We love St Patrick’s Day. We always have. It’s right up there with Christmas and Halloween as one of our favorite holidays.
Yes, we are Irish by heritage. Well, at least Tony is. His great-grandfather James Head emigrated from County Kerry in the 1800’s. And even if James was a bit of a scoundrel (drinking was his vice and gambling was his profession) he still managed to leave his descendants a legacy of love for all things Irish. Cheri is mostly Irish by choice rather than heredity, having fallen in love with the country and the people on a backpacking trip through the Emerald Isle after college.
St Paddy’s Day in the Irish Bars of San Francisco
We established our holiday traditions many years ago in San Francisco where a large Irish population joins with other hard drinking citizens each year on March 17 to wear the green and hoist a glass…or two…or twenty. There has never been a shortage of Irish bars in San Francisco, and we had several favorites when we lived there.
Harry Harrington’s Pub is a dive bar where lawyers and longshoreman rubbed shoulders (and sometimes exchanged punches) in riotous old school St Paddy’s Day gatherings; Pat O’Shea’s (sadly no longer in business, whose famous motto was “We Cheat Tourists and Drunks”) lined the bar with cups of beer and whiskey to be handed back through the packed, standing room only crowd; Ireland’s 32 featured pipers, step dancers and live performances of the classic rebel songs while the hat was passed for various Irish causes.
But our favorite St Paddy’s day destination was O’Reilly’s…owned by our old friend Myles O’Reilly who came to America to find fame and fortune. It was, and is, a classic Irish pub with good food and strong drinks and the finest St Paddy’s Day Party in town. In fact the celebration there became so popular that the local government finally just started closing the street in front of the bar to traffic so that revelers could sing, dance, drink and mingle on the boulevard.
Long ago we agreed we would never work on St Patrick’s Day. We took vacation days so that we could spend the holiday celebrating with friends and family. And each year would find us heading home at the end of the day full of beer and corned beef, covered in green beads and glitter, and with the sounds of “A Nation Once Again” ringing in our ears.
Finding Shamrocks South of the Border
When we left San Francisco for the sunny shores of Mexico’s Caribbean coast we were determined to hold onto our St. Patrick’s Day traditions. The only question was how. When we arrived here in Playa del Carmen, March 17 was just another day on the calendar. This or that bar might sell some Guinness or have 2×1 beers but nobody really celebrated “the wearing o’ the green” in the ways we were used to. We decided to change that. We wanted to show Playa how St Paddy’s should be celebrated.
And so it was that when we opened the Luna Blue Bar we held what we believe was the first real St Patrick’s Day celebration in town, and we have been holding them every year since.
What’s a “real” St Patrick’s Day Party?” you might ask. It’s loud, messy, fun and green. There’s corned beef sandwiches and plenty of beer. There’s Jameson’s Irish whiskey, Baileys and Guinness being served. There’s music…from live performers to recordings of Van Morrison, Christy Moore, the Chieftains, Flogging Molly and the Dropkick Murphys. There’s dancing on the floor…and on the bar. There are hugs and kisses and pretty girls stamping your cheek with shamrock stickers or draping beads around your neck. And there are toasts to the Irish…and on St Paddy’s Day the whole world is Irish.
Of course this being the tropics we added some new traditions to the mix…like giving free shots of tequila (or Irish whiskey) to any lady who shows up wearing a green bikini or thong…and like letting people float in the swimming pool among green balloons as they listen to the music and sip their beer (a St Patrick’s Day pool party…only in the Caribbean!). And there is another tradition surrounding St Patrick’s Day here in Mexico: Remembering the San Patricio Battalion.
The Story of the San Patricios
We first heard this story from San Francisco’s legendary bartender, Mike McCourt, who you may know as baby Michael in his brother Frank’s memoir, “Angela’s Ashes.” On a quiet San Francisco day just before we moved to Playa del Carmen we went to say goodbye to Mike. He smiled broadly when he heard the news. “Mexico you say? It’s a fine place where they treat an Irishman like the hero he is.” As he filled our glasses for a farewell drink he told us the story of the Irishmen who had fought and died defending Mexico.
It was in 1846 that young men fleeing the famine back home in Ireland arrived in America only to be shipped off to fight as conscripts in the war against Mexico. Many of the young soldiers saw the war as an unjust action against a poor, oppressed, Catholic population…not unlike the people they had left behind in Ireland. John Riley, a professional soldier and veteran of many battles, led about 200 Irish soldiers in crossing over to fight with the Mexicans in defending their homeland against the Yanks. The Mexicans called them “los San Patricios”… “the Saint Patricks.” Most of the Irish soldiers were killed in the war. Those who were captured by the US Army were executed as traitors, but here in Mexico they are still remembered as heroes. A plaque listing the two hundred names of members of the Battalion can be found in Mexico City where several times a year bagpipers play in memory of the young Irishmen who gave their lives for Mexico.
A few years ago the famous Irish band, the Chieftains, along with American singer/songwriter Ry Cooder invited some of Mexico’s finest musicians to join in creating a musical history of the San Patricios on CD. We will be playing some of that music here in the bar on St Paddy’s Day as we raise toasts to Ireland, to Mexico and to the heroes they share.
St Patrick’s Day at the Luna Blue Bar
This year the Luna Blue Bar’s Annual St Patrick’s Day Party will be on Saturday, March 17th. We will have some Guinness (in limited amounts), Irish whiskey and plenty of beer and tequila. We will also have corned beef sandwiches…with real corned beef. Trust us…it ain’t easy finding corned beef down here…but we did. There will be plenty of music: local favorite Mike Grabow (who does a great Playa styled version of the Dropkick Murphys’ song “Drink and Fight”) will be playing from 3-7; and the legendary unshod troubadour of the Caribbean coast, Barefoot O’Skinny, will play from 8-11. In between live sets our own favorite Irish music playlist will provide the tunes. As always, ladies in green bikinis and thongs will get free drinks. The pool will be open so wear/bring a swimsuit. We promise a day of fun and surprises.
Please join us if you can…and if you can’t make it, wherever you are be sure to raise your glass high on St Patrick’s Day and say “Slainte!”
Here are some photos of past years’ celebrations at the Luna Blue Bar Saint Patrick’s Day Party.
A green thong will get you a free shot of tequila at the Luna Blue Bar
Ireland meets Mexico in a south of the border St Paddy’s Day
Everybody in green
Our shot girl, Ginger O’Cutie, with a guest
Tony and a bagpiper
Irish Consulate Anthony Leeman came down from Cancun for the celebration. Here he poses with Tony and Ginger O’Cutie.
A typical Tony moment on St Paddy’s Day…surrounded by pretty girls
Nothing says St Paddy’s Day like funny hats
Our friend Rob Kinnon making the most of St Paddy’s Day
It’s always a party at the Luna Blue on St Paddy’s Day