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Putting on St. Pat's

Meet the Chicagoans who keep your St. Patrick's Day weekend party going

By Kate Bernot, @redeyeeatdrink

RedEye

12:00 AM CDT, March 13, 2014

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South Side Irish Parade

Irish or not, you're likely going out this weekend (possibly drenched in shamrock gear and green glitter). St. Patrick's Day partying is an annual tradition for most, but three young Chicagoans have a front-and-center view of the festivities. As a musician, a bartender and a parade queen, they're just a few of the people who help the city celebrate—to say nothing of the cabbies, CTA conductors and police officers who keep Chicago from spiraling into utter chaos. They also offer perspective on what the holiday means for those of Irish heritage and offer a few tips for getting the most from your St. Pat's weekend. kbernot@tribune.com | @redeyeeatdrink

 

Maeve McSweeney

Maeve McSweeney

South Side Irish Parade Queen

Age: 20

Lives in: Milwaukee, Wisc. to attend Marquette University, but grew up in Beverly

If not for the South Side Irish St. Patrick's Day Parade, Maeve McSweeney might not exist. Her parents met 25 years ago at the parade, then settled in Beverly, where McSweeney was raised. A committee selected her as this year's queen, meaning she'll march in the parade and continue to the Chicago Rose of Tralee competition for a chance to travel to Ireland—but don't confuse her for a pageant queen. "The only reason I applied is because I knew it wouldn't be like [a pageant]," McSweeney said. "It's girls from the neighborhood who are role models for younger girls, especially those of Irish descent." McSweeney's family calls St. Patrick's Day "a second Christmas," and she said the day is more about celebrating Irish heritage than partying.

Catch her: In both the South Side Irish Parade (Sunday at noon; beginning at 103rd Street and Western Avenue) and downtown Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade (Saturday at noon; beginning at Balbo Drive and Columbus Drive)

 

Sarah Clark

Sarah Clark

Bartender at The Gage (24 S. Michigan Ave. 312-372-4243)

Age: 37

Lives in: Lakeview

When you need a proper pint of Guinness this weekend—and who doesn't?—Sarah Clark is your gal. She's been behind a bar on St. Patrick's Day for 13 years, first at The Irish Oak in Wrigleyville and now at The Gage in the Loop. There, she serves pints of stout and shots of Jameson to the crowds that pack the restaurant before and after the downtown parade, and does it all without losing her poise. "The Gage isn't a sports bar. We tend to have a higher-end clientele. But on that day, it has more of a party, crazy atmosphere to it," Clark said. "We embrace it and try to entertain our guests." Her tips for being a good bar patron this weekend? Don't continuously open and close your tab—it just takes up the bartender's time. "Secondly, if you're going out, realize that there are 30 other people [at the bar] that are just as eager as you are, so be polite," she said. "People are going to bump into each other. Be kind."

Catch her: Behind the lower-level bar at The Gage on Saturday from 9 a.m. to close

 

Brendan Byrne

Brendan Byrne

Irish fiddler in The Chancey Brothers, Young Irish Fellowship of Chicago board member

Age: 28

Lives in: Edison Park

Though he spends most of his time fulfilling his duties as a Chicago firefighter, Brendan Byrne squeezes in plenty of Irish activities year-round. He's a fiddler in a few Irish bands—"It's absolutely mental this time of year"—and he's a member of the fire department's Irish football team. As a college rugby player, he transitioned easily to Gaelic football, which he calls "a cross between soccer, with a bit of rugby and volleyball mixed in." It's fiddling, though, that keeps him busiest on St. Patrick's Day weekend. This year, he has six shows and two parades spread over just a few days. "I've taken off work for the week following just for decompressing, eating fried food and hydrating," Byrne said. And while he sees how true Irish culture can get lost in the St. Pat's partying, he also sees an upside to Chicago's enthusiasm for the holiday. "Without a huge holiday behind it, it would be tough to keep so many Irish bands and Irish dancers going. Chicago's a great town for supporting that."

Catch him: In the downtown Chicago St. Patrick's Day Parade (Saturday at noon beginning at Balbo Drive and Columbus Drive), playing Cork Lounge at 3:30 p.m. Saturday (1822 W. Addison St. 773-404-5318)

 

THREE ST. PAT'S PARTIES

What's St. Pat's weekend without some green beer and Irish whiskey? Here are a few party picks to get you in the spirit; see our full listings at chicago.metromix.com.

Division Ale House

1942 W. Division St. 773-384-6886

Get an early jump on the party beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday at this Wicker Park bar, which offers $6 Guinness and Harp drafts all day. A $25 Kegs and Eggs package from 9 a.m. to noon includes your choice of a brunch dish (including breakfast skillets and corned beef hash) with six green beers, mimosas or bloody marys (limited to two drinks per customer per hour). The Shannon Rovers Irish Pipe Band performs at 5 p.m.

The Dawson

720 W. Grand Ave. 312-243-8955

Festivities begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at this River West restaurant and bar with live music all day, corned beef specials and other Irish dishes from chef Patrick Russ, plus specialty shots by beverage director Annemarie Sagoi. Using the bar's one-of-a-kind infusion tower, Sagoi will dispense shots of Irish whiskey and green chartreuse dripped over clover for good luck.

Sedgwick's Bar and Grill

1935 W. Sedgwick St. 312-337-7900

If you absolutely must have your fill of green beer, head to this Old Town tavern on Saturday for a $20 breakfast package between 9 and 11 a.m., which includes a buffet plus green beer, Guinness drafts and bloody marys.