Ask anyone why they hate St. Patrick’s Day, and it almost always comes down to lines and crowds: Long lines outside pubs, waiting for the privilege of paying a $10 cover; elbow-to-elbow crowds at the bar, waiting to order a plastic cup full of Guinness (and then jostling you once you’ve finally got your drink in hand.)
Throw in a snowstorm that gave thousands of government workers and college students a free pass to spend the day pub-crawling and it could have been one of the busiest St. Patrick’s Days in recent memory. Except it wasn’t.
The Dubliner, celebrating its 40th St. Patrick’s Day on Capitol Hill, is usually one of the most crowded pubs in the city on March 17, with lines extending down F Street to hear live Irish musicians from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. But at noon Monday, only a few dozen people were present when Jimmy Rafferty and Paddy Halligan took the stage. There was some half-hearted clapping along to “The Wild Rover” in the main pub room, while the second bar – dubbed “The President’s Local” after President Obama dropped in for a St. Patrick’s Day pint in 2012 – was deserted enough that a troupe of Irish dancers could have Riverdanced through without disturbing patrons.
“The biggest day of the year and the federal government is shut down,” said the bar's disappointed Gavin Coleman, whose family founded the pub. He shrugged. “I hope it’s going to be a big 1-to-9 [p.m.] crowd, but after all the years in this business, I’ve learned not to worry about things you can’t control.”
Coleman walked through a side dining room, which had been repurposed with a small temporary bar to serve the pub’s overflow crowds. It had zero guests looking for a drink. Upstairs, a dining room had been set up for a group of 70 that has a standing reservation every St. Patrick’s Day. “They called this morning and changed it to 30 because of the snow,” Coleman said with a resigned tone.
It was because of the snow that Danny Johnson found himself at the Dubliner much earlier than he planned. Johnson, an OSHA inspector, had planned to meet a group of friends in Baltimore for a 7:30 a.m. St. Patrick’s Day breakfast, but he thought better of it after hearing traffic reports. Instead, the 52-year-old Capitol Hill resident put on some green beads and walked over to the Dubliner to meet friends. “I would have been here anyway,” he said between sips of a Guinness. “I’m always here on St. Patrick’s Day. I have been every year since I turned 18, which was 1979.”
Ireland's Four Provinces in Falls Church saw plenty of snow day action with a live band and excited patrons.
Things weren’t much better next door at Kelly’s Irish Times, where there was no cover charge. But there was plenty of room at the bar around 1 p.m. and the patio, which usually plays host to the pipes and drums of the D.C. Fire Department’s Emerald Society pipe band, was blanketed with snow.
There was a bit more atmosphere at Fado in Chinatown, where an arch of green balloons stretched over the front door and Irish sports played on TVs. The bar was busier, though not packed. Several tables sported signs saying they would eventually be moved for “crowd control,” but by 1:30 p.m. there wasn’t much crowd to control.
In the middle of the room was a large group determined to make the most of the holiday, snow or no. Bill Nicholson of Germantown had rounded up 13 friends – “ranging in age from 23 to 62” – for a pub crawl through Washington. Nicholson, 52, had created detailed itineraries for everyone, beginning with a departure from Shady Grove Metro Station at 9 a.m. and ending at Tommy Joe’s in Bethesda an indeterminate number of hours later. Fado was the crew’s third stop of the day. “Our goal is to have fun and meet people," said Gary Bechdolt, 59, a telecommunications engineer who’d driven from Morgantown, W. Va, for the day.
Despite their plans, the snow hadn’t put too much of a damper on the day. “We were supposed to take three other people with us, but they backed out at 7 a.m.,” said Missy Goode, 62, who described herself as “the senior member” of the team. “They had to shovel their driveways or something.” As she talked, one of the three missing participants arrived: Jennifer Peacock of Damascus, who’d had to shovel her car out and came straight to Fado. “You can’t miss it,” Goode joked. “It’s St. Patrick’s Day. It’s tradition.”
While most members of the group swore they’d gotten permission to take the day off in advance, today was a bonus for Christopher Flynn, a special education teacher at Gaithersburg High School. He had planned to use a vacation day to participate in the pub crawl, but thanks to the snow, “it’s a free day,” he said, adjusting his scarf and beads and getting ready to move on to the group’s next stop: Murphy’s Irish Pub in Woodley Park. After all, there were plenty of hours left in the day.