Take on St Patrick’s Day in Chicago Like the Locals Do

Chicago does a lot right: hotdogs, nightlife, and deep-dish pizza, but what they do best is Saint Patrick’s day (celebrated the Saturday before the actual day).

On the shores on Lake Michigan, close to home, I’ve always thought of Chicago as a mini NYC. An already bustling city wakes up early to start drinking and see the river dyed green, all while waiting for the day’s big Downtown Irish parade, which has been going on over 50 years on South Columbus Street.

Going to college at OSU, I was just six hours from Chicago and was lucky enough to go with my Ohio State girlfriends to visit other friends who went to college in Chi-town. Somehow, every time we visited we started drinking at around 9 or 10 am, so of course St. Patty’s was like that on steroids.

st patricks day chicago tipsphoto credit

st patricks day tips chicago

11 Tips from Straight from the Locals

Anna and Evelyn, who I went on my Thailand adventures with lived in Chicago for five years. Evelyn even spent some time organizing bar crawls. I handed it over to these party girls to get the best tips for you to take on St Patrick’s day in Chicago like the locals do.

 1Avoid Wrigleyville. It’s going to be young college kids fighting, long lines for the bars, puking, and spilling cheap green beer on you. If that’s what you’re looking for (I actually thought of that as a successful night a few years ago) then by all means, go there! You’ll love it.

2. If you decide Wrigleyville’s bros are not for you, you could head off to Lincoln Avenue and drink with all the DePaul students, or if you want to get ever more “young adult” than that, Dowtown/River North will be older drunk people. Basically, everyone will be drunk. Your best bet is to pick ONE neighborhood and stick to it.

3. The girls also think you should stick to one or the other: day drinking or night drinking. If you try to do too much, they say you might end up doing nothing, or you end up wearing a red leather halter top and bringing home a guy almost a decade older then you and displacing your 7 friends who have come to visit and were staying in your room, or kissing an inappropriate person, or dancing on a bar in a raincoat and tennis outfit. “Moderation is key, and it’s up to the luck of the Irish if things end well”.

st patricks day chicago tips

4. The big party is on Saturday and it starts early. Very early! The bars open for breakfast. But if you want to stay in and pre-game, why not make your guests some themed Guiness, Whiskey, and Irish Crème cupcakes!

st patricks day chicago tips

5. Go somewhere that starts with “Mc”. McFaddens… McGees… believe it or not, even McDonalds will be packed, especially in Wrigleyville. Lots of PDA and chaos over there- but at least you can pick up a shamrock shake! Other than the Mc’s, the O’s have a lot to offer as well.

6. Other fun bars serving green beer, specialty cocktails, and sometimes live music are Timothy O’Tooles Pub, Fado, the Gage, and Celtic Crossings.

7. Take public transport. The el train is cheap and easy. Driving and parking would be complete madness, plus you’ll get to see all kinds of crazies sneaking booze on the el- “St. patty’s knows no age or type of Chicagoan. Everyone is in”.

8. Make sure to see the green river. Don’t let watching them dye the river bright green make or break your day though. It’s crowded and you really only need to go down there for about 10 minutes. It will start at 10:45 between Michigan Ave and Columbus Drive while the boat goes back and forth dumping 45 pounds of dye into the river. The parade will start around noon!

st patricks day chicago tipsphoto credit

*If you want to get fancy, make a booking to watch the dyeing of the river from the Trump Towers

9. Feel free to dress not just in green t-shirts, but in full-on costumes. Think Mardi Gras. Anything goes! It can be a bit chilly, so you could cover up with a jacket… or put on your green beer coat. Some years it’s still snowing in March, but as every midwestern girl learning in college, at least at OSU, it’s better to walk to the bar cold than have to carry a huge coat around a club.

10. Bars will offer specials, wristbands, or groups will offer bar crawls. Last year Evelyn worked on this St Patrick’s Day Bar Crawl and said although it wasn’t “all you can drink” there were specials that made it worth it if you’re going to drink A LOT. There are special bar crawl deals that are all you can drink or include breakfast, so do a little research before you book just one. With just a quick search I found Tap O’ The Morning which includes four bars in Lakeview and Lincoln park with drink specials as well as a full Irish breakfast for 30 bucks.

st patricks day tips chicagophoto credit 1, photo credit 2

st patricks day tips chicago

11. Why stick to only green beer? Mix it up with a special cocktail before you go out like this chocolatey whiskey one or this slushy mint whiskey one!

st patricks day chicago tips

12. There actually are two parades and the Southside Irish parade is “more authentic” with lots of real Irish people in traditional clothing, less drunk 18 year old guys puking green foam before they kiss a girl too pretty for them. You can head this way to meet some colorful but possibly rowdy characters (the show Shameless is set in the Southside).  If you’re on the Southside, take a second andd stop in at O’Rourke’s Office for a beer.

13. Try as hard as you can to get on this little wild cards St Patrick’s day level. You got to meet her when we toured through Eastern Europe together. Does she not seem out of control? Maybe I should mention it was 10 am.

st patricks day chicago tips

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17 Comments
  1. 5 months ago
    The Guy

    Hello Rachel,

    Happy St Patrick’s Day!

    Even though I’m half Irish myself I must admit that the Americans really get into the spirit of the event and celebrate in style. I’d heard of making the river green but never seen the picture of it before.

    Chicago looks like a great place to party and enjoy the craic.
    The Guy recently posted…Excuse Me, I’m British. Please Form A Queue

    Reply
    • 5 months ago
      Rachel Jones

      Chicago is my favorite place to celebrate. Strangely this weekend I’ll be celebrating Holi instead!

      Reply
  2. 5 months ago
    J in Beijing

    I was actually thinking the same as the The Guy above. I love how Chicago-ans (What do you call people from Chicago?) get so into the spirit of St Patrick’s Day. It’s is celebrated quite a lot in England too. But oddly enough, hardly anyone celebrates St David’s Day! I had always wondered how they dyed the river. So I guess they use.. dye!
    J in Beijing recently posted…Packing for Burma

    Reply
    • 5 months ago
      Rachel Jones

      You do call them Chicagoans! Is it bad I don’t even know who st david is!? lol They use eco-friendly dye but have really decreased the amount they use. when asked about if it’s safe or not the mayor said “only time will tell!” and shrugged it off. He said “there are bigger issues in chicago then dyeing the river”

      Reply
  3. 5 months ago
    Lisa Mae

    I’m about to write about how overrated St Patty’s Day is, but after reading this I’m starting to question myself! It all sounds way better in Chicago than I’ve experienced in the UK. It’s just another night out here.
    Lisa Mae recently posted…Irrational Dislike? Put it in the box of NO!

    Reply
    • 5 months ago
      Rachel Jones

      I think it is a huge deal in the states- even Savannah has a HUGE mardi gras size party!

      Reply
  4. 5 months ago
    Lisa

    I’ve never been to Chicago before but it looks like so much fun. Maybe next St Patricks day!
    Lisa recently posted…Big Plans Ahead…

    Reply
  5. 5 months ago
    Anna from The Blonde Banana

    I’d love to visit Chicago on St. Patrick’s Day! I’m from Boston and it’s definitely a VERY drunk scene with lots of fights at the parade. I used to go every year in high school and the beginning of college but now I’m over it. I’ll have to grab a friend who can handle their liquor and head off to Chicago next year!
    Anna from The Blonde Banana recently posted…Visiting Blarney Castle & Kissing the Blarney Stone in Ireland

    Reply
    • 5 months ago
      Rachel Jones

      I bet Boston is crazy. All I know of Boston is the crazy people on reality shows are all like “I’m reppin’ boston biaa” hahha

      Reply
  6. 5 months ago
    Aditi Giasotta

    Awesome post! I didn’t know you were from the Midwest also :) I am from South Bend, IN – only about an hour and a half drive from Chicago so I’ve been going there my whole life, worked there, and know the city like the back of my hand so everything in the post you mentioned is definitely accurate! haha. I was there this past weekend for St. Patty’s Day for the inaugural Women in Travel Summit and we had a 2 hour break to go see the parade and the river being dyed but it was so ridiculous. I was only out during that time for about an hour and a half! But of course it’s never a dull moment in Chicago!
    Aditi Giasotta recently posted…Women in Travel Summit

    Reply
    • 5 months ago
      Rachel Jones

      Oh wow, I’ll have to check out your post about the summit. Was that the one that Sally from Unbrave Girl spoke at? I thought that one was in NYC, so maybe I’m mixing the 2 up. Glad you liked my tips :) Shame you didn’t have more time to party there, but really I’m getting too old/lame for huge street parties.. I start asking if there’s anywhere I can sit down lol

      Reply
  7. 5 months ago
    Aditi Giasotta

    Yes definitely do when you get a chance! :) Actually this Women in Travel Summit is different than the one you mentioned. This one was the inaugural one which was super exciting in Chicago which was started by Beth Santos, the founder of Go Girl Travel Network! And they announced that next year’s summit will be in Boston in the spring, so hope you can attend next year! It was such an uplifting and positive experience, I am still feeling the energy from it! Hahhaa I feel ya! But we did our fair share of partying in the evenings til the wee hours of the mornings together after sessions, so it was all good! :P
    Aditi Giasotta recently posted…Women in Travel Summit

    Reply
  8. 5 months ago
    Erika

    Oh man, I was just in Chicago for all the festivities and this little guide would have been great! But it’s good confirmation that we did our weekend pretty well! Also, our hostel was in Wrigleyville and that was crazy! I wasn’t aware it was such a party-area but it was kind of fun to watch! :)
    Erika recently posted…St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago: The Green River

    Reply
    • 5 months ago
      Rachel Jones

      I bet that was fun! The first year I went to Wrigleyville as well. I was a soph in college though so it was like a party dream come true.

      Reply
  9. 5 months ago
    Glamourous Traveller

    I lived in Chicago for four years but never made it out to St. Patricks Day for the celebration. I was a poor and extremely nerdy college student who is now having severe regrets of having never seen the celebrations (and green river!) myself =(((
    Glamourous Traveller recently posted…Worried about being touched? Some different massages from around the world

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