Before we get started with what's happening on Saint Patrick's big day, here's a word of advice: SoberRide. Between 4 p.m. March 17 and 4 a.m. March 18, you can get a free ride home if you dial 1-800-200-TAXI.
Now, on with the show. Even if you're not Irish, there's a good chance you're heading out to one of the area's pubs. Some tips: No matter which bar you're going to, arrive early. Lines can grow unmanageable by happy hour, and you may wind up waiting outside for some time. (You may want to make backup plans to meet friends at a non-Irish bar nearby.) Make sure you have enough money, as paying with plastic can slow the bar down, and some bars go cash-only for the day. If you need to sit down (especially for medical reasons), call ahead -- a number of bars on this list are removing most, if not all, of their seats to make room for more patrons. Finally, never, ever drink the green beer.
51st State -- The guys at the 51st State must be ecstatic that George Washington isn't playing until Friday. Can you imagine how busy the Foggy Bottom pub would be if it was a destination for students and St. Patrick's Day revelers? This isn't an Irish pub in the strictest sense of the phrase, but given the collection of Guinness posters and Irish memorabilia on the walls, who cares? Between basketball on all the flat-screen televisions and a beer garden on the patio, 51st State has all the bases covered, but giveaways throughout the day include framed posters, gift certificates and round-trip plane tickets to Dublin. (You need not be present to win those.) In short: Take the $5 imperial pints of Guinness. Pass on the green beer. The $1 "Shamrock Shooters" are a judgment call.
The Dubliner -- The Dubliner is always packed on St. Patrick's Day, so the pub -- located in the Phoenix Park Hotel -- takes over adjoining ballroom and upstairs banquet rooms to more than double its usual capacity, and adds an ourdoor beer tent to accomodate the overflow. The pub opens at 10 a.m., and the music starts soon after, with three bands rotating between two stages. The Dubliner is popular with the Hill crowd, and lines frequently stretch down the block after 5 p.m.; you may face a wait of a half-hour or more. There's a $10 cover.
Fado -- The pub opens for breakfast at 8 Thursday, but the crowds really pick up around lunch, when everyone tries to squeeze through the doors for a celebratory Guinness. In the evening, expect long lines and crowds; though the $10 cover may keep some people from bothering. If it seems like too much hassle, get an early start celebrating on Wednesday with Celtic rockers and all-around party band Scythian, who trade their usual Thursday night slot for Fado's annual pre-St. Patrick's Day party.
Finn Mac Cool's -- The Irish pub on Barracks Row is open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with live music for most of the day. The Flying Cows of Ventry perform traditional Irish music from 11 to 4. They're followed by Wolf Creek Session. Celtic party band Scythian takes over from 9 to close. There's a $10 cover. To keep customers happy, five small satellite bars will be set up over two floors (in addition to the two large, well-stocked bars). If the weather cooperates, the sidewalk patio will be open.
Flanagan's -- Tables and chairs start coming out of this subterranean Bethesda pub around 6, after the lunch and afternoon crowds have been taken care of. Flanagan's opens at 9 a.m., and Kevin James, Conor Malone and the O'Bonegan Brothers provide the music. Expect to pay a $5 cover in the evening, probably after 6.
Ireland's Four Courts -- The Four Courts celebrates its birthday St. Patrick's week -- the pub turns nine this year -- so the 17th is always a big party. A tent is set up in the parking lot behind the pub to hold all the revelers, but the owners are putting three satellite bars throughout the two main bar and dining rooms. Live music begins at 11 a.m., when the pub opens, and goes until last call. Food will be available until 3. After that, there's a $10 cover charge.
Ireland's Four Provinces (Washington) -- St. Patrick's Day at the 4Ps reminds me of one of those David Spade credit card commercials: Tables and chairs? No. Can I start a tab? No. Can I pay with my Visa? No. Can I get some hot food? No. (Hope you like cold corned beef sandwiches.) The bar will still be packed to the gills with people who've paid $10 for the privilege. Celtic band Atlantic Bridge performs all day.
Ireland's Four Provinces (Falls Church) -- If you'd like to eat while you party, check out the Four Provinces. The pub is offering six seatings throughout the day: Lunch at 11, 1 and 3, and dinner at 5 and 9. (The 7 p.m. seating is sold out.) A heated tent over the patio provides more room for revelers. Justin Murphy is the featured performer; without a meal, there's a $10 cover.
The Irish Channel -- "We got very full last year," says owner Garry Stack, explaining why the Irish Channel will have tents outside on St. Patrick's Day. He also found people were asking for dishes that weren't on the "limited" menu, so this year's dinner selection is larger. There's no cover charge, and the live music starts around 4, featuring Brendan's Voyage, an Irish band familiar to regulars at the Dubliner and other local pubs.
The Irish Times -- Lines of college-age patrons stretch out the doors every St. Patrick's Day, as Washington's self-proclaimed oldest Irish bar celebrates another year of pouring pints. Doors open at 10 with a limited lunch menu of Irish dishes. There's no outdoor space, as at the neighboring Dubliner, so four satellite beer stations will be set up in the corners of the room to help speed pints to thirsty patrons. Longtime favorite Pete Papageorge performs acoustic music upstairs, while DJs spin dance music downstairs. There's a $10 cover, beginning in the afternoon.
Kate's Irish Pub -- It's not as famous as some of the pubs downtown, but Kate's offers a full lineup of traditional music on St. Patrick's Day, including Cara (11:30-4), John Longbottom (4:30-8:30) and Dave Berry (9-12:30). Doors open at 10:30, and Irish food is served all day. Expect to pay $5 after 3.
Mackey's Public House (Crystal City) -- One of the few "traditional" Irish bars to offer drink specials on St. Patrick's Day, Mackey's is pouring discounted Killian's and Miller Lite pints, and no, the latter will not be green. The band Small Town performs from 5 to 9, followed by a DJ.
Mackey's Public House (Washington) -- The always crowded Mackey's opens at 11 a.m., with six large televisions (including two 54-inch screens) showing March Madness for downtown workers taking a long lunch. There's live music from 5 to 9, followed by DJs spinning dance music. If you arrive after 4, you'll pay a $5 cover.
McFadden's Restaurant and Saloon -- Catering to folks who don't work ho-hum 9-to-5 jobs, McFadden's is opening its doors at 8 a.m. and serving $1 Budweiser and Bud Light drafts until 11. That begins a daylong series of "beat the clock" specials, with pints of Bud costing $2 at 11 and $3 after 2. Miller Lite becomes the featured beer at 5, costing $1 per glass; it goes to $2 at 8, and $3 after 11. Purists will find Guinness pints and Jameson's drinks are $5 all day, and a special Irish menu is available. McFadden's will attract a young, college-age crowd; dancing on the bar is optional.
Molly Malone's -- Clarendon's newest pub marks its first St. Patrick's Day with live music from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Lunch is served until 2, with cold, pre-made sandwiches available afterward. Tables will be moved to provide more room, but there are benches along the walls if you need to take a seat. There's a $10 cover charge.
Murphy's Grand Irish Pub (Alexandria) -- The venerable Old Town pub opens at 9 a.m. and the "Irish Lunch" -- complete with a live harpist -- begins at 9:30. There's traditional music from Double Down and Pat Carroll beginning at 11 and lasting until close, with no cover. Even better news: There's no cover charge this year, and a limited menu will be available. Consider yourselves warned: A manager tells us patrons "take the day off, and they start getting in line by late morning
Get here as early as you can."
Murphy's Grand Irish Pub (Woodley Park) -- Looking much nicer after a renovation, the smaller branch of Murphy's will be serving Irish specialties all day, beginning at 10, and offering -- get this -- drink specials and door prizes. Live music begins at noon, and there's a $5 cover after 4.
Nanny O'Brien's -- There will be live music from noon to 1 a.m. at Nanny O'Brien's on St. Patrick's Day, ranging from traditional duets to guys with acoustic guitars singing U2; Brian Gaffney and Conor Malone are the featured acts. Doors open at 10, and there's a $10 cover. The kitchen's closed, but cold sandwiches will be available.
Ned Devine's -- Both the Herndon and Fairfax branches of this Aussie-Irish pub are celebrating with traditional and contemporary Irish music. In Herndon, the Glengarry Boys take the stage at 5. At the same time, Fairfax welcomes 2U, a cover band whose repertoire consists of -- what else? -- U2 songs. Then the bands swap venues and perform from 10 p.m. until close. No matter which location you hit, there's a $15 cover.
O'Faolain's -- The focus is on food and music, with special menus at lunch (11:30 or 1:30, $20 per person) and dinner (5:30 or 6, $40 per person), and music from 11 to close. Don Cobert plays until 3, followed by Colin McMenamin (4 to 8) and 40 Thieves (9 to close). If you're not dining, the bar and darts area will be open, but there's a $10 cover charge after 3 p.m.
Old Brogue Irish Pub -- The Great Falls saloon -- celebrating its 25th St. Patrick's Day this year -- already has a fine traditional pub and a cozy "snug" room, but an outdoor tent is being added for the day. (While the tent opens at 9, the indoor sections of the pub open at 10.) Live music begins at lunch with the Sarah Croker Trio; $30 covers food, two beverages and entertainment, with seatings at 10 and 12:30. Ted Garber performs in the pub from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m., and the Flying Cows of Ventry occupy the snug from 7 to midnight. There's a $10 cover.
Ri-Ra -- Bethesda's newest Irish bar -- okay, the one that's not Flanagan's -- offers a full day of live music, starting with traditional piper Lewis McElroy 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., followed by singer Justin Sheehy (2 to 6) and then local Irish band Schizophonic from 7 to close. Try to make it for happy hour, though; Irish dancers perform at 6. If you'd rather not risk the crowds, there's a traditional Irish jam session from 7 to 10 Wednesday night, with $3.50 pints of Smithwicks ale and $4 Bailey's & Irish Mist drinks.
Sine -- There's no band at Sine this year -- "it's so loud you can't hear anything," a manager tells us -- but that means there's no cover, either. Instead, the Pentagon Row pub offers its regular menu at lunch and an all-you-can-eat Irish buffet from 2 to close -- think Guinness stew, corned beef and cabbage, bangers and assorted pies. It's $10. Arrive on the early side if you want a seat in the nonsmoking section.