If you can’t be in Ireland this St. Patrick’s Day, head for the next best place: Chicago. For more than 150 years, the Windy City has put on one of the best St. Patrick’s Day events this side of Dublin. So get your green on and get ready for some serious celebrating, because on St. Paddy’s Day in Chicago, everybody’s Irish!
A Deeper Shade of Green
Many Chicago events are planned to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day, and one is the tradition of dying the Chicago River green. At around 10 a.m. on the day of the parade, the normally murky green river is transformed into a gorgeous shade of emerald-green. Though it might seem like magic, this sleight of hand is due to 40 pounds of specially formulated non-toxic vegetable dye that, when dumped into the water, turns the river green for about four to five hours.
The tradition began in 1961 when Stephen Bailey, business manager of the Chicago Journeymen Plumbers Local Union #110, noticed that one of the Union member’s coveralls were stained a bright green. The plumber had tried to locate a waste line that was emptying into the river by using green dye. Bailey quickly realized the true potential of the situation and set plans in motion to turn the river green for St. Paddy’s Day.
The first attempt involved 100 pounds of military-grade fluorescent dye – and the river turned green for seven days. Next year, 50 pounds of dye resulted in a three-day green period. Finally, an environmentally safe vegetable dye were just right, and the tradition was born.
Everyone Loves a Parade
When it comes to St. Patrick’s Day parades, Chicago’s annual procession is among the best. This spectacular tribute to Irish pride began on March 17, 1843, a time in the city’s history when the number of Irish immigrants was rising steadily.
Today, the massive parade takes place on the Saturday before St. Patrick’s Day (this year, March 16). Between 10,000 and 20,000 people take part in the parade, and you’ll enjoy watching hundreds of colorful floats, marching bands, the crowing of the parade queen, and the contagious enthusiasm of thousands of spectators all dressed in Irish green. The route runs along Columbus, from Balbo to Monroe Street. Chicago also hosts many neighborhood parades around St. Paddy’s Day. Check out the smaller, but no less festive, parades on the Northwest Side, South Side, Forest Park, Naperville and Elmhurst.
For the athletically inclined, don your brightest green running gear and enter the annual St. Paddy’s Run/Walk. Choose from a 5K or 8K race, both featuring live Irish music at the start and end. Your little ones will love the Kids’ Leprechaun Leap, a mini-race just for children, and the costume contest.
Green beer: Get it here
Let’s be realistic here – as much as you’d like to imagine yourself running a race on St. Patrick’s Day, you’re probably more likely to be found enjoying a green beer – or two – at one of Chicago’s many Irish pubs. Stick to the Loop for authentic pub action at O’Callaghans, Fado, Poag Mahones, and the Irish American Heritage Center. For cheap drinks and a college-age crowd, head to Wrigleyville, home to Galway’s Arms, Johnny O’Hagans, and Harry Caray’s.
Better yet, sample them all on Chicago’s Official St. Paddy’s Day Bar Crawl. With the “Green Kegs and Hammered” weekend pass. You’ll get a wristband, a cup and a bar crawl map for the best places in Chicago to get a taste of Ireland.
After a weekend spent celebrating the glory of the Irish, end your St. Patrick’s Day fun by watching the firework show at Navy Pier. The display is set to traditional Celtic and modern Irish music. It’s the perfect way to end a truly magical Chicago St. Paddy’s Day!