood continues.

McFadden's keeps him well watered, catering to his simple tastes for Coors Light and Jameson.

But Randy isn't the bar's only regular visitor on St. Paddy's. Bagpipe bands from two different firehouses typically stop by to play 10-minute sets for the holiday revelers.

Their stage: the bar counter itself. "We put 35 burly bagpipers on the bar," says Hood, 36, who's been managing the pub for the past five years. "It becomes a very crowded spectacle, but it's awesome."

Still, by late evening, patrons aren't paying much attention to anything but each other, Hood reports.

"There's a lot of making out [among strangers] on St. Paddy's day once it hits 9 or 10. I think we see more romance on St. Paddy's Day than Valentine's Day."


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