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Three Bartenders on What It’s Like to Work St. Patrick’s Day Weekend

Pukers; fighters; naked dudes who drop $2,000 on shots: They’ve seen it all

Its St. Patrick’s Day, which means a tide of green-clad frat bros have probably already kicked down your front door and puked in your shoes. This survival guide is designed to get you through the worst day of the year in as few pieces as possible.

Even if St. Patrick’s Day is your favorite holiday of the year, you’ve probably never seen it from the perspective of a bartender. And so, we asked three of them — in Boston, Las Vegas and Dublin, Ireland — what it’s like to serve a yelling, green sea of drunk-off-their-ass revelers.

Pakie Bradley, Bartender, The Black Rose, Boston

This will be my 16th St. Patrick’s Day. As far as tenure goes, I’m middle of the pack at The Black Rose. It’s probably the biggest and most famous Irish bar in Boston, and we do our best to provide the most fun atmosphere for as many people as possible. We’ll have a line down the street all weekend — during St. Patrick’s Day in Boston, every bar as far as you can see has a line down the street, and everybody’s wearing green. It’s like our Super Bowl, New Year’s Eve and Fourth of July all rolled into one. But the American drinking public is a very scary demographic, and on St. Patrick’s Day, it’s like they all crawl out of the woodwork, so you can only prepare for so much. Once you think you’ve seen it all, you’ll see something you’ve never even heard of before.

We do our best to throw drinks out at people as fast as we can, but there’s a never-ending flow of people. The bathrooms are a mess, people are throwing up, you’ve gotta kick people out if they get unruly, there’s people sleeping in the corner, smoking cigarettes. Our capacity is over 400 people, and we’re pretty much packed to the gills. I believe we had 30 kegs of Guinness delivered Monday, with another 50 coming Thursday and I think another 20 or 30 on Friday. Hopefully that’ll last us through Sunday night.

You have all the guys from out of town, particularly the police and the firefighters, who have been drinking since 6 o’clock in the morning, before the parade (the Southie Parade, one of the oldest parades in the country, is always on the Sunday closest to St. Patrick’s Day — this year it’s on the same day — so every year we get police and firefighters from all over the country because they all march in the parade). Then they drink all day on the floats, and when they come in, the next thing you know, you see girls running around with their firefighter jackets, their cop jackets and their hats.

There are fewer fights than you’d think. No matter what, when there’s alcohol and that many people, there’s probably going to be some conflict somewhere, but for that weekend, it seems like a much happier vibe. People overlook things that they might get upset about on another weekend.

The customers, however, don’t pace themselves at all. That’s the tough thing about our job: We have to make a split-second decision on whether somebody’s had too much to drink already, and a lot of times we’re not the first stop. So people are coming in with a buzz on already. I’d say half the crowd is okay and they can handle it, and the other half is sloppy.

When closing time comes at 2 a.m., oh, it’s the best. You’re too tired to even count your money. But we make a lot of money — it takes a while to count it all!

The day after St. Patrick’s Day in Boston, there are a lot of street sweepers out. While I can’t speak for the whole city, I know that when you walk into The Black Rose, you feel like the building has a hangover. Just the energy: We ran out of this; we’re out of stock on that; hopefully nothing’s broken. Yeah, March 18th definitely has a different feel than March 15th, that’s for sure.

Susan Hillen, Bartender, Ri Ra, Las Vegas

I come from a small town in Ireland. We do a parade on St. Patrick’s Day, but you Americans do a lot more than what we do at home! A lot of people when they find out I’m from Ireland are like, “Oh my God, I want to go to Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day,” and I’m like, “Yeah, you probably don’t want to go to a little town — they just do a little parade.”

Here on St. Patrick’s Day, everyone gets dressed up in green, looks for green beer, does car bombs, drinks Guinness, eats corned beef and cabbage, listens to Irish music and just generally tries to be Irish for a day.

All the stuff I’ve seen over the years is wild. If you’re in Vegas, you know you’re there to go crazy anyway, so St. Patrick’s Day is your excuse to go double crazy. We go through maybe 100 kegs of Guinness in one day and 20 cases of Jameson — in a normal week, we probably go through four or five cases of Jameson.

Two years ago, this one guy had an Irish flag. He’s just bouncing around, dancing, having a good time. Eventually he leaves and comes back in, but now he’s just wandering around the pub, naked, with the Irish flag around him and an Irish flag Afro. He comes up to the bar and orders 200 shots of Jameson, for everyone in the bar. He went around handing that stuff out — he spent close to $2,000. He’s like, “I’m Irish, this is my day. I look forward to this all year round!” He was happy as can be. We were just like, “What’s going on?” But, he had a great time!

Our bar isn’t like some places where you see young kids getting sick everywhere. People kind of pace themselves. We’ve had people who tried to make it to the toilet and don’t, but most people are here for the day. If you get in a fight here, you run the risk of getting kicked out of your hotel room and spending the night in jail, because Vegas doesn’t tolerate that sort of behavior. It’s really not worth it. Obviously we do get the odd one, but we have a lot of security that day from morning through night, just in case something does happen.

We used to do a parade led by a piper that would walk all the way through Mandalay Bay and Luxor, and then we’d come back to the pub. So you’d have probably a few hundred people walking behind us and acting crazy. We get so many tourists here from Ireland. It’s great — that’s why I love Vegas: When I’m homesick, I’m guaranteed to see an Irish person at the bar. Plus, if they find us in the first few days of being on vacation, they come back every night.

Gareth Cummins, Co-owner, Thomas House, Dublin, Ireland

St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin is a circus. I think this will be my eighth one. It’s evolved into something that Irish people tend to avoid: Parents will bring their children into the city to see the parade, but most of them will quickly retire home, as the city turns into a zoo rather quickly. I’d say that most bar staff doesn’t look forward to it. It’s a mess.

Pukers, fighters, lost tourists, screamers, sleepers: I’ve seen them all. It’s hard to zero in on any one story as they all turn into crowd control pretty quickly. It’s adult kindergarten, with a plastic Irish twist.

The grossest thing I’ve seen is a line of what looked like Spanish tourists vomiting on the pavement at 10 a.m. One would get sick and the other would hold her hair back, then the one holding the hair would get sick after watching the other vomit. This went on for about 10 minutes with a group of five people.

St. Patrick’s Day here is almost all tourists: Very few Irish people go out drinking on that day, and the ones who do are usually weirdos looking to make new “friends.” The entire day is very cyclical — people wander around from pub to pub, so you don’t get time to get into the flow with orders or learn the crowd. Working the bar on Paddy’s Day is like a math problem: Numbers keep being added and subtracted and random problems pop up to keep you on your feet — broken toilets, drink spills, etc.

We open up around midday, which is when the parade finishes up. There usually won’t be a queue for the bar, but the second you open the doors, the place will be full. You have to be watchful as some people may have been drinking from 9 a.m. and be too drunk already.

No one ever lasts, by the way. That’s a guarantee. It’s too long of a hard-drinking day for anyone. To go at that rate would wear the hardest of drinkers down to nothing by 9 p.m. But I’ve seen Americans and Canadians start really strong. They’ll put six or seven pints into them and then move onto whiskey. You’ll see them get into the flow of it pretty quickly, but the pace of the day and its manic attitude wear them out. Being in a bustling pub and talking to people for hours is mentally draining. That does the damage more than the beer.

You’ll almost never see your regular patrons or people you know. Think of the busiest bar in the tourist area of your city on a Saturday night: Now assume that every bar in the city is that busy. It’s hectic! There’s few breaks, and it’s extremely difficult to get in and out of work due to the tourists taking all the cabs. I’ve been to St. Patrick’s Day in Detroit and Chicago, and they feel more like what it used to be in Ireland. Now it’s a pilgrimage for tourists who want to experience Ireland at its most Irish.

Unfortunately, they’ve picked the worst time of the year to do it.