Over the last decade or two, the feast day of St. Patrick has been transformed from a mainly ethnic observance into a mass-marketed hybrid of Halloween and Mardi Gras. A celebration of Ireland and its patron saint now shares time with scattered celebrants donning colored wigs and costumes, while bars hand out green beers and beads under the echo of supposedly traditional hip-hop hymns like House of Pain’s “Jump Around.”
But in the proud Irish-American communities of Buffalo – a city that’s deemed having only one parade to honor its more than 150 years of Irish heritage both irreverent and inadequate – individuals whose St. Patrick’s Day season remains focused on the songs and solidarity of their ancestors still have plenty of places to congregate.
[See a photo gallery of major Irish bars featured during St. Patrick's Day]
Let’s start with the Buffalo Irish Center (245 Abbott Road), which will host meals, reels and performances by such local acts as Crikwater, Penny Whiskey and Kevin McCarthy while serving as the city’s holiday headquarters from March 13 to 17.
Buffalo’s pair of parades – the First Ward’s Old Neighborhood Parade at noon March 14 and downtown’s 75th annual edition up Delaware Avenue at 2 p.m. March 15 – both provide opportunities for revelers to enjoy pieces of the region’s Irish pride, whether via marching families in the First Ward or step-dancing troupes atop floats near City Hall.
And then there are Buffalo’s public houses. Plenty will play host to holiday events, but the following seven are options for those interested in an immersive day of culture and camaraderie necessary to keep their holy days devout – albeit with a few pints in hand.
2134 Seneca St.
There’s only one pub in the Queen City where you can sip imperial pints of Guinness under a glass-encased bodhran signed by the rebel-backing Wolfe Tones, and it’s the Blackthorn Restaurant and Pub, nestled in South Buffalo and ensconced in cultural loyalty all year long. The Seneca Street spot’s been a neighborhood dining and drinking staple for decades, as well as home base to the Blackthorns, a locally based fraternal organization of Irish Americans known both for their community enrichment and distinguished, top hat-accented parade attire. Their St. Patrick’s Day weekend includes a mandatory stop at the ’thorn, so why shouldn’t yours?
What’s scheduled: For their first holiday without their late fellow musician Tim Lalley, guitarist Bill LaRusch and drummer Ron Leisten will find room inside the cozy Blackthorn barroom to honor their friend and the holiday season at 5 p.m. March 14, 15 and 17.
Ask the band to play: “A Nation Once Again” by the Wolfe Tones
257 Franklin St.
Named after Thomas D’Arcy McGee – an Irish-Canadian politician and onetime Buffalo-based journalist who was assassinated in Ottawa in 1868 – downtown’s only quasi-authentic pub has operated as a welcoming spot for both native and visiting Irish (thanks to its Belfast-born bar manager Conor Hawkins) since opening 14 years ago. And though its most popular offerings stray from solely ethnic fare for the year’s other 51 weekends, they deal out the requisite dishes, drinks and Dublin pub atmosphere to make it a popular spot around St. Patrick’s Day – especially before, after and during Sunday’s nearby parade on Delaware Avenue.
What’s scheduled: Steady entertainment inside the bar, out on its covered patio and under its parking lot-pitched tent. County Clare’s Jerry Dixon (6 p.m.) on March 13; Rince na Tiarna dancers (12:30 p.m.), 1916 (2:30 p.m.) and Jack Mahones (5 p.m.) on March 15; and Dixon (noon), Rince na Tiarna (5 p.m.) and Strictly Hip’s Jeremy Hoyle with an all-Irish set list (7 p.m.) on March 17.
Ask the bartender/band to play: “Boys On The Docks” by Dropkick Murphys
5601 Main St., Williamsville
If you’re looking to toast St. Patrick inside Williamsville/Amherst lines, you’ll find no place more dedicated to the holiday season than the Irishman, which has been hosting live music and daily celebrations since the first Friday of March. This weekend, it will cram Jameson and Tullymore Dew Irish whiskey events inside its expanded traditional interiors – featuring hand-painted wall art for the Buffalo Fenians Gaelic Football Club and fictional Dublin fishmonger Molly Malone – and outside under heated tents.
What’s scheduled: Clann Na Cara Irish dancers (6 p.m.) and Mo Porter Band (9 p.m.) on March 14; Rince na Tiarna dancers and Joe Head (5 p.m.) on March 15; and music by Step in Time (12:30 to 5:30 p.m.) and Stone Row (6 to 10 p.m.) join another appearance by Rince na Tiarna (6 p.m.) March 17.
Ask the band to play: “Tim Finnegan’s Wake” by Tommy Makem
73 Hamburg St.
Home of the Old First Ward Brewing Company, but true to the neighborhood tavern legacy left by its late namesake, the Hamburg Street locale merely needs to open its doors to exist as a St. Patrick’s Day hotspot. With last weekend’s Shamrock Run crowd as its primer and Saturday’s Old Neighborhood Parade outside its front windows, it’s almost harder to avoid a visit to McCarthy’s then to casually slip in for a few pints of OFW’s H.O. Oats Oatmeal Stout, some potato bacon chowder and a sláinte over these next few days.
What’s scheduled: The annual McCarthy’s float in the Old Neighborhood Parade – with the Reardon and Garvey Band – noon March 14 (weather pending); Poor Ould Goat, 2 p.m. March 15; and traditional Irish favorites via jukebox or bartenders’ iPods.
Ask the bartender/band to play: “The Body Of An American” by the Pogues
248 Allen St.
Why is a bar named after a German philosopher and known for ear-splitting guitar licks listed as a must-visit on St. Patrick’s Day weekend? Because on Saturdays year-round, Allentown’s finest countercultural enclave also doubles as the city’s most surprising Irish pub. For more than 11 years, Nietzsche’s traditional sessions have been one of downtown’s best-kept secrets, hosting local musicians inside a carpeted barroom heavy on Gothic interiors – and light on Celtic imagery. But if you’re looking for the type of circling instrumentals and sing-alongs experienced in roadside pubs of County Clare, you’ll find what you’re looking for on Allen Street.
What’s scheduled: The bar’s weekly Irish session, 4 to 7:30 p.m. March 14.
Ask the session musicians to play: “Ferny Hill” by the Chieftains
2250 Niagara Falls Blvd., Tonawanda
Nowhere in Western New York is there more of a contrast between traffic-congested suburbia and traditional Irish hospitality than Tonawanda’s Shannon Pub, with its barroom’s brick-arched hearth and images of county countryside a welcome escape from the chain-store euphoria of Niagara Falls Boulevard. Customers can enjoy rounds of Murphy’s aside a wall of framed Irish songbooks while listening to acoustic classics off the pub’s raised and church-pew-accented landing. If you’ve never made the trek to the Shannon, make it this weekend.
What’s scheduled: Tom Callahan (1 to 5 p.m.) and the Dave North Trio (7:30 p.m.), March 14; Joe Head (noon to 3 p.m.) and the Dave North Trio (4:30 p.m.), March 15; and Joe Head (noon to 4 p.m.) and the Dave North Trio (5 p.m.), March 17.
Ask the band to play: “Whiskey In The Jar” by the Clancy Brothers
2056 South Park Ave.
The South Buffalo tavern has gained a reputation as an under-the-radar outpost for legendary local musicians like Geno McManus and Willie Schoellkopf. But when the green-hued holiday weekend arrives, Talty’s skews from its usual rock ’n’ roll fare to get knee-deep in Gaelic revelry. Not only is the bar the originators of the “World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade” – a one-block walk from its front door to the corner of Woodside Avenue and back – but its interiors will spend Friday to Tuesday transformed from its usual Celtic-accented corner bar décor into a corned beef-dealing and shamrock-festooned soundstage.
What’s scheduled: Talty’s “World’s Shortest St. Patrick’s Day Parade” (3 p.m.), Joe Head (4 p.m.) and Jim Shaw and the Sodbusters (9 p.m.) March 14; Jim Shaw and the Sodbusters with the Gordon Highlanders Pipe and Drum Band (5 p.m.) March 15; and Jim Shaw and the Sodbusters (5 p.m.) on March 17.
Ask the band to play: “The Wild Rover” by the Dubliners